There has been a lively response to my article of August 28 concerning Naomi Klein and the Durban anti-racism conferences–over 100 posts and counting as of a few hours ago. Perhaps I can select a few themes from the back and forth for a bit of expansion, as these seem to be the matters that arouse the deeper questions.
The identity of Zionism=racism definitely stirs up the most feeling and the most doubts. This is as it should be, because if the assertion is true, and if Zionism is the fundamental organizing ideology of the Jewish State, then Israel is not only in pretty bad company, but appears essentially unable to change. I happen to believe this to be the case, and it is a chief reason I wish to disabuse people of the hope for a two-state solution, so long as the Israeli side of this remains animated and structured by Zionism. For the problem with the two state solution is not just that the Palestinian state is a bad joke and unworthy of the allegiance of any self-respecting human being; it is also that the Jewish state is preserved in Zionist form within Two-state policies, and the overriding impulse of a such a state is to seize all the land and the power for Jews, hence to render the Palestinian state into said bad joke.
Zionism here means "political Zionism," which is only one of the forms taken by the ideology over the last century. It is however, also the only form capable of fulfilling the basic project of Zionism, which is to be the historical destiny of the Jewish people as a whole. This required control over land, which requires a state (the "political" part) as an instrument of force, necessary here because the land didn’t belong to the Jews and had to be seized if Zion was to be built. Since it’s wrong to steal another’s land, and since the Jewish identity that evolved under Zionist influence includes a powerful belief that Jews have been wronged and are inherently ethical people, an iron necessity has developed to deny the criminal implications of Zionism by blaming, despising and degrading the people whose land is being seized. This became the core of Israeli racism and it won’t go away so long as Zionism guides the Israeli experience.
It’s not necessarily true that all Zion/ists /need be rac/ists/.To be a racist properly means that consciously racist attitudes are held in mind; consciousness, however, is relatively easy to manipulate through various strategies. What counts is whether one’s allegiance to Israel, or what comes to the same thing, one’s equivocation about putting an end to Israeli crimes, objectively contributes to the perpetuation of said crimes and the annihilation of Palestinian human rights. This can take place without any particular attitude toward Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims as people.
Another, related query came forth in the responses, namely whether I think nationalism itself leads inevitably to racism. I don’t believe so, though certainly a seed of racism exists within nationalism. Whether or not this sprouts depends, however, on the degree of universal values also embedded within the narratives that comprise a nationalist project. And this is turn depends upon whether nationalism arises in the context of a liberation struggle.
Unhappily, such a struggle played no real role in the rise of the State of Israel, which was pretty much entirely a story of usurpation. I say, a real role, because Zionism has made much of the mythic liberation struggles depicted in the Old Testament. The strength of this need accounts for the insistence of Biblical claims in the lore and propaganda of Zionism, and to a degree, for the rise of religious fundamentalism in what was originally meant to be a highly secular project. But myth and historical reality, alas, are not the same, and the actual narratives that enter into Israeli nationalism are tales of expropriation and not national liberation.
Hence they perpetually generate racist structures.