By Gilad Atzmon
In a recent Haaretz article, leading Israeli columnist Gideon Levy affirms that Zionism is pretty irrelevant as far as Israelis are concerned. Similar to the line I myself develop in The Wandering Who, Levy contends that Israelis do not understand what Zionism stands for. For them it is an archaic notion.
The meaning of it is simple. That which seems as a vivid ‘Zionist’ / ‘anti Zionist’ debate is in practice an internal Jewish Diaspora quarrel with no significant practical meaning.
Levy writes, “In 2012, the 64th year of the (Jewish) state, no one even knows for certain what remains of it (Zionism), what the role of Zionism is and how it is defined.”
“Who is a Zionist?” asks Levy. “The truth is that there is no answer. Not because Zionism was not a just cause – it was, even if it was tainted by unnecessary injustices, and not because it didn’t succeed. It was the greatest national success story of the 20th century. But that century is over and its greatest success story has been established. The national home arose, and now it is a regional power. Anyone who wanted to – about one-third of the Jewish people have – join it, and the door remains open to the rest.”
Zionism was clearly a Judeo-centric revolutionary idea, but as it seems, it achieved its goal in 1948. Hence, it isn’t surprising that contemporary Israelis fail to grasp the meaning of Zionism. If early Zionists promised to transform the Diaspora Jew into an civilised being, the Israelis, for some reason, see themselves as ‘civilised subjects’. They at least in their eyes, are the post revolutionary products.
Hence, Levy argues that “Zionism is no longer relevant, and its place is in the history books alone.” He suggests that “Zionism’s way has been lost to us (the Israelis). That was inevitable, because it has completed its task.”
Similar to the line of thought I develop in The Wandering Who, Levy also differentiates between Israeli patriotism and Zionism. “Anyone who contributes to the state is a worthy citizen and a decent patriot. Anyone who contributes to its institutions is a philanthropist – this has no connection to Zionism. Anyone who is required to serve in its army, exactly like anyone who is supposed to pay taxes to it, is fulfilling his legal obligations. This has no connection to Zionism or its values.”
However, as much as Levy is correct in his reading of the Israeli and the Israeli society, it may be possible that, being an Israeli, he misses the role of Zionism as a Jewish Diaspora collective symbolic identifier. The Jewish State has a clear and significant function within the contemporary Jewish Diaspora discourse. The vast majority of Diaspora Jews and Jewish institutions identify or affiliate with Israel and support its cause. It is also true that some Jews, are critical of Israel and its policies. A few of these Jews identify themselves as ‘anti Zionists.’ Yet, bearing Levy observation in mind , the meaning of it all is that the debate between the Zionists and their Jewish opponents (i.e anti Zionists) has very little political significance for Israelis, Israeli politics and even Palestinians. This debate is there to help Diaspora Jews to identify themselves politically, spiritually and socially. It has very limited practical or pragmatic meaning if any at all.
But it also seems as if Levy ignores the huge impact of Zionist and Lobbies within Western politics. In the USA, it is AIPAC that dominates the country foreign policy. Here in Britain, 80% of the leading party’s MPs are CFI members (Conservative Friends of Israel). The situation in France and Canada is similar. So as much as Zionism is foreign to Israelis, it is pretty relevant for Diaspora Jews.
With AIPAC pushing in the open for an American attack on Iran, Zionism seems to be a serious threat to world peace. And yet, somehow, it is the so-called Jewish Anti Zionists who go out of their way to silence any criticism of Zionist lobbies and Jewish power within Western politics.
As much as Levy is correct in suggesting that Zionism may be dead for Israel, it is certainly alive and kicking in the West. It is probably the most influential and dangerous political school of thought. Especially because it has managed to drift away from the relatively modest notion of a ‘promised land’ into a globally belligerent expansionist ideology aiming at a ‘promised planet.’
The Wandering Who? A Study Of Jewish Identity Politics