The one good thing about the nest of vipers–sorry, I mean the neoconservatives–is that their plans for Iraq and the Middle East gained blanket acceptance in the Establishment and then were emphatically discredited. Thus the neocons have served as the intellectual equivalent of the Emperor’s New Clothes –and caused people to question all mainstream thinking on the issue. Opening the debate at the edges, to new ideas. Last night I heard some of those ideas at New York’s Brecht forum, coming from Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian doctor and author in England, who was expelled from her home in ’48.
Zionism is a "loathsome" ideology, she said. "There is nothing complicated about this… It is a settler
colonizing project, and behaves like all settler colonialist projects."
The answer is to dissolve the Jewish state, she said. I’m a little blown away by her argument, so let me try and lay out her ideas in a straightforward manner.
Karmi began with the idea that the Zionists fully anticipated
Palestinian resistance. Ze’ev Jabotinsky said way back when to his
fellow Zionists, "If you insist on doing this, on setting up a state at
the expense of the people of the region, you must expect that they will
never accept you… They will almost always reject you. That is the
history of colonialism. … You will have to live by the sword, or give
[the project] up." Karmi commented, "Unfortunately they didn’t give it
up, and we have had an appalling conflict since."
The ideology of Zionism, she said, has caused enormous damage to the region. Israel has transformed the Arab world. The cost of Zionism
is not just the effect on the Palestinians, but the radicalization and
extremism of Arab societies. These problems "can be traced back to
"There is no way out except through a one-state solution… Our problem
isn’t, Can we get Israel to concede enough territory to make a state to
live alongside Israel?.. The problem is Israel, a state set up on an
ideology which is racist, exclusivist, belligerent and aggressive."
Israel will always be threatening its neighbors. You cannot expect Palestinians to live in a neighborhood with Israel, it is like
asking a people to live with violent gangs. Why, just look at what the
Zionists have done with Hebron, from the latest testimonies of Breaking the Silence soldiers.
The difficulty of fighting Zionism (of course) is that Palestinians are fighting a
"settler colony backed by the strongest power on earth," she said. "We
are also fighting… the allegiance that the idea of Israel has been
able to evoke in many people, Jews predominantly, of course." But the
Palestinians have struggled to understand what they are up against because this myth was born of Europe and the
If American Jews saw the actuality of Israel, they would feel differently about it. But if you suggest that Israel does bad things, there is an emotional response. "The idea of the ending of the
Jewish state is experienced by many people as a personal assault. They
actually feel emotionally and psychologically identified with the
Jewish state. You tread on people’s identity like that, they will
fight… And Zionists have been able to harness these fears, hopes,
needs, desires, complexes, whatever they are, to the Zionist project."
Historically, Jews have experienced tolerance in the Arab world. There was no
history of pogroms. And then a European
problem, the question of what to do with the Jews, "which they were never able to
solve," was passed to the Arabs. The west cannot disentangle itself from its guilt over the Holocaust and its own antisemitism. So Europe
offloaded people it didn’t like on to the Arabs, and then castigated
the Arabs" for not loving the people it didn’t like."
Karmi’s father died last year, at age 101. All his life, "this man had known nothing but conflict." Born under the Ottoman Empire, he lived through the World War I division of the region, the Mandate period, and then his own expulsion and exile from the land he loved. Karmi has made a vow to herself, that she will not die before there is a solution.
"This can’t be allowed to go on… it has to end."
A couple comments. First, it’s amazing that twice in the last couple of weeks I’ve been to New York forums, albeit small ones, at which Jewish and Arab speakers talked about dissolving the state of Israel as we know it. Regime change. This represents a new level of openness about such ideas. (And no, I’m not sure just where I stand on this one, I’m learning.)
Karmi’s appeal to the west is both moving and tragic. I’ve been told that the Arab historian George Antonius stated in his journals back in the ’30s, Boy, all I have to do is go to London and explain what Zionism is doing, and the world will come to our side. It never happened; Antonius didn’t know what he was up against. Of course much has changed since then, including the barbarity of the Israeli occupation. And the proliferation of Arab voices in the U.S. is bound to make a difference. Still.
I always come back to American Jewish identity. Jews are so influential on this issue, owing to the background of the Holocaust. The most critical thing here is for Jews to look at Israel society as they look at American society. Here we demand acceptance and human rights, for us and other minorities. When will we make the same demands of Israel? Jane Kramer’s piece on Nadia Abu El Haj in the New Yorker sprang, Kramer said, from her own Jewishness (so I gather she told Jon Wiener in his April 8 show). And before she went to the Brecht Forum, Karmi went to the Nation Magazine yesterday. It is vital that American Jews hear these stories of affliction from Arabs, and then do something about them.