alienating Zionism

It is wise to let the odious speak; they make the most eloquent cases against themselves. In the Op-Ed page of today’s New York Times, the Israeli politician Danny Danon says that U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state would be an opportunity for Israel to “annex the Jewish communities of the West Bank, or as Israelis prefer to refer to our historic heartland, Judea and Samaria.” It would be a chance for Israel to end all financial support for the Palestinian authority, prevent Palestinians from ever becoming Israeli citizens, “right a historic wrong,” and “rectify the mistake we made in 1967 by failing to annex all of the West Bank.” Danon says nothing at all about the interests and rights of the West Bank’s 2.4 million Arabs, “who would continue to live in their own—unannexed—towns.”

Some time ago, Mark Kleiman attended what he considered a racist, anti-Arab gathering and declared himself a former Zionist: “In the immortal words of Sam Goldwyn, ‘Include me out.'” Jonathan Chait sympathized with his reaction to the event but thought the conclusion nonsensical. Chait said, “Zionism is the belief that there should be an Jewish state in some approximation of the land where it existed before the Diaspora.”

Nobody gets to decide (by himself) what a word means, but I see three options.

  1. “Zionism” simply means a belief that there should be a Jewish state in roughly the location it now occupies. If that’s Zionism, include me in, but note that I also believe there should be a Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe in roughly the same location that it occupies today. My feelings are similar for about 190 other countries as well.
  2. Zionism is what Danny Danon thinks it is. He says that seizing much of the West Bank “would further Zionist values and strengthen the State of Israel,” as did a series of previous annexations. If that is Zionism, include me out.
  3. Finally, “Zionism” could mean, not only a passive acknowledgment that Israel has a right to exist, but also an emotional bond with the State of Israel and a willingness to support that country more actively than one supports most others. Indeed, I think that is what the word generally means. Statements like Dolon’s make the emotional bond more difficult for me.

(I wrote most of this early this morning, before the president’s major speech, in which he said, “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled  with permanent occupation.” That is correct, and I would hope it is compatible with “Zionist values.” Danny Dolon’s reaction: “it is now clear that the U.S. President has adopted Yasser Arafat’s infamous ‘Stages Plan’ and the hope to eventually remove the State of Israel from the map.” If you agree with the president and disagree with Dolon, check out J-Street and Americans for Peace Now.)

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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