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The false balance of the Zionists

July 2, 2012

Friday, June 15. 2007
The false balance of the Zionists: Steven Friedman

You know a debate is skewed when partisanship presents itself as balance. The past week saw protests to mark the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, in which Israel occupied new Palestinian lands. Inevitably, the sight of activists raising clenched fists and comparing Israeli actions to apartheid has disturbed supporters of the Israeli government and prompted a response. The protests, they complain, distort the conflict. They turn something grey into black and white literally so, for they are angered above all at parallels between the current system in Israel and apartheid. We need, they insist, a less one-sided, more rounded, view. It sounds fair enough until we realise that the balanced defence of Israeli actions is itself deeply one-sided. Indeed, perhaps one of the Israeli establishments greatest coups is that it has managed to pass off its side of the story to much of the worlds media as balance, the opposing view as partisanship. And it is does this by dressing up mythology as history.

An apologia for Israel currently doing the rounds is indicative of the arguments usually advanced by Israels supporters. It begins when the Jews realise that they need to return to their historic homeland to escape anti-Semitism, which was soon to produce Nazi mass murder. They are welcomed as a civilising force, giving them reason to believe that the locals are happy to receive them until the 1930s, when a Nazi collaborator, the Mufti of Jerusalem, whips up the populace against them.

Why is all this a problem? First, because it was not Jews who decided to establish an ethnic state in the Middle East, it was some Jews loudly opposed by most other Jews. The Zionist movement, which believes that Jews need an ethnic state, only became a majority among Jews in the 1940s: what some Jews saw as an historic homeland Zion others saw purely as a spiritual promise.

This history airbrushes out of the Jewish people Jews who oppose Zionism. It still does. Today, some Jews still oppose Zionism and the Zionist establishment devotes much energy to trying to deny them their Jewishness. And so an ideology is imposed on an entire ethnic group.

Second, claiming that Zionism was the right response to anti-Semitic violence assumes that setting up a state for one ethnic group, rather than one shared by all in the area, offers Jews safety. Logic would suggest the opposite that it is bound to be a source of great unsafety. And so it has proved: Jews are far safer in New York or London than in Israel. Liberal democracy, not an ethnic state, has offered Jews security.

Third, the claim that locals welcomed Zionists as civilisers rather than usurpers does not stand historical scrutiny. Yes, some Arabs (the term Palestinian emerged only later) briefly welcomed the European immigrants as a hoped-for source of jobs and trade. But as soon as it became clear that Zionism also meant the expulsion of Arabs from land, resistance began: the first Arab riots occurred as early as 1920.

If Zionists felt they were being made welcome, no one seems to have told Zionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky who, in 1923, wrote: Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised. Therefore, there is no likelihood of any voluntary agreement being reached. And so: Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population.

Lest this insistence that Zionism could only be imposed by force seem a fringe view because the parties that espoused Jabotinskys approach did not become a majority in Israel for decades, versions of his argument were endorsed by Israels first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and its famous defence minister, Moshe Dayan. Zionist strategists knew that what they were doing was bound to be resisted and they believed that the only way they could get away with it was to show superior force to those who also had a claim on the state. They still do: showing might, not reaching a freely negotiated agreement, is the thrust of Israeli strategy, no matter how many attempts are made to portray a strategy of rule by force as an attempt to get on with ones neighbours.

Finally, to pin Palestinian resistance on one Nazi collaborator is a crude agitator thesis: it tries to reduce a deep conflict to the malice of one individual. If the Mufti caused all the trouble, why did the riots begin in 1920 and occur again in 1929 before he was on the scene? Resistance began when it became clear that Zionism meant the loss of Palestinian land: it was not fomented by one bigot. It is no accident that Zionists fixate on the Mufti, for it helps them present the Israelis as victims, the Palestinians as perpetrators.

Zionists first told Jews that having a state would protect them. When it became clear it would not, they claimed the state was no longer a protection, but a new cause of anti-Semitism. And so Palestinians were not people demanding a share in the state, they were the new Nazis, while anyone who opposed the Israelis hated the Jews.

This enables people to argue seriously that a state protected by one of the largest armies in the world is threatened by stone throwers or groups who fire rockets into a suburb. It enables the bombing of Beirut to seem like self-defence, the reaction to it as an attempt to destroy a people. And it misrepresents and vilifies the quest for a shared society.

Indeed, this view remains the most important obstacle to a settlement: as long as the major powers confuse the powerful with the powerless and portray those who violate rights as those who are threatened, the conflict will persist. The myth that a people are at risk when the real problem is a misguided attempt to exclude others from the state which can only promote eternal conflict sows a confusion which obstructs peace.

All this should sound familiar. Afrikaner nationalists also believed they spoke for the entire people and that any Afrikaner who opposed them was a traitor. They too believed that setting up their own state rather than sharing it would make them safe. They also claimed that they had brought civilisation to the locals and that only agitators opposed them. And they too claimed that anyone who criticised them was trying to destroy a suffering people.

History showed them that only a common future, with all its difficulties, offered safety. It will, in time, show that to Zionism too.

*Dr Friedman is a research associate at Idasa and visiting professor of politics at Rhodes University.

Friends of Al Aqsa is a voluntary organisation concerned with the defence of
Al Aqsa Haram Sharif and the protection of Palestinian Human Rights.
http://www.aqsa.org.uk
Contact:
P.O. Box 5127, Leicester. LE2 0WU. England.
Tel 077 11 823 524
Fax ++ 44 [116] 253 7575

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