Sunday 6 July 2014

Zionism and the concept of Jewishness

This article is not so much an argument for or against but presents an insight to shed some light on the historical origin and consequent routes of Zionism and its effect on the Arabs; in particular of course on the Palestinian people.  This article tries to go somewhere to explain the current volatile and unfortunate situation; the plight of the Palestinians and reasons for both sides to hold to some impossibly entrenched and polarised positions.

The changing concepts and aims of Zionism, initially a nationalist movement, has markedly undermined Palestinian Rights, as the indigenous people; ignited an anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish antagonism; irritating possibilities towards bi-national integrative solutions for peaceful existence between Palestinians and Israelis.  The conditional intransigent position: Israeli government insistence for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ actually ensnares the presupposition of Palestinian political autonomy, as non-Jews, to surrender their rights to the State giving it the right to appropriate their land as public (Israel) property. That and policies denying the right of return discounts any possibility for national self-determination or genuine discussions for peaceful coexistence. 

Nationalism in the modern world was the brainchild of the French Revolution progressed from a general consciousness of people by conquering suppression to find glory, freedom and equality.  I should add the Diaspora did not prevent the Jewish people from being a nation; they believe, that was their God’s given rights as his chosen people.   The principle that created it never ceased enabling Zionism later to combine the identity of Nationality with the principle of Race.  That essential feature gave the Jews, as the Jewish nation, its rights and legitimacy to a right of a Nation that in the words of I.L. Peretz in 1908: “Its unique culture rather than its patrolled borders guarantees a nation its independent existence”.

The genesis of Zionism originated by an increasing number of pogroms taking place in Russia and Poland where heavy concentrations of the Jewish population has existed for several centuries.  Towards the 1850’s and 1860’s following the Crimean War the Ottoman Empire was beginning to crumble giving rise to rebellions in the Balkans and a wave of insurgencies elsewhere in its Empire.  The fallout precipitated in an intolerant and corrupt Turkish rule coupled with extreme cruelty towards its colonised people.  It also meant Turkish absentee landlords were engaged in selling their locally farmed land in Palestine to the likes of Jewish financiers such as the wealthy Rothschild’s family and others.  It was also with Rothschild’s’  help that Benjamin Disraeli, Conservative British Prime Minister, bought for Britain interest in the Suez Canal, a favour, I argue, that would later have important implications towards the Balfour declaration of 1917 promising a Jewish homeland, which reads:

“His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, (my Italics) or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

It is arguably other than fulfilling a biblical prophecy the declaration coming during the war months of the 1914-1918 war, was a religious document albeit a cunning political move by imperialist Britain.  Such a secret resolution helped to encourage the Russian Jews that an “Allied victory as an essential element in Jewish national aspirations”.  Justifying such measures, in effect had future detrimental implications to the British, Russian, Ottoman, as well as the Austro-Hungarian Empires, committed suicide by fermenting nationalism as a form of political warfare against their opponent.  London and Paris encouraged Arab and Jewish separatists to rise against Ottoman rule.  The Zionist flow continued when Germany was also supporting German Zionists to form a League of Oppressed Nations to free Russian Jews and together started the influx of Jews from Europe into Palestine. 

The father of modern political Zionism as a national movement and in effect the founder of the State of Israel, Theodor Herzl, had ideas for a Jewish national homeland as part of European Jewish emancipatory process. As early as the 1920’s there was an idea of bi-nationalism into the discussion of Zionism and assimilation of Jews but many condemned such ideas as anti-Zionist, and others saw this threat to Jewish settlements.  It also transpired that Zionism can be contradictory in a sense that Jewishness is not an open identity but its values is tied up in its religion and is exclusive.  Being Jewish is not the same as being a European hence even in Europe Jews remained separate and ghettoised.  Although Zionism as a movement that mobilised the Jews as a people, that produced a distinctive Jewish politics, it failed to assimilate the indigenous Palestinian population. Due to increasing violence there was a general awareness that a genuine and just reconciliation was impossible but in fact, more and more oppression led many to rethink Zionism.  In the face of Palestinian nationalism, some sceptics went so far to see the advance of the bi-national agenda during the 1940’s as the Trojan horse for continued Jewish immigration. Instead, it adopted colonialism and embraced anti-Semitic values and whose very freedom meant the suppression of another race.  Evacuation of Palestinians from Haifa and Tiberias was carried out with careful preparation, and the programme of transfer was according to how Zionist leaders perceived it.  

In 1948 the state of Israel was created to house the Jewish Nation as a “Jewish State” and there   The stress on the ‘Jewish State’ meant denying the rights of the Palestinians their identity and their cultural heritage.  Although the Arabs were given full but conditional Israeli citizenship, with the lack of Jewish identity, they were denied full Israeli constitutional rights, so they automatically became second class citizens fearing the loss of their Arab entity.  At the same time, the definition of Israel as a ‘Jewish State’ by implication transformed the concepts of bi-nationalism to colonisation and occupation.  It was becoming clear that to recognise Palestinian nationalism was contradictory to Jewish collective identity.  In the event ‘peace’ did not mean the fulfilment of Palestinian rights or a vision of equal co-existence.  It is rather an expression of the will of separation.  In other words, ‘peace’ for the Israelis is articulated as the desire to get rid of the Palestinians in order.  The claim of a Jewish State is to maintain a homogeneous Jewish state and to restore Israel’s self-image as an innocent, peace-seeking Western community.  Such an image, incidentally, they believe came to be damaged by the resistance; the genesis to setting the deep root to the problems we see today.
One of the biggest problems is distinguishing whether being an Israeli identifies with Nationality or with Religion. 

This became blurred and for a time obliterated the Palestinian identity. Moreover, since Jewish identity originates in religion real emancipation of the Jews does not allow for integration.  Assimilation would mean abandoning their Jewish identity hence true freedom must only be political processed by exclusion. In essence, the only time a Jew can be universalist is when he ceases to be a Jew. As a result defending Zionism was imagined as being attacked for being a Jew so they defend from a Jewish standpoint mobilised as an occupying force that continues to be today in its defence of Jewish-Israeli entity

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