Hillel Ben Sasson at Peter Beinart’s new Zion Square blog at Daily Beast is done with trying to resuscitate the term Zionism. “Zionism’s been stolen.” I like this piece because it shows the growing awareness inside Jewish life, and inside Zionism, that Zionism just hasn’t worked out well, whatever the idealism of its founders. This is why Jewish Voice for Peace eschews the word entirely and says that it includes Zionists and former Zionists. And also shows why American liberals and anti-Zionists are necessary to this conversation: to lift the curtain on the Nakba and interrogate the racist component of the original movement. Excerpt of the Ben Sasson (emphasis mine, and thanks to Peter Belmont):
In contemporary Israel, you can’t express values of human rights, tolerance, ideological pluralism, or critique the occupation or the militarization of Israeli society. If you do, leading public figures, Knesset members, and government officials will denounce you as undermining the existence of Israel. The anti-Zionist trump card is waived whenever a public figure of any color or denomination questions the hegemonic economy of hatred and fear towards Arabs, Europeans, Democrats, or anyone that doesn’t recite the mantra that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. The fact that many founding Zionists would have strongly opposed such a narrow definition the term matters little to this loud and somewhat paranoid crowd of Jewish McCarthys.
As long as the word Zionism no longer refers simply to the right of a people to self definition, but rather to a means of determining who is on “our” side and who is a traitor, Zionism will not serve me as a useful component of identity. For me, the apologetic task of trying to defend (or re-conquer) the term is futile, because it necessitates endless ordeals; none of which could ever legitimize what could have been Zionism for me.