Racism As a Virtue

The mayor of Upper Nazareth, Shimon Gafsou, is campaigning for re-election on an openly racist platform, even by the standards set by the likes of Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett. His openly racist statements bring out some uncomfortable but crucial truths about Israel and why a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians has been so hard to reach for. I explore this week in Souciant.

Reining In Rampant Nationalism: The Way Toward a Realistic Mideast Peace

On the “About” page of The Third Way, I made the following statement: ““My approach begins with the idea that Zionism was an entirely justified national movement, and that Palestinians also are deserving of the same human, civil and national rights as anyone else. Reconciling these two things is not simple, as they clash in essential and inherent ways. But finding that reconciliation is the only way, in my view, to get us out of the murderous quagmire that has existed in the region for more than a century.”

Meanwhile, in a recent post on the Meretz USA blog, Sarah Strnad, Meretz USA’s Assistant Director, and a woman I recently got to meet and was very impressed with,

If this is where Zionism is going, it's not a Zionism most Israelis or Diaspora Jews will relate to

struggled with how to balance a Zionist identity and the universal values of human rights and democracy:

“I was raised a Zionist,” writes Ms. Strnad. “Growing up in a Zionist youth group I was accustomed to proudly defining as a Zionist. I often hesitate to self-define that way today. I still believe in the Jewish people’s right for self determination and the establishment and legitimacy of our own state, but the policies of that state and the rightward regressive actions of fringe settlers and their supporters have caused me to distance myself from the term Zionism. For those who believe in human rights and democracy the “z” word is now beyond the pale. It is whispered in hushed tones and understood only as what the right wing preaches and implements as policy. The Zionism that was once a broad nationalism has been distorted and replaced by racist and xenophobic fears that drive unjust and dehumanizing policies.”

One way I approach the issues Sarah grapples with is to differentiate in my own heart between being a “Zionist” and being pro-Israel. Zionism is, as Sarah correctly pointed out, far from a monolithic ideology. But one thing all the strains have in common is very basic: Zionism is the national movement of the Jewish people.

I have never felt a kinship with nationalism of any kind, not American, not Zionist, not any. But I do respect other people’s choices, I recognize the validity of national identity and movements and even appreciate the very real uses nationalism has (chief among them, in my view, being the uniting of an oppressed people to collectively combat that oppression, a feature that was indisputably true of Zionism throughout its efforts to create a state or, in some strains, a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine). And that respect and appreciation extends equally to Palestinian nationalism as much as it does to that of my own, Jewish people.

So I’m not a Zionist. Neither am I an anti-Zionist. I suppose non-Zionist fits, though it seems a rather empty term. But none of these categories has any bearing on being pro-Israel. Continue reading