By Gilad Atzmon
How many time have you heard the so-called ‘Jews in the movement’ warning others not to conflate Judaism and Zionism? How many times have the usual suspects attempted to absolve the ‘J word’ while blaming ‘Z’ related crimes? How many times have you had to apologise or withdraw any comparison between these two apparently similar notions? What does ‘conflation’ mean in the Jewish-Zionist context?
To conflate is to combine two or more sets of information or ideas into one. When accused of conflation, we are blamed for bringing (distinct) things together and fusing them into a single entity; of mixing together different elements and failing to ‘properly distinguish’ among them or of mistakenly treating such elements as equivalent.
Conflation might be unmerited if two completely remote concepts were fused without substantiating or justifying the correlation. But this is not the case with Judaism and Zionism, nor is this the case for Jewishness and authoritarianism, nor for choseness and exceptionalism.
Although at its inception Zionism was openly hostile towards Judaism and Diaspora Jewish culture, the profound Zionist phantasy of a collective Jewish metamorphosis didn’t last long.
Early Zionists vowed to fight what they saw as a Jewish cultural malaise. They intended to eradicate Jewish ‘non proletarian’ inclinations as well as the Jewish sense of choseness and to make ‘Jews people like all other people.’ It didn’t take long before Jewishness, that deep sense of Jewish exceptionalism, hijacked the Zionist revolution. The notion that Jews were entitled to ‘self determine themselves’ on someone else’s land itself, in fact, entailed the end of the Zionist ‘revolutionary’ tale.
The wish to become ‘people like all other people’ confirmed that Zionists could never become people like all other people: no other people wish to become people like all other people.
From its formation, Zionism has been a racially oriented national liberation movement. The project has been an exclusively Jews-only movement and not just anyone could join. In other words, as much as early Zionism was driven by animosity towards Jewish exclusivity, it actually adopted the most problematic aspect of Jewish biological doctrine.*
I guess a possible explanation of this is that Zionism, like all other Jewish identitarian formations, is an attempt to furnish the Judaic moment with contemporaneous meaning and a nationalist dream. The ‘revolutionary’ Bund that was formed in the same year (1897) offered Jews a different solution, that of a ‘cosmopolitan’ socialist redemption. Jewish ‘anti’ Zionists are just another Jews-only club that convey the message that not all Jews are as bad as Bibi.
This is where conflation comes into play, transcending the literal and grasping at the essential. Conflation is a moment of epiphany, the moment of an abrupt realisation that things that seems remote or foreign to each other actually belong in the same category. To conflate is to exercise the human ability to synthesise, to think in abstract terms, to extend one’s view from the object to meaning. It is therefore disturbing that our so-called ‘allies’ in the solidarity movement are upset by the rest of us exercising our human capacity to put things together and think in categorical and abstract terms.
To be sure, Judaism which is a religious precept and Zionism which is a political movement are distinct entities. We all know that some rabbinical Jews clash with Zionism and Israel. Yet when examined as aspects of Jewishness – the celebration of Jewish exceptionalism- Zionism and Judaism have a lot in common. And it is hardly a secret that the vast majority of Judaic sects accept the inherent spiritual bond between Zionism and Judaism.
A crucial question is why the so called ‘Jews in the movement,’ who are largely secular, are offended by the conflation of Judaism and Zionism? What is it that they try to hide or suppress? Is it that they aren’t as ‘secular’ as they claim to be or is it because they are actually far more Zionist than they are willing to admit?
* This unique form of lack of self awareness isn’t only a Zionist symptom. In fact, Jewish so- called ‘anti Zionists’ are contaminated by the same symptom. Jewish Voice for Peace that opposes Zionist Jewish exclusivity is, in fact, more racially exclusive that the Jewish State; while in the Israeli Knesset the third biggest party is an Arab party, in Jewish anti Zionist organisations you won’t find a single gentile in a steering position. The British Jewish Corbyn support group (JVL) made it clear on it website that Goyim could join only as ‘solidarity members’ not as proper members. True membership is reserved for racially qualified members of the tribe.