No study of the Middle East conflict would be complete without an analysis of the ideology that underpins the state of Israel . While the idea of a return to Zion (the Promised Land) has been a central part of the Judaic weltanschauung ever since the banishment of Jews to Babylon in 597BCE, its employment as a nationalist ideology is much more recent and grounded in more temporal concerns.
Rampant anti-Semitism in Europe culminating in the Nazi holocaust of the Second World War assisted the take-up amongst Jews of what had until the 1930’s been an unpopular concept. The prospect of a separate homeland not only chimed with a zeitgeist dominated by liberation from colonial occupiers, but with a growing mood to abandon a continent that was irredeemably anti-Semitic.
Zionism drove an international campaign that led to the establishment of Israel in 1948. However, the birth was unlike any of the genuine liberation movements of the era. While Zionism was informed by a perceived need to leave Europe, it was this same Europe that, for reasons of anti-Semitism and retaining influence in the Middle East, assisted the drive to create Israel .
In so far as the interests of Jews and Western nations converged, the acceptance of exile came not to represent liberation, but a capitulation to the forces of anti-Semitism and colonialism. Among the native inhabitants of the region, Israel ‘s identification as the surrogate child of European colonialism made it unwelcome, as did the fact that it employed the methods of the colonial powers to become established.
For the Palestinian inhabitants of the land that became Israel and the Palestinian Territories , dispossession, exile, military oppression, occupation and discrimination have become the order of the day. The fashion in Western political circles, often motivated by reasons of political expediency, is to see these tribulations as a consequence of an intractable conflict over land. The understated reality is that they are the direct effects of a political philosophy that is aggressive, racist and oppressive.
Roland Rance, a newcomer to this journal, argues that with their appetite for conquest and economic dominance in the struggle for a Jewish state, Zionists have betrayed the global anti-racist struggle by pandering to European racism. Not only that, but the state of Israel has itself adopted racist practices to maintain Jewish dominance over the Palestinian-Arabs under its rule. Moreover Zionism, with its emphasis on an exclusively Jewish homeland, has also been responsible for the exile of the Palestinian people. This pivotal element of the conflict cannot be overcome without a dismantling of the Zionist structure of the state itself.
It is not only amongst Jewry that Zionism finds it supporters. Today a huge part of its strength is drawn from Christians who believe in the central tenet of Zionism – the ingathering of Jews to the Holy Land. Their beliefs are based on a misreading of the Bible and see the return of Jews as a prophesised precursor to Armageddon. In this worldview, the state of Israel is seen as a vehicle by which God executes his plan for the world. As a divine instrument, then, Israel can do no wrong. Tens of millions of Christians in the US , and not a few of its presidents, have subscribed in one form or another to these teachings. Their support extends to huge financial support for pro-Zionist organisations and political lobbying for the state of Israel . In his submission, Stephen Sizer dissects Christian Zionism, outlines its main activities and identifies its main protagonists. He calls on fellow Christians to reject and expose this fundamentalist philosophy.
The religious challenge to Zionism comes from inside Judaism itself. Indeed for the first 30 years of its life Zionism was considered a heresy within the tradition. Today despite its widespread acceptance by Jews, important voices continue to warn against its nefarious nature. One of them is Yakov Rabkin, a historian whose latest publication, A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism, is reviewed in this edition. The book chronicles the internal resistance to what he calls a colonialist project that imbued the worst elements of 19 th century European nationalism. Rabkin believes that Zionism betrayed the Jewish faith by reifying the idea of the Jewish nation into a geo-political entity and replacing the spiritual sense in which it was always understood.
Faith-inspired opposition to Zionism has also come from Islamic quarters. As the majority religion of the Palestinians and Arabs in Israel’s vicinity, most critiques have tended to focus on the threat posed by Zionism to al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam, claimed by many Jews as the site of Solomon’s Temple. While the protection and preservation of the holy sanctuary is indeed a priority, it has resulted in the neglect of a true understanding of what Zionism really is. Rachid al-Ghannouchi’s article locates Zionism in the triumph of secular materialistic philosophies and argues that the fight against it must be part of a wider struggle against Western imperialism and secularism. Palestine , he believes, is part of a liberation struggle that encompasses the whole world and must seek to replace a civilisation that is “quantitative and secular” with one that is “qualitative and humane”.
Editorial Team, Palestine Internationalist, Volume 1, issue 4