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Vol. 9, No. 1, 2010
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Robert J. Lewis
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Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called the children of God.

Matthew 5.9


The term Zionism was entered into the public domain circa 1893. The Zionist movement became current in 1897. Its goal was to create a homeland for Jews, many of whom were being persecuted in other lands. In 1917 the Balfour Declaration endorsed the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Israel was born in 1948.

Whether or not it was a mistake to designate Palestine (Uganda was also on the table) for a Jewish homeland is a matter of debate and tiresome retrospection. I begin with what is given -- the entity of Israel derived from its military power. If Israel’s enemies could wipe it off the map and live to see another day, they would do it on a dime.

That Zionism is often equated with racism, and stands accused of being exclusionary and anti-democratic, is a criticism Jews have not been able to deflect, in part because they have not been willing to acknowledge, much less sign on to, the universal impulse that underlies not only Israeli zionism, but zionisms everywhere in the world.

Prior to any particular zionism, and even prior to the word itself, the spirit that would eventuate the term concerns itself with the instinctive response of an endangered, territoryless people to save and preserve itself.

Reduced to what is universal in its objectives, zionism is the appeal of a people (identified by either race, religion, ethnicity, language or combination thereof) for a special territorial dispensation necessitated by imminent threat.

It asserts that without recourse to sovereignty, the threatened group risks obliteration through either annihilation or assimilation or combination thereof. Throughout history, there have been many peoples and cultures that have disappeared from the face of the earth because they were not able to negotiate for themselves that special territorial dispensation upon which self-preservation is predicated. Thus, we speak of zionism as a threatened people’s unalienable right – in practice rarely secured -- to selfhood. Since no nation or identity is exempt from the vagaries of history, we are all implicated in the zionist prerogative in that we all recognize the legitimacy and right of an endangered people to defend and preserve itself.

Generic or nonspecific zionism does not concern itself with the nature or degree of the barbarism that arouses it. While it recognizes that no two barbarisms are the same (the Jews were systematically gassed, the Tutsis unsystematically hacked), its function and expression are sanctioned by DNA-deep, biological imperatives (that precede given rights and guarantees) that reflexively kick in in response to threat.

But the term zionism, as it is employed today, like a child that has been stolen from its mother and sold to the highest bidder, has been shorn from its original meaning and intent. In theory, the zionist prerogative should be championed by all nations concerned with the world’s threatened (territoryless) peoples, but in perverse point of fact it has been hijacked and redefined as a human rights abuse by the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic horde, and then allowed to wallow there consequent to Israel’s calculated refusal to join the choir of voices that unites all the world’s zionisms. Israel did not speak out against the horrors in Rwanda and Srebrenica; it did not recognize their zionisms as the same as its own.

From 1948 to the present, Israel’s discombobulating silence in respect to the plight of the Roma, the Tutsis, the Srebrenicans and the Darfurians, to name a few, begs the question of why, when it could have been so easily otherwise. Why has the nation of Israel, born in the ashes of the holocaust, squandered one public relations opportunity after another with which it could have cumulatively ingratiated itself into world favour -- instead of world scorn? Does the Israeli psyche harbour a masochistic gene that invigorates its policies while betraying an apparently insatiable appetite for getting beaten up and abused by public opinion? Israel’s abdication in the field of public relations, for which there is much to account for but no excusing, provides its naysayers with a loaded gun that cannot fail to miss its target. Is it the thick skin that informs thick-minded foreign policy or vice versa?

One cannot help but wonder if Israel, in refusing to share in the fear and trembling that binds all the world’s threatened, territoryless people, hasn’t been ‘stupefied’ by its narrow obsession with its unique suffering. Freud, who understood that religion and ethnicity would not be able supply the laws and formulations that account for what is universal in human behaviour, would accuse Israel of arrested development, likening it to the unempowered abused child who becomes the empowered abuser adult, or the unloved child becoming the empowered unloving parent. No one cared about Israel during its holocaust; now, as an empowered, sovereign nation, it doesn’t care about anyone else’s -- an all too predictable response doubtlessly biologically inscribed in the psyche of every abused people. But is this how a nation goes about winning friends and influence? That it failed to show any concern for its brothers and sisters in Rwanda, Darfur, Srebrenica and Kosovo represents a failure the dimensions of which constitute a work in reverse progress on the part of those entrusted to provide for the nation’s health and well being, presuming that world opinion, almost seven billion strong and counting, is a wave any nation would rather ride than have to turn aside. Whenever genocide happens, Israel, having been there and survived it, should not only be the first to speak out against it, it should send a contingent of its own in common cause. And while lives will be lost in the short-term, many more will be saved in the long run.

There are many legitimate zionist causes that enjoy the sympathy and support of world opinion. That the majority of the world’s threatened peoples, usually from diasporic or indigenous backgrounds, will fail to secure the territorial dispensation necessary for their survival speaks more to the willingness of the world and nature of realpolitiks than the cause itself.

The Roma, 600,000 of whom were holocausted by the Nazis, failed to negotiate for themselves a territory with which they would have been able to preserve their language and culture. Slowly but surely, they are disappearing through assimilation. (We wryly note the Italians are counting the days).

Tibet has been run over by the Chinese and will probably disappear (its Buddhist culture and institutions) in the next 100 years. The Uighurs, in western China, are a Turkic speaking, mainly Sunni Islamic ethnic group with a long history in the region. China, besides imposing severe restrictions on freedom of religion, is in effect depopulating the region by overwhelming it with a sustained influx of Han Chinese migrants. Like Tibet, without a zionist dispensation, the Uighur way of life is doomed to extinction.

But where the world is willing and territorial dispensation is feasible, threatened peoples can regroup and thrive. In the genocidal aftermath of Slobodan Milosevic, Kosovo has declared sovereignty – and enjoys the blessings of the world’s powers and world opinion. First Nations people in Canada and aboriginals in Australia and New Zealand have had some of their original territory returned, and with it the means and motivation to begin their long day’s journey recovering the self-esteem that was taken away.

Sometimes serendipity plays a role in negotiating territory. During the early 1930s, in what has become known as The Great Famine (Holodomor) or Ukrainian genocide, the Soviet Union implemented policies aimed at the destruction of the Ukrainian nation. Ukrainian grain was shipped to the West while millions at home starved to death. At the time, Ukrainian zionism was met with silence since it would have meant a major confrontation between the East and West. Then, in 1991, the Berlin Wall collapsed, and soon after, Ukraine declared sovereignty and reinstated Ukrainian as its official language.

Not all zionist causes are clear cut. The Kurds, in southeast Turkey, have had their language banned and media outlets ruled illegal. It is Turkey’s wish to assimilate the estimated six million within its borders. But in northern Iraq, with the ouster of Saddam, the Kurds are enjoying more autonomy. Is there a zionist case to be made for the creation of Kurdistan?

Other zionist ventures, not to be confused with unauthorized terrorist activity, enjoy the sympathy of world opinion but do not have a compelling argument as it concerns special territorial dispensation. Basque culture is not under threat in Spain, and closer to home, in Canada, the province of Québec -- a nation within a nation surrounded by a sea of English -- has been able to provide for itself sufficient special legislative dispensations to guarantee the survival of its language and culture.

But there can be no waffling, that is picking and choosing among zionisms. If you support one, you support them all since you have already signed on to the notion that a people whose language, culture and institutions are under imminent threat has the right to defend and preserve itself. Which means if you are among the legions that rage against Israeli zionism (distinct from its day to day politics), you are either inadvertently or deliberately attributing to zionism what might be your anti-Semitism. If you’re Arab and support Kosovan zionism, you must support Israeli zionism. For the same reason, if you’re Israeli and support Kosovan zionism, you must support the cause of Palestinian zionism.

Since zionism is a natural first response of an endangered people to an imminent threat, survival trumps all other considerations, which can render the principles of democracy a luxury some zionisms cannot afford if it means the disappearance of the people (culture and institutions) the zionism was meant to safeguard. In Israel, for example, if the Palestinian minority (the putative enemy within), hostile to Jews and the state of Israel, were to become a majority, they would terminate the Israeli state, undermining the entire raison d’être of the spirit which gave birth to the nation. That zionism may require the implementation of anti-democratic measures is a highly delicate matter of slippery slope proportions that will require diligent and unrelenting international assessment and vetting of declarations and decrees that will regretfully produce a second class citizenry. But you don’t poison the well from which you drink. As it rightfully concerns necessarily disadvantaged minorities living in zionist begat nations, the individual will weigh the pluses and minuses of remaining in a territory without the same rights as the majority. In gender apartheid free Israel, there is no demographic evidence suggesting Palestinian women -- who can wear mini skirts, enjoy the beach, drive cars -- are looking to pitch tent in the West Bank or other Arab countries.

Palestinians living in Israel enjoy most, but not all, of the rights of the majority, and that includes religious freedom, freedom of assembly and equal treatment under the law, which is why they are choosing to stay. The same applies to Québec immigrants, who, by law, must educate their children in French, and not English – one of the official languages of Canada -- but choose to stay. From 1100 to 1900, most Jews in Arab and Persian countries (Iraq, Iran) stayed put as second class citizens because the trade off was acceptable.

The term zionism should be emblematic of what we most aspire to and admire in a political outcome because its meaning links a people’s raw instinct for self-preservation to the humanity of the redoubtable other who recognizes in a threatened people their right and the means to self-determination. Thus, zionism, in a perfect world, in the movement it generates and hopes it gathers, reveals itself as a gift that ennobles its enablers no less than it inspires gratitude and humility in the people it succours.

But alas, ours is only "half the perfect world," and on our watch, the term zionism, its frame of reference, has been co-opted by the hordes of the hating and turned into a bully pulpit, which makes its rehabilitation everyone’s task, and a priority our anxious and increasingly nuclear world ignores at its own peril.


also by Robert J. Lewis:
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene





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