Another Jew walks away from Zionism, but it’s in the English press not the American press. This rambling, charming piece by Wayne Myers, formerly a vehement campus supporter of Israel who wanted to move there, was published in the Independent with an overwhelming number of readers approving the message. I’ve excerpted several of musician Myers’s personal milestone moments toward his late epiphany that if preserving a Jewish state involves massacring people in Gaza, it’s not worth it, and that Zionism as effected is racist.
Note two important moments on the way: Myers’s argument against Israel being a democracy, which is crucial to hasbara to demonstrate “our shared values”, and the importance of Cast Lead in 2008-2009 in shattering Myers’s attachment to Zionism.
[In 1987] while in Jerusalem I met and fell in love with Ayelet, an Israeli girl my own age. She was not long out of basic Army training and had taken up a post as a remedial Hebrew teacher at an Israeli Army school. We spoke only in Hebrew and were for a while very much in love, though she thought I was a complete lunatic not just for being a Zionist – among Israelis the word ‘Zionist’ means something somewhat different to its meaning in the wider Jewish community – but also for being on the Machon course at all [course at the Institute For Youth Leaders From Abroad in Jerusalem, run by an arm of the Israeli state known as the Jewish Agency] and for seriously considering moving to Israel permanently: her ambition at the time was to move to New York.
I remember joking then that the most potent form of Zionism was not Religious Zionism, Revisionist Zionism, Political Zionism, or Cultural Zionism, all of which we had been taught about in class at Machon, but was rather Sexual Zionism, which we had not been taught about even once. Looking back, I now understand why hardly anyone, Ayelet included, found my joke funny.
… My plan at the time was to get my degree from Oxford and move to Israel afterwards.
Once back in the UK, my obsession with Zionism continued. At Oxford I changed my degree from Maths and Philosophy to Oriental Studies (Hebrew), a course comprising Hebrew literature and Jewish history; on the history side I made a special study of Zionism up to 1948. …
By 1993, when I left Oxford, things in my personal life had changed. Ayelet, quite reasonably unwilling to spend three years of her early twenties in a long-distance relationship with a complete lunatic, had left me, and I was now romantically involved with Abigail, a rather posh Jewish girl from one of the old established Anglo-Jewish families from before the wave of immigration from Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century that had brought my own great-grandparents to London. Abigail was about as likely to move to Israel as she was to grow feathers and a beak, and I found myself strongly reconsidering my decision to move there myself….
In 1994/5 I spent a further year in Jerusalem on the One Year Graduate Program at the Hebrew University. This was supposed to be my year to ‘check out’ whether or not I really wanted to go and live in Israel, before I made a final decision. Jerusalem is and was a miserable and tedious place for a young secular man in his early twenties; it soon became clear to me that I did not wish to live there after all, and I began drinking heavily…
I had by this time met Daphna Baram, an Israeli journalist and Guardian contributor effectively in exile in London for her anti-Zionist views…. Daphna was the first to put to me directly the astonishing proposition that the best solution for the Israel-Palestine problem was a single genuinely democratic state in which all citizens were treated equally regardless of ethnic origin. Currently, that is not the case. While the state of Israel makes just as reasonable a claim to be a democracy as, say, Belarus or Russia, the fact is that Jewish and non-Jewish citizens are not treated equally.
It is true that there are Israeli Arab Knesset members and that Israeli Arabs can vote, but it is also true that there are huge differences in the way that Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews are treated by the state, ranging from whether or not they are required to join the army at the age of 18 to whether or not their home town or village gets a reasonable annual budget to cover municipal requirements. It is painfully obvious from available statistics that Israeli Arab areas get substantially less support from the Israeli state than equivalent size Jewish settlements, and that in general, while Israeli Arabs may not offically be second-class citizens of Israel, that is certainly what they are in practice….
Then, in late 2008, Operation Cast Lead began. Having previously largely withdrawn from Gaza in 2005 (though still keeping it surrounded and effectively cut off from the West Bank), Israel began in December 2008 to bombard it indiscriminately, in the name of ending rocket fire into Israel from within the Strip. For the life of me, I could not see how this was supposed to work. I could not see any way of defending this action. As the number of Palestinian casualties grew – far out of proportion to the number of casualties on the Israeli side – it just got worse and worse.
For the first time in my adult life I began wondering whether the Jewish State was actually worth defending at all on any level if this was the price. I was watching a blatant and brutal massacre of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, utterly disproportionate to the attacks that had provoked it, which had in turn been provoked by earlier Israeli incursions, in an endless back-and-forth cycle, in order to defend what?…
On Machon, I’d had training in how to argue against the proposition that Zionism was racism, but no training in how to argue in defence of the indiscriminate massacre of civilian children. That one hadn’t come up.
I began to consider the possibility that I’d been misled…
I can no longer defend Zionism at all, not even in an abstract philosophical sense outside of any context involving the actions of the Israeli state. The Law of Return, under which I – an occasional tourist who just happens to be Jewish – can claim Israeli citizenship at a moment’s notice, while a Palestinian actually born in, say, Haifa, but subsequently exiled cannot – that is a racist law. The notion of a Jewish state? That is – as far as it has been put into practice since 1948 – a racist notion.
Is Zionism racism? It didn’t have to be. There were historical strands within Zionism that were not racist. Martin Buber – Zionist founder, in 1925, of the Brit Shalom organisation advocating a binational state, was not a racist, and nor were the pre-1948 Hashomer Hatzair.
But right now?
It’s really very hard indeed to argue otherwise.
And it’s such a blessed relief to feel that I am no longer obligated to attempt to do so.