Did you read Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech following the attack on the West Jerusalem synagogue Tuesday? I found it bloodcurdling. He called on “the state of the Jews” to unite in a “battle for Jerusalem.” The leader of a country that is 20 percent non-Jewish, Netanyahu left his own citizens out of his call to arms:
this is the root of the conflict: The refusal to recognize – and educate for – the existence of the state of the Jews..Terrorism has followed us through all the years of the Zionist enterprise. We have always withstood it and we will do so this time as well.
There are those who would like to uproot us from our land and from our capital. They will not achieve their aim. We are in a battle for Jerusalem, our eternal capital. In this battle we must be united; this is the order of the day… We must put aside all of the little differences and unite around one major issue – defending Jerusalem, defending the security of Israel’s citizens
Calling Jews to put aside their little differences and take up arms for the “battle for Jerusalem” is a vision of holy war, with fascistic trimmings. The words “battle for Jerusalem” recall the Battle of Algiers in the late 1950s, a similar contest between overwhelming military force and terrorist attacks. And we know how that turned out, in a zero sum game, in which the colonizers felt they had to leave Algeria in 1962, even colonizers who’d been there several generations.
Netanyahu goes well beyond the early secular Zionists in this militant religious ideology. His government is now encircling and controlling all of Jerusalem, “the eternal capital” of the Jews, and choking off Palestinian life there. But as I have pointed out on many occasions, Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, promised European leaders including the Pope, the Sultan, and the Czar over and over again that Jerusalem and its holy places would be outside the Jewish state. The U.N. Partition plan of 1947 also called for Jerusalem to be internationalized; and UN mediator Folke Bernadotte was killed by Jewish terrorists in 1948 when he sought to maintain Jerusalem’s international character. They wanted Jerusalem then, and they want it now.
When I was at rightwing rallies in Jerusalem last week, two Israelis I met echoed what Netanyahu says in that speech. When I said the latest skirmishes began last June, they said, No, the conflict began in 1947, when the U.N. voted to partition Palestine. It’s not about the ’67 borders or occupation, they were saying, it’s about Zionism, the ideology of Jewish nationalism. Palestinians reject that ideology and don’t want a Jewish state here. And Netanyahu and his friends are returning the favor, denying any possibility of a Palestinian state by colonizing Jerusalem, defying Obama and all the liberal Zionists who talk about two states for two peoples.
Today in the U.S. I hear some Americans seeking to be post-Zionist. A one-state reality exists; let’s move on to the civil rights struggle, they say. Or, Palestinians can’t be expected to embrace Zionism, so don’t call on them to recognize a Jewish state. I agree with these voices; and I can’t wait to get there. But the problem is that things in Israel and Palestine are more desperate than they seem here. The two sides hate one another, and one side has all the power; and post-Zionism is a cafe on the beach in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu has now avowed a religious battle in which one group will control a city held holy by three religions. That can’t end well for any of us.
His speech reminds me of why I am an anti-Zionist. Zionism has produced a toxic form of nationalism that cannot imagine treating Palestinians as equals let alone understanding their desires and frustrations under occupation. The perpetrators of the Tuesday attack were “human animals,” Netanyahu said. Yes, I know; Palestinian resistance is also a root cause of the conflict, the refusal to accept Zionist dominion in their lands. But who can blame an indigenous people for that determination in the era of decolonization; and so I feel great urgency in convincing Americans that an ideology of Jewish domination of a center of civilization is alien to our values, to the principle of the separation of church and state, and a recipe for endless conflict.
The battle for Jerusalem is deadly for all of us. Americans must affirm that this city belongs to the world.
P.S. Here is Israel’s ambassador to Jordan, Daniel Nevo, describing religious tensions in Jerusalem yesterday on NPR (report by Emily Harris). It would be hard to come up with a more divisive and sectarian message than this one, in which Nevo implicates all Jews in the world:
DANIEL NEVO: Most of 1.8 billion Muslims in the world don’t really care about reality or about the facts. What they care is some of the imams will say that the Jews are conquesting or penetrating Al-Aqsa. It’s enough. And it is enough to put every Israeli and Jew all around the world in jeopardy.