Saturday, May 09, 2009

Zionism is dying a rapid and bitter death


Richard Witty comes out with one of the old arguments in favour of Zionism:

Shirin, Do you think that Jews are a people? And, as a people, should have the right to self-govern?

Shirin replies:

You are asking the wrong, and an irrelevant, question. The question is whether or not "the Jews" or any other self-defined, or other-defined human group has a right to lay claim on any basis at all (historical, mythical, legendary, or some combination of all three) to land inhabited by others, and turn it into an ethnocratic state for themselves in which they have superior rights and claims, and in which they must establish and maintain by any means necessary an overwhelming majority. The answer to that question is obvious, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries, which is why you and other Zionists always ask the other question instead of the truly relevant one....

The early Zionists, after some discussion, agreed that they had to define The Jews as a nation. They determined that the colonial powers were unlikely to see the creation of a Jewish state as justified unless the Jewish people were a nation.

Of course, the utterly silly and completely impractical logical extension of Witty's standard-issue Zionist argument is that every single group that can manage to define itself as a "people" or a "nation" is entitled to self-rule. Witty and his fellow nice, liberal Zionists do not specify, of course, whether every "people" or "nation" is entitled to ethnically cleanse the location of their choice, and treat any leftover residents from he "wrong people" or "nation" as second-class citizens. Nor do they explain whether every "people or "nation" is entitled to take whatever means necessary to maintain "demographic balance, or whether every "people" or "nation" is entitled to expand their territory at will by whatever means they choose....

The kind of state formation you are advocating is typically called 'volkish nationalism' in English (or organic, total, ethnic, etc.), a short-lived ideology I thought died an unmourned death in 1945. Of course, nationalism (of all kinds) is a pretty recent invention, but the volkish kind even more so, being the invention of a number of Central Europeans who got rather carried away in the midst of the final, intense period of colonialism, racial science, the attempted revolts of the working classes, popular democracy, etc. Wilsonian national self-determination is less than a century old (and Zionism predates it).

Classical, liberal nationalism was essentially geographic, coupled with a touch of Rousseau's social contract: for the French revolutionaries, the French people were the people living in France, and those related geographic areas who assented to the ideals of the new French state. Naturally, this kind of nationalism resulted in the emancipation of the Jews.

In order to construct a Jewish 'nation' (rather than religious group) a narrower kind of nationalism was necessary - and was provided by Herder, who started getting ideas about there being some kind of deeper connection between the people of the same country. That idea first proposed, intellectuals could start fashioning 'national' histories, all of them, unsurprisingly, being quite similar: once upon a time we were big and mighty, then something bad happened, but onwards and forwards to the future, we'll be great again, etc.

Thus, Zionism could be born: one had a national Jewish narrative, racial science could substitute for religion, European imperialism provided the real possibility for taking over Palestine and provided the framework that didn't 'see' the native, and Blut-und-Boden nationalism provided the ideology of an organic and authentic connection to the land, which the Jews had, but the uncivilised natives were incapable of establishing. It is often asserted that Herzl's Zionism was nationalism of the liberal kind ,but recent research has shown that his nationalism was mainly inspired by the extreme Prussian Aryan groupings, and that he was fully aware that what he was advocating was settler-colonialism of the most extreme kind.

Thus, Zionism was never a national liberation movement in the positive sense, but a settler-colonial project legitimising itself by reference to volkish-national ideology. One can add that the manner in which the Yishuv and the state of israel treated Sephardi/Mizrachi Jews - and to a lesser degree German Jews and Holocaust survivors - illustrate the fact that the Yishuv's quest was not for a nation-state of the conventional kind, but rather a racially purified one of the kind now universally repudiated [yes, there is constant talk in Yishuv papers of 'two races' of Jews, 'bad human material', etc., etc.]

The Palestinian claim, on the other hand, does not rest on any intrinsic Palestinian identity or peoplehood, but on the simple facts that they (or their recent ancestors) either live there or were illegally expelled, and that they have relatively representative organisations that demand that they be recognised as a sovereign state on the land they inhabit and which belong them under international law.

A couple more years like this and there will be absolutely nothing left. It lasted a bit longer than Apartheid South Africa but it was doomed from the start as a racist, colonialist, militarist, imperialist, settler ideology was hopelessly anachronistic in the post-Hitler period.

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