Let me ask you a question. If you identify as Jewish, what is your reaction when you see a news item such as: ‘Israel settles 50 Ukrainian Jewish families in West Bank settlements’?
Do you think, hey, wait a minute? Why is Israel accepting only Jewish war refugees? Or, in another leap, why is Israel “settling” refugees on internationally recognized as occupied Palestinian land? Do you feel any cognitive dissonance and does it even occur to you that Israel has been denying the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and property since Jewish militia expelled them and violently occupied a territory of Palestine in 1948 that now calls itself the Jewish State of Israel?
Today, the crimes of the Jewish entity against Palestinians are being exposed despite the complicity of Western media and Israel’s alliance with Western powers. To say that “Zionism is not Judaism” is not completely accurate. At this stage in the Palestinian struggle for liberation, denial of the Jewish identity of Israeli Jews and others outside Israel who are its mainstay simply serves to muddy the issue and is, in any case, beyond belief.
Early on, Orthodox and Conservative Jewish groups opposed Zionism for being more nationalist than religious, as did proponents of Reform Judaism, the latter group going so far as to pass a “resolution at the Frankfurt Conference (1845) that removed references to Palestine and a ‘Jewish State’ from prayers on the grounds that nationalism and statehood were not compatible with Reform theology.” The Zionist idea arose as a sect of Judaism simply because, to many religious Jews, “Israel is the promised land.”
Now we come to “secular Jews”—i.e., Jews who identify with certain values and beliefs they call Jewish. For historical and emotional reasons, these Jews are for the most part reflexively Zionist in that they believe in and support “an independent Jewish state”—namely Israel, and do not object to Israel calling itself just that—an independent “and democratic” Jewish state. A Jewish culture holds together secular Jews, but it is a culture that “grows out of a people with a common faith.” Secular activist groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace describe on their website how gut-wrenching it was for the group to finally disavow Zionism:
Through study and action, through deep relationship with Palestinians fighting for their own liberation, and through our own understanding of Jewish safety and self determination, we have come to see that Zionism was a false and failed answer to the desperately real question many of our ancestors faced of how to protect Jewish lives from murderous antisemitism in Europe… Because the founding of the state of Israel was based on the idea of a “land without people,” Palestinian existence itself is resistance. We are all the more humbled by the vibrance, resilience, and steadfastness of Palestinian life, culture, and organizing, as it is a deep refusal of a political ideology founded on erasure.
Although I understand and can sympathize with the desire that Jews have to distance themselves from the crimes perpetrated by Zionism (as someone born Muslim, I too distance myself from the crimes perpetrated by some Muslim sects in the name of religion), regarding Zionism merely as a “political ideology” that has nothing to do with Judaism is disingenuous and beyond belief. Religion is the source of Jewish nationalism (“chosen people”). The roles of religion in Zionist efforts to legitimate a Jewish state in Palestine has now come to a boil and must be addressed rather than swept under the carpet with facile claims that “Zionism is not Judaism.” As Uriel Abulof writes in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, “The right of self-determination, which stands at the core of the ‘secular Zionism’ legitimation, has given way to leveraging Judaism, which in turn has been eclipsed by constructing a Zionist civil religion and a ‘chosen people’ justification.”
Israeli Jews do not identify themselves as Zionist anymore. That was a long time ago. Today they identify themselves as Jews and, sadly, this is what they are. That does not mean “all Jews” of course. It means that Jewish people are like everyone else and can have supremacists, neo-Nazis and fascists among them, as well as humanitarians, human rights activists, and anti-colonialists.
For decades now, Zionism has defined both “the Jewish experience” in Israel and elsewhere. That Jewish experience is the Nakba of Palestinians. It’s time to understand and also accept that what Zionists are doing is also Jewish.
Note: First published on Medium here.
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.