Roy Ratcliffe: The Zionist Left and the Loyalty Oath

The promotion of a loyalty oath by the extreme right in Israel has presented yet another window through which the thoroughly racist nature of the Jewish state can be glimpsed by those outside its national boundaries. This should not cause any surprise. It is common knowledge, or perhaps ought to be, that Israel was founded in 1948, as a colonialist enterprise promoted exclusively for the benefit of Jews.  Therefore a loyalty oath which requires citizens to swear to uphold the ‘Jewish’ character of the state of Israel, is completely in line with its founding principles.  However, what has also been revealed by this promotion of a loyalty oath, is the Zionist nature of the response to it by the so-called ‘left’ in Israel. They have been motivated to claim that this latest requirement would transform Israel into a Fascist state.  For example;

 "A state which forcibly invades the hallowed realm of the individual citizen's conscience, and which imposes punishment on those whose opinions and beliefs do not fit the authorities' opinions and the prescribed "character" of the state, stops being a democracy and embarks on becoming a fascist state.” (Declaration of Independence from Fascism)

Of course in the real world, it is not exclusively a loyalty oath which distinguishes fascism from other forms of governance. The list of characteristics which distinguish fascism in 1930’s Germany, for example contain, amongst others; racial discrimination/exclusion, militarism, savage exploitation, ghettoisation, civilian movement restrictions along with brutal treatment and control of those designated as ’undesirables’. All of which were ’normal’ in Israel before the recent idea to include a loyalty oath. Yet it is this previous fascistic normality which the above left protestors against a loyalty oath seek to defend. Their declaration continues: 

 “Behind these stairs where we stand, the state of Israel was proclaimed. The state which increasingly takes Israel's place – a state which fills the country with a variety of racist legislation, promoted by the Knesset and the cabinet – is excluding itself from the family of democratic nations.” (ibid)

These left Zionists honoured the foundation of the state of Israel, whose authors orchestrated the Nakba and the continued genocidal treatment of Palestinians, by making their declaration as close as possible to the original site of the founding declaration of Israel. This Israel (1948 - 2010) which routinely conducts heavily armed intrusions into defenceless Palestinian homes and murders defenceless civilians is only now, by means of a loyalty oath, considered fascist by the ‘left’ and to have taken a step which serves to exclude it “from the family of democratic nations“.  Even the 2009 Blitskrieg of Gaza did not encourage the atrophied humanity of these ‘lefts’ to attempt to raise any grievances to a similar conspicuous position.  As one critic of this left opposition to the loyalty oath grievance, noted;

“Proclaiming that “grievance” serves precisely to appropriate another attack on the people whose country really was stolen. By proclaiming the founders victims of an expropriation of “their” country, the document naturalizes them in Palestine, and by the same token it naturalizes the spoils of 1948.” (Gabriel. Jews sans frontiers. Nov 1 2010)

Indeed! A left group which is stirred, into thinking its so-called ‘democratic‘ Jewish Israel is only moving toward fascism, because of an individual loyalty oath are clearly not understanding the world as many humanists and others view it. Such Israeli’s are living in a virtual world entirely of their own and other Zionists making. It is a world in which the results of a particular form of  colonial aggression are now taken for granted by them as indisputable and privileged ’facts on the ground‘. The Zionist left is revealed not as a humanist left, but a Jewish left, totally at one with ‘their’ colonialist acquired gains.  This position arises, as with other racist ideologies, due to the acceptance of Jewishness as a primary form of identity rather than a secondary one. There is nothing particularly wrong with secondary identities, based upon religion, ethnicity, nationality or even gender, but there is everything wrong with making these the primary form of identity in the modern world. This is because they are the means by which divisions are instigated, elevated and perpetuated, leading to discrimination, intolerance and prejudice. These often ancient, and sooner or later, always retrograde views in turn have led humanity to systematically exploit, oppress and destroy other human beings. The medium of this destruction being variously; religious conflict, nationalist conflict, ethnic conflict and gender-based conflict. Humanity, really needs to move on from such partisan tribalised posturing. The state of Israel was erected precisely upon the basis that within it, Jewish identity and the needs of Jews were to be elevated above the needs of all other human beings. The Genocide of the 20th century Nakba and 21st century Blitskrieg of Gaza against Palestinians (and all in between) are the logical results of the passionate and sustained elevation of one group of humanity over another.     

In this particular case, in order to identify oneself primarily as Jewish and therefore to subscribe to a collective Jewish identity, it is necessary to accept a claim to a specific shared history and culture.  Yet it is a history and culture founded upon a religion, and for this reason it is a history from which it is all but impossible to escape. This is so, whether a Jewish person is directly influenced by religion or not. For example;

“The message of the Chosen People makes sense in secular, nationalist and historical terms…The Jews can be considered a self-chosen people…Though I reject theology, the single most important book in my life is the Bible.” (Ben-Gurion. Quoted in ‘The Bible and Zionism’ Nur Masalha. Pub. Zed Books. Page17.)

Rejecting God in this case, as with other such cases, is not necessarily accompanied by a critical re-examination of the whole culture based upon it.  As the example of Ben-Gurion and others illustrates, secular forms of Jewish identity saw ‘sense’ in the biblical message of ‘Chosen People’ and ‘Promised Land‘. Even those who didn’t lean so heavily on the bible or embrace God so enthusiastically, nevertheless identified themselves with a common Jewish history and culture, which was comprehensively and inescapably founded upon both these factors. So despite varying historical interpretations and secular preferences, the egotistical acceptance of this specific common history and culture, is the connective tissue which unites left secular Zionists and rightwing fundamentalist settler Zionists. To be more specific, the identity confirmed by this shared history is one of cultural exclusivity, self-governance and a self-identification as a special part of humanity - all of which were and are religiously promoted. It is the common acceptance and vigorous defence of this ‘identity’ which makes it inevitable that both Jewish, left peace activists, and right settler activists defend the right for Israel to exist as an exclusive Jewish state. The two sides differ only on how this exclusivity is to be achieved.

The defence of Jewishness as a primary identity also extends its logical necessity to savagely attacking anyone who suggests it should only be a secondary feature. Jews who put humanitarian values first and Jewish values second and thus totally criticise Israel and Zionist colonialism, for its racism and inhumanity, are considered by Zionists as self-hating Jews. Non-Jews who think and declare likewise are labelled as anti-Semites by right Zionists and left Zionists alike. Suggesting Jewish identity should become a secondary form of human identity is viewed by Zionists as being totally anti-Jewish, only because they desire it to remain primary. Both sides of the spectrum of Jewish Zionism, therefore, do their best to silence, marginalise, neutralise or eliminate any criticism which dares to suggest that a common identity with Palestinians and the rest of humanity, should in modern times be allowed to finally relegate this ancient, preserved tradition to second place.  

Furthermore, as we have seen, since that specific Jewish history and culture, has for two millennia been based upon Tanach/Old Testament, the common core which permeates all forms of Jewish identity is to a greater or lesser extent, related to the bible.  Biblical history is the underlying basis upon which all forms of Jewish identity have to be erected, for there is no other form of specific Jewish history or culture. The attempt to initiate a secular form of history by the Zionist colonial project in Palestine, was compromised from the start, by linking this aspiration to a biblical narrative alleging a promised land.  Because Israels Zionist political and military power could not be justified or rationalised as emanating from a common humanitarian ethos or from its equivalent, an ethos of citizen equality, it had from the outset in 1948, to assume a religious form. What is more, it will have to increasingly rely upon religious criteria, precisely because it still lacks a common humanitarian ethos in relationship to its history, to the indigenous population it has usurped and to the common humanitarian values aspired to by all enlightened populations.  For this reason the influence and numbers of the religious right will undoubtedly continue to grow because the bible increasingly represents the only available basis for justifying the existence and continuation of the Jewish State of Israel. The numbers and influence of the secularised left in Israel will continue to decrease precisely because there is actually no secular, enlightened justification, past, present or future for the existence of the Jewish state they so passionately and patriotically wish to defend. 


R. Ratcliffe (December 2010)