Breaking with Zionism can be a life-shattering experience.
In Israel, the Jewish-Israeli society is by and large Zionist – in degrees varying from the so-called ‘liberal-Zionist’ to the fundamentalist Zionist. There is not really, necessarily, much of a difference when one speaks of this breaking experience in one faction or the other.
The thing with Zionism is, that its adherents basically see it as a kind of ‘essence of life’. The Zionist indoctrination teaches that it’s about ‘our very existence’. The ‘us’ is generally considered to be ‘the Jewish nation’ or ‘the Jewish people’, and hence the individual is seen as a small part in this. As the survival of the whole also encompasses the individual, any breaking with Zionism is considered a kind of societal treachery, which endangers the strength and even survival of the ‘whole’.
Narratives challenging the factual veracity of the ‘survival’ notion, like pointing out the thriving Jewish existence elsewhere, is rather meaningless for Zionists. Under the Zionist meta-narrative, this is all temporary. Jewish thriving is temporary, and simply awaits a point in time wherein the gentiles will again ‘turn on the Jews’, because that’s what happens “in each and every generation”, as the Passover chant goes.
And the Zionist answer to this supposedly perilous, eternal state of affairs, is a Jewish nation-state. So in the bigger paradigm, Zionists simply see the solution – the Jewish nation-state, as a survivalist solution. They are therefore not inclined to see any ‘problems’ ensuing from it, such as human rights violations and challenging of international law, as more than mere obstacles or challenges facing this ‘special case’ – Israel.
So when one points out these violations, this is an irritation for Zionists not necessarily because they are not aware of them – but because by pointing them out, one is not showing sympathy with the challenges facing the ‘special case’ that Israel is, for them.
Since the case of Israel and Zionism needs a ‘special dispensation’, even an individual’s emotional breaking with Zionism can be perceived as a danger. And when one thus breaks with Zionism, it is seen in highly emotional, personal terms by those for whom it represents the ‘essence of life’.
That one then characterizes this kind of allegiance to the ‘Zionist essence of life’, as a kind of fascist adherence reminiscent of totalitarian societies, does nothing to add understanding amongst one’s peers. It merely adds insult to injury for them.
Furthermore, the talk about the intrinsic violation of human rights inherent in Zionism is only offensive to Zionists, and here particularly to the ‘liberal Zionists’, since it suggests that the whole grand ideology which they subscribe to is irreconcilable with values of equality and even democracy. Natasha Roth makes an eloquent summation of this in her article concerning the recent Israeli blacklist of BDS activists. Roth writes:
“The Israeli government apparently considers the banning of BDS activists acceptable behavior for a democracy, a view facilitated by its having very diligently cultivated and promoted the lie that BDS is an anti-Semitic movement aimed at destroying Israel. This lie has been remarkably successful, despite the clear statement on the official website of the BDS movement that its goal is to secure the same human and civil rights for Palestinians as everyone else living in Israeli-controlled territory. But if granting equal rights to everyone who lives in the territory controlled by Israel will cause the state to implode, then surely those who oppose BDS on those grounds are ignoring a fundamental problem — that a state which cannot survive if all its residents have equal rights is by definition not a democracy.”
In other words, Zionism renders the supposed values of ‘liberalism’ meaningless. It may well be that ‘liberal Zionists’ consider liberal values to be their highest goal, but when it comes down to the competition between Zionism and liberalism, Zionists will go Zionist. Where the more fundamentalist and more unabashed fascist Zionists are concerned, this is less of an affront, because they have less of an inclination to respect the ‘liberal’ notion anyway. But even fascists tend to think that their values are related to ‘freedom’ and ‘moral superiority’ – they simply judge the ‘others’ to not be part of the club.
So when the break occurs, it is a break that will inevitably lead one to reconsider the totality of the indoctrination and set of values one was brought up with. One ends up having to question the nature of those values, inasmuch as they hold up such a construct – Zionism – to be the essence of life. If one had thought that one was brought up on values of respect, one has to then mirror that claim against the intrinsic disrespect of Zionism towards the native ‘others’ – Palestinians. If this mirror does not bear the picture, if this disrespect – a genocidal one, let it be noted – cannot be reconciled with ‘respect’, the mirror shatters. One has to re-educate and re-assemble one’s whole set of values to establish a new and real concept of respect. This example pertains to a long list of values.
Thus the breaking with Zionism becomes a core breaking by oneself with a whole value-system with which one was raised. One’s family and peers register that one’s distance is not merely ‘political;’ it is, inevitably, about one’s essential nature of being. Zionists perceive this as a suggestion that they, the Zionists, are regarded as ‘others’ of lesser values, and instinctively register that regard as an offense, even throwing them back to the ‘anti-Semitic’ idea of Jews as lesser beings (even when it is a Jew breaking with Zionism). This is offensive to a Zionist’s whole being, on so many levels. They will inevitably feel a natural aversion to the person.
The solution to this aversion, if the people still want to deal with one another, might simply be avoiding the topic as much as possible. But the knowing will be there. It will be like an elephant in the room, the one we can’t talk about — Zionism.
People who are in such a society – the one which upholds and enshrines Zionism – know all this instinctively. The price of breaking with it can be high. It’s not only a breaking with society, it’s a breaking with one’s past. For most people, such a price is considered simply too high. But those who have realized that Palestinians are paying and have paid an incomparably high price for Zionism may find the price very tolerable and worthy. The intrinsic and general Zionist denial of Palestinian suffering is a part of this mechanism. If you deny it, and cannot feel it, then you can keep the mask, keep your self-righteousness, and keep the belief that Zionism is the only way.