Serious question: What is Zionism?

Introduction by GA: In the following  article John Carville digs into the belly of the beast. He questions the validity of the dichotomy between the ‘J’ and the ‘Z.’  He calls to launch a critical study of different aspects of Jewish culture, politics, identity and power. In 2011 I published The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics. The book was denounced by Zionists and Jewish anti Zionists alike as it proclaimed that since Israel defines itself as the Jewish State it is Jewishness (rather than Zionism) which we must understand first.  In the book I offered a solution to some of  the questions raised by Craville. I contended that instead of asking ‘what Jews are’ or even ‘what Judaism is,’ we should study what are the set of ideologies, precepts and philosophies that people who self identify as Jews adhere to. In my work, Jews are neither a biological continuum nor they are a religious collective. In The Wandering Who Jewishness proves itself to be an elastic identitarian construct.  

We have learned to accept that we are living in a post truth era.  But here is the good news: the more is invested in suppressing the truth, the more the truth is keen to unveil itself.

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Serious question: What is Zionism?

 By John Carville

If Zionism was the political movement to establish a homeland for the Jewish people in the Middle East, then surely it achieved its goal and the term ceased to have meaning in terms of defining the objectives of a political movement.

Alternatively, if Zionism then morphed into support for the continued existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East, then the only point of view what would not be Zionist would be the one that calls the Jewish state illegitimate and calls for it to be dismantled. Yet there are few political voices that call for such an approach, and governments that have referred to the Jewish state as illegitimate have been demonized for doing so. Clearly, such a view is regarded as a fringe one.

So, what is Zionism today? Is everybody who does not declare Israel to be an illegitimate state that should be dismantled and the land given back to its dispossessed people a Zionist? Would that not make nearly everyone a Zionist? And, if so, does that not deprive the term of any meaning whatsoever?

This is not just semantics. Clearly, considerable effort goes on, particularly within movements like BDS and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, to imprint the mantra into people's minds that it is "Zionism not Judaism" that is responsible for the ongoing plight of the Palestinian people; and that, more importantly, we should not ask any questions about the role of Judaic teaching or ideology in attempting to understand what motivated and continues to motivate the supporters of what is now a genocidal apartheid state that openly defines itself as a "Jewish state" in the Middle East. If it is Zionism and not Judaism that is the problem, then clearly we need to understand what Zionism is (and, relatedly, whether it is rooted in Jewish religious teaching). And if Zionism turns out to be an empty concept, then we should be asking ask what are the ideological underpinnings of Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians (and the lack of action on the part of the international community in that context) for more than 70 years.

Personally, I reject the "Zionism is not Judaism" approach and see that we are being fobbed off with nonsense. It seems clear that this wonderfully popular term "Zionism" is now devoid of content. Either no one is now a Zionist (because the goal of Zionism was achieved via the Catastrophe of 1948) or almost everyone is a Zionist (because there are very few people who would declare that the Jewish state should be dismantled and returned to its dispossessed owners). And,as Israel Shahak argued eloquently in his important and insightful work Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, I would suggest that we cannot begin to understand Israel's treatment of the Palestinians without examining the roots of Judaic thinking and Jewish identity in the ethnically and religiously discriminatory doctrines of Judaic religion, which has shaped the Jewish mindset for most of its history. It seems, however, that Shahak's writing continues to reap far less attention than it merits.

Yesterday, I attended a social evening organized by BDS Granada. Towards the end of the evening, I spoke to a couple of members, who seemed very nice people, but they instantly became uncomfortable when I made this point, namely, that we cannot understand Israel's ongoing genocide against the Palestinians without looking at its ideological roots and justification in the Jewish religion. 'Oh no,' they said, 'that is dangerously close to anti-Semitism. Zionism is not Judaism,' etc. Then their Jewish friend popped up and, well, let's just say things went downhill from there.

Clearly, the topic continues to be both policed and silenced within many circles. It is thus no surprise that the activities of the many nice people within the BDS movement and various PSC collectives have failed to gain any real traction over the last decades, when discussion of issues highly relevant for understanding the problem continue to be policed and rendered taboo out of fear of offending Jewish feelings. And while I agree that there is always a need to respect the feelings of others in all forms of discourse, this needs to be balanced against many other needs, including the right to free speech - especially when the matter involves attempts to resolve ongoing crimes against humanity being committed against a specific collectivity, in this case the Palestinian people. To say that we cannot understand the roots of Israel's ongoing genocide without examining the doctrines of Judaic teaching over the centuries is not to call for violence or discrimination against people who identify as Jews (and there are various different mechanisms of identification involved here, which merit considerable academic analysis in themselves). Nor is it an attempt to say that all people who identify as Jewish are involved in or support the illegal, oppressive and discriminatory actions of the Jewish state. Attempts to suggest otherwise violate our right to and need for free and open discourse on matters of great importance. Furthermore, discourse about justifications of violence in religious texts have taken place without problem in the context of other religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam (and also, "Hinduism", though this term is something of a misnomer for the various traditions that are usually grouped together under this name).

Like Professor E Michael Jones, who has also sought to open up discourse surrounding Jewish thinking so that we might understand what is going on in our world, I have never advocated violence against any specific collectivity. And, like Gilad Atzmon, too, I reject racially or biologically based generalizations to examine questions related to the political and social influence of Jewish power and ideology in our world. I have lost count of the amount of times I have had to explain that to talk about discriminatory and supremacist teachings at the core of Judaic teaching does not mean that all individuals who identify as Jewish are as equally influenced by such doctrines. Jewish thought runs the gamut from the belief that all human beings (including non-Jews) should have the same rights and be valued and treated equally to the view that non-Jews have Satanic souls, that only Jews have a Higher Soul that comes from God, and that the non-Jew exists only to serve the Jew like a clever beast of burden, with a vast range of shades in between representing various attempts to reconcile (or not) the notion of being a "chosen people" with a private covenant with their own god (hence the commandment that 'thou shalt not have other gods before me') and own set of laws, on the one hand, with the Enlightenment ideals of universalizable morals and the equality of all human beings, on the other. Certainly, there are many people who identify as Jews today who would seek to distance themselves from views espoused by groups such as that of the powerful ultra-Orthodox sect Chabad that it is only Jews that have a Higher Soul, or that expressed by the chief rabbi of the Sephardic community that Gentiles exist only to serve Jews. On the other hand, in noting that, we must also recognize that such an egalitarian strand within Jewish thinking is a relatively recent phenomenon, stretching back only to the post-Enlightenment period, when many Jews sought to break free of the strict mental and social control of the rabbis that had sought to keep them segregated from the rest of humanity in ghettos for so long. And the deep traces of the ancient religious teachings can still be found, and thus merit serious examination, even within today's secular Jews. As the joke has it, and not without some merit, many secular Jews say they don't believe in God that but still seem to think He granted them their "promised land".

Leaving all that aside for now, though, the fact that there exist individuals who identify as Jewish but who reject (consciously or otherwise) the discriminatory ideology of Judaic teaching does not mean that we cannot or should not be allowed to talk meaningfully about the role of supremacist and genocidal teachings within Jewish thought as a Jewish phenomenon as a whole, just as the fact that there are many Americans who have opposed US exceptionalism throughout history does not mean that we cannot or should not be allowed to talk meaningfully about American exceptionalism. This should be fairly obvious. Even in the recent farcical allegations of Russian collusion made against the Trump campaign, no one suggested that all Russians were colluding with Trump, or that Trump's team was colluding with all Russians. It's quite simple really. The fact that there are people who see themselves as Jewish who reject (to greater or lesser degree) Jewish supremacist ideology and activity does not mean that we cannot and should not be allowed to talk about supremacist and genocidal thinking within Jewish ideology and religious teaching, nor to examine how far such thought influences events in the social and political sphere. And the fact that so much effort goes into attempting to prevent us from doing so should set off red warning lamps in the minds of any true defender of freedom of speech and academic enquiry.

I thus repeat my claim from a day or two ago, that we need (but of course will not get for what should be by now obvious reasons) full academic recognition of a critical discourse on questions related to Jewish identity, Jewish thinking and Jewish power. We might perhaps call such discourse Critical Jewish Studies. And it should be understood by any legitimate scholar of integrity that Critical Jewish Studies is not anti-Semitism, and that any attempt to silence such studies or discourse on such grounds would represent a violation of principles of free enquiry that any true academic should seek to defend, as well as of the natural law right to freedom of speech.


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