Saturday, September 23, 2006

"Anti-zionism" as a political phenomenon is puzzling to me. There are no comparative movements with respect to other countries - one does not hear critics of the Iraq war bring up 1776 to say that the American rebellion was unjustified, the revolution should not have happened, etc. Mostly everyone is fairly content to take the existence of America as a given in these debates and proceed from there; and yet with Israel there is the peculiar tendency to go back to 1948 and reargue the merits of the Israeli war for independence.

I should clarify that I'm talking here about anti-zionism in its practical sense, i.e. what people who have said they are anti-zionist have went on to say in their conversations with me. So I want to side step the issue of what anti-zionism is intellectually and whether its intellectual core actually implies anything like the first paragraph above. For practical purposes, I feel that my description is fair: all the people I have met who declared themselves to be against zionism went on, in the next few minutes, to argue against the propriety or wisdom of Israel's existence.

In fact, what I wrote in the first paragraph is not entirely accurate. There are movements against the existence of Transistria in Moldova; against the existence of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan; against the existence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. There are a number of such examples associated with breakaway and semi-autonomous states all over the world. What all these movements have in common, though, is that they are more or less limited to the countries that want to capture back what they see as their territory, i.e. Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia in these instance. By contrast, anti-zionism seems to have a steady base of support in the United States and throughout the western world.

There is another difference - the above examples are all associated with recent conflicts whereas Israel has existed for close to 60 years now. As far as I'm aware, there is not a single other state which has existed for that long that still has a significant body of critics of its existence throughout the western world.


At 11:42 AM, Blogger Madman of Chu said...

"Anti-zionism" is not nearly as exceptional a phenomenon as you make out. On one level it is part of a larger discontent with the modern boundaries of the Middle East as they were set post-WWI. Saddam Hussein's desire to do away with Kuwait, attempts to create a United Arab Republic or a United Arab Monarchy, Syria's longstanding ambition to absorb Lebanon, the Kurds desire for a state of their own (and almost everyone else's determination to deny them it), the desire of Saudi Shi'ites for an independent state, Jordan's long-term denial of Palestinian sovereignty- all of these are part and parcel of wrangling over the legitimacy of the territorial settlements decided upon by European colonial powers and America in the first half of the twentieth century, and all are of the same species as anti- (and pro-)Zionism.

Westerners do take an unsual interest in the struggle over Zionism, certainly more than they do in most of the other regional disputes I outlined above. Some of this is an outgrowth of the role Israeli geography plays in the religious drama underpinning Western religions. This gives Westerners a feeling of familiarity with Israel that attracts both anti- and pro- Zionist attention (note the myriad Christian Zionists in the USA, whose existence is no less strange than that of anti-Zionists and who most likely equal or surpass the latter in numbers).

Some of the following anti-Zionism attracts in the West flows from the continued momentum of anti-colonialist enthusiasm among Western intellectuals, despite the decline of paleocolonialism as a current in world politics. In this respect wondering at why Israel is unique among "nation states" to receive such attention misreads the anti-Zionist agenda, as many or most anti-Zionists would insist that Israel is not an organic nation but a vestige of colonialism. The same criticism was leveled with equal or greater intensity at the now-defunct apartheid state of South Africa (a system that began in the same year Israel was declared sovereign) and would no doubt still be prevalent if that system were still in place. Anti-colonialism must also be examined in tandem with Communism, which was and is a powerful influence on Western intellectuals. Communism is in principle opposed to all forms of nationalism, Jewish or otherwise, so to be a card-carrying Communist is to be ultimately (in the sense of the "long duree") opposed to the existence of every nation-state on earth.

Finally, one must admit that anti-Zionism owes some of its appeal to good old fashioned anti-Semitism. But even this does not make anti-Zionism so exceptional in Western political cultures. All societies bring their unique bag of prejudices and dispositiosn to the conduct of foreign affairs, thus Tibetans benefit from some Westerners' romantic notions of Shangri La even as Palestinians are handicapped by some Evangelicals' conviction that Israel's modern boundaries must conform to that of the Kingdom of Solomon.

At 7:52 PM, Blogger alex said...

Dear Madman,

What you say is true, and I should have been clearer that what I find unusual is "anti-zionism" among westerners.

One might also add that the gulf war, as well as the iraq war, have involved in the united states in the details of middle east politics. Given the tremendous importance of the israeli-palestinian conflict to virtually everyone in the middle east, it is hardly surprising that it attracts so much attention here.

My puzzlement is that, basically, there are many cases where some of the above factors are present which did not result in similar movements in the west. For example, someone tending to view the world in terms of colonialism might be tempted to support Mugabe's regime. Almost all of the above factors are present in the struggle between Turkey and the Kurds, though the biggest omission is that the imperial power is not a western nation. But there are no strong movements in the west for either of those causes. I think I was searching for one powerful explanation, but you are probably right that the confluence of the above factors make Israel a unique case.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger LanceThruster said...

How about being anti-"US foreign aid for Israel"? What class of "hater" does that put me in? My interest in Zionism stems from the need for US citizens to have a greater understanding of Middle East issues. I used to think the situation of Israel and its neighbors was a clear case of white hats/black hats. That is no longer the case.

So much of the discussion is stifled by the preset rules of engagement. Other groups can be said to operate collectively in a negative fashion and cause no outcry. Making similar observations about power being exerted to the apparent benefit of one sub-group to the detriment of another when the one benefitting is Zionists however grouped seems to be considered beyond the pale. To be labeled an anti-Semite is supposed to be one of the most damning accusations imaginable, and yet there does not seem to be a corresponding abhorence of falsely labeling someone that.

Adding to the confusion is that there are multiple "flavors" of Zionism which could be described at one end as being analogous to "patriotism" and at the other "nationalism". I think that Zionism should have no special armor in the arena of ideas. If it can be argued to be valid when applying uniform concepts of justice and equality then fine. But to determine ahead of the fact that it is beyond reproach is intellectually dishonest and should be recognized as such.

At 6:58 PM, Blogger alex said...

I think that Zionism should have no special armor in the arena of ideas. If it can be argued to be valid when applying uniform concepts of justice and equality then fine. But to determine ahead of the fact that it is beyond reproach is intellectually dishonest and should be recognized as such.

There are lots of ideologies which cannot be justified when applying uniform concepts of justice and equality - italian nationalism, canadian nationalism, and so on. What is interesting to me is that there are no movements opposing those, whereas by contrast even Israel's right to exist has persistent opponents in the western world.


Post a Comment

<< Home