There is a Solution to the Conflict: Two States-One Homeland

Ella Taylor-Fagan

In the wake of Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, I have once again been thrust into the same debates with friends and family about the Israel-Palestine conflict as a whole. All too easily, these conversations grow tense around the same points – how to deal with the well-established settlements, how to enable Palestinian freedoms yet mitigate violence, how to ensure that both Palestinian and Israeli cultures can sustainably thrive – and most topically – how Jerusalem will be shared and governed.

Typically, these discussions end unproductively, culminating in both parties simply expressing their support for a simplistic model of a two state solution and resigning themselves to the familiar conclusion that it is ‘complicated.’ Indeed, throughout my entire Jewish education, many of my questions about Israel-Palestine were answered with this familiar response.

The two-state solution is clearly the most workable model, but it is clear that the issues facing the conflict cannot be solved simply by drawing a line on a map. The settlements demonstrate this. Absorbing every settlement bloc into Israel would make a Palestinian state geographically untenable. Forcing people to leave where they live based on their ethnicity would be tantamount to ethnic cleansing. Just drawing on a border is necessary, but it is not quite sufficient. A two-state solution needs to take account of these issues and be more flexible if it is to reconcile the difficulties for which blood, sweat and tears have been spilled over the last century.

‘Two States, One Homeland’ is a forward thinking, solution orientated plan which aims to solve the issues over which the debate has been stalled for a number of years. The plan is fundamentally based on two sovereign states – Israel and Palestine – and their borders demarcated by the 1967 ceasefire lines. It retains, therefore, the fundamental foundations of a two-state solution. In these states, both nations would be able to realise their right to self-determination. This would end the occupation for the Palestinian people, and ensure that Israel retains its political and demographic identity as a Jewish state.

A key difference, however, is that both states would be committed to a wider vision of one land, within which citizens of both states have the right to travel and live. By making a necessary separation between residency and citizenship, and ensuring all residents in the land have citizenship in at least one state, it allows for the two-states to retain their historic and necessary identities as Jewish and Palestinian respectively, but accepts that both identities transcend the eventual national borders. Of course, in order to limit huge population shifts and mass violence, there would be some form of limitation on movement, as between any sovereign states and this would be agreed on by the respective authorities of each state.

Furthermore, both states would have the right to internally define their own laws of immigration and naturalisation. The State of Palestine would be at liberty to naturalise Palestinian refugees if it so wished, and Israel would be able to continue and keep the Law of Return. This would resolve the persistent angst about what would happen to the law of the ‘right of return’ which for so long has prevented progress in the peace process.

By necessity, there would be joint decision making between the two states on key issues. One of these is ensuring that a nascent Palestinian state is strong enough to exist. Another lies in some fulfilment of an overlooked clause of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, the creation of some sort of economic union of the whole Land of Israel, to co-ordinate trade and make major bilateral economic decisions.

In this way, the plan offers a resolution to the vexed question of Jerusalem. The principle of joint governance within the framework of two sovereign states is one which lends itself easily to compromise and co-operation over the city. It suggests that the holy sites will be jointly managed by faith representatives, with the aim of guaranteeing freedom of worship to all.
The plan makes accommodations for the existential concerns on both sides: Israeli security needs on the one hand, and Palestinian desires for return, on the other. It offers creative solutions without compromising the fundamental framework of two, independent, sovereign states that both realises national aspirations, and is the most workable framework.

These ideas cut the Gordian knot of many of the key issues in the conflict. Not by ignoring the genuine concerns and desires of both sides, nor by forcing compromise, but by adopting imaginative answers that work within the eventualities created by the conflict.

For Umm al-Kheir, Awareness is Resistance- By Ben Reiff

Umm al-Kheir is under attack. You probably haven’t heard that the village has been on the receiving end of rocks thrown by settlers for more than 30 consecutive nights, or that Ta’ayush activist Guy Butavia was attacked during a solidarity visit to Umm al-Kheir last month after confronting the settlers about their harassment, or that the IDF came to erect a razor wire fence to cut off the villagers from even more of their own land. And yet none of this is new; Umm al-Kheir has been under attack for a long time.

The Israeli Civil Administration has been threatening this tiny village, home to 150 Bedouins, with demolition for more than two decades, while settler violence here has also been a commonality. What makes Umm al-Kheir such a target for demolitions and violent attacks? The primary factor is geographical: the village sits adjacent to the settlement of Carmel. Or rather, the settlement of Carmel sits on the land of Umm al-Kheir, purchased by the Hathaleen family – 1948 refugees from the Negev – in the early 1960s.

The Israeli government began the construction of several settlements in the South Hebron Hills (including Carmel, Maon and Susya) in the early 1980s, with no regard for the rights of the Palestinians in the region whose lands it was expropriating. The subsequent division of the West Bank into Areas A, B and C at Oslo saw the villagers of Umm al-Kheir’s misfortune double; due to the cluster of recently constructed settlements, many of the small, rural Bedouin communities in the region found themselves under full Israeli control in Area C.

Hence, by the mid-90s, the villagers of Umm al-Kheir had lost not only a large chunk of their land but also the ability to build on that land, for with Oslo came an almost total prohibition on Palestinian construction in Area C, despite some 50% of that land being privately owned by Palestinians. According to B’Tselem, stated Israeli restrictions automatically block Palestinian construction in 70% of Area C (with 36.5% designated as “state land”, 30% firing zones etc), but this doesn’t mean the remaining 30% is available for unrestricted construction; the Civil Administration has exclusive authority over planning processes, and has refused to approve any master plans for more than 90% of the Palestinian villages in Area C. As such, it is almost impossible for Palestinians there to obtain building permits, making all construction (even on their own land) illegal and thus liable to demolition. Meanwhile, expansion in the settlement of Carmel continues.

What does the international community have to say about all this? The efforts of activists (for example the recent Center for Jewish Nonviolence-led Global Shabbat Against Demolitions to pressure the government into ending the demolitions in Umm al-Kheir and Susya in the West Bank as well as Umm al-Hiran and al-Araqib inside Israel, or the ongoing attempts to restore life to Sarura) have helped to raise the profile of these villages and put them on the international agenda somewhat. The Obama Administration was critical of the demolitions but failed to apply any real pressure on Netanyahu’s government, while the EU has funded structures to replace those that have been demolished. Still lacking the Civil Administration’s approval for building, however, these face the same risks of demolition as Palestinian-built structures, and Israel doesn’t hesitate to destroy these too.

In an attempt to add a carrot to the sticks of demolition threats and settler violence that are pressuring the residents of Umm al-Kheir to leave their lands, the Civil Administration has fully connected another village, a kilometre or so away, to the water supply and provided building permits for construction on site. Presently, Umm al-Kheir’s residents are unable even to dig water wells since this would constitute construction, forcing them to illegally tap into the system at the nearby village in order to fill up their own tanks. The settlers of Carmel have regularly been flying drones over Umm al-Kheir to spy on any secret construction the Palestinians might be attempting, ready to report any developments to the Civil Administration. But even in these conditions, the villagers see acquiescing to Israeli pressure as completely unfathomable, refusing to allow the government free rein to expand Carmel further onto their lands.

Regardless of their desire to remain, the situation for the residents of Umm al-Kheir, much like the situation for the residents of nearby Susya, is very grave. The recently erected fence cutting them off from their lands is another obstacle to grazing sheep, with settler harassment already preventing them from wandering freely with their flock. The reduction in the size and health of their flock that this has provoked has taken its toll on the villagers’ ability to be self-sufficient, forcing them in recent years to adapt to a new way of life.

One manifestation of this change has been a focus on education for the younger generation in the village, which in turn has led to a greater ability among residents to tell their story to a larger, global audience. With the Jewish Agency deciding that it doesn’t want young diaspora Jews collaborating with Palestinians on their programmes anymore, it is even more important to ensure that the story of Umm al-Kheir (and the many others like it) doesn’t fall on deaf ears.

What makes a Jewish colonialist?

Carter Vance

Conception is powerful in political discourse. When an image about who a group of people are, what their history is and how they came to be where they are is created, it can take on powerful political implications. This is especially the case when this image fits a pre-defined narrative and it easily slots into an existing moral framework. The image can become too perfect to give up, even if the reality is a more complex beast.

In the discourse on Israel-Palestine, as it plays out on university campuses, on the choppy digital sea of social media and most importantly as lived reality on the ground, these conceptions are more than just idle thought experiments. Conception becomes weaponised, drawing easy narrative analogies of colonised and coloniser, or of nobility and savagery, or of rightful and illegitimate. The fundamental conception which underlies a majority of these narratives is that of who and what a Jewish Israeli is.

Who, then, is the Jewish Israeli? Many view the Jewish Israeli as in some core sense a Westerner, a European, somehow unlike and not “of” the place they now inhabit. This perception is fuelled by the fact that Israeli leadership, both historically and today, tends to be drawn from Ashkenazi Zionists, and that pro-Israel commentators and politicians regularly make claims that Israel is an extension of a collective Western “us”. This is evident in claims that Israel “shares our values” or is an “outpost of democracy”.

On the anti-Zionist left, this image of the Jewish Israeli is combined with a violent history between Jews and Palestinians to render the Jewish Israeli a colonialist of the European archetype. Israel is thus seen as a wholly imperialist imposition on the region, meaning Israel can be neatly slotted in with the broader anti-imperialist project of the global Left.

It is this basic idea (not, as is often claimed, anti-Semitism) which gives BDS-type activism such a sense of moral urgency and legitimacy. Apart from the oft-made comparisons to apartheid, it gives fuel to a claim that Israel is the last remaining colonialist project of the modern era. Israel is “singled-out” for its abuses because it is perceived as a European colonial project, something which other countries, despite their crimes, are not.

However, quite clearly, this conception of the Jewish Israeli does not hold up to proper intellectual scrutiny for at least two reasons.

Firstly, depending on how exactly calculations are performed, either a majority or just under half of the non-Arab population of Israel are not in any sense European. These are the Mizrahi and, to a lesser extent, Beta Israeli Jews who lived in the Middle East and Africa for generations until the former were mostly expelled in the aftermath of the 1948 War, and the latter were airlifted to Israel in Operation Moses and Operation Solomon.

On top of this is the fact that it is the Mizrachi vote that keeps Netanyahu in power. Likud’s greater Israel dream is seen as the logical extension of a European colonial project, but that European project is kept alive by Jews with no European origins. Netanyahu’s anti-Arab rhetoric is seen as symptomatic of a colonialist Orientalism, but as Aron Heller notes, Netanyahu’s “hard-line rhetoric taps into Mizrahi disdain for the Arabs who mistreated them in their countries of origin”.

What of the Ashkenazi Jews, who can reasonably be defined as “European” in lineage? An image of these Jews as marauding colonialists is completely at odds with the historical context in which these Jews emigrated to Palestine. Early Zionist settlement was spearheaded by Jews fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe, and two-thirds of Holocaust survivors moved to Israel in the aftermath of the WWII. An analytical framework which transforms a Holocaust refugee into Cecil Rhodes is incredibly divorced from reality. But, as mentioned before, the image is too perfect, and the synthesis into anti-colonialist politics too smooth, for the framework to be given up.

It is often said that Israeli society is increasingly evincing a “bunker mentality”, telling the rest of the world they don’t understand the nation’s plight and should bugger off. If this hardening of attitudes is taking place, and there is indeed substantial amount of evidence to suggest that it is, it is not hard to see why. Israel’s foundation is that of a number of groups of traumatized people looking for refuge from their various existential dooms.

None of the preceding should be understood as justifying Israeli actions or policies. A colonial analysis is not the only possible framework from which to criticise Israel, or to legitimate rhetoric against the two-state solution. As other articles on this website have explained, there is a world of difference between explaining mentalities and condoning them. It should also not be understood as denying the trauma of the Palestinian Nabka. Indeed, it is precisely that ignorance of historical trauma which contributes to a sense of undue demonisation and moral superiority on the pro-Israel right. It is merely the case that this ignorance finds its mirror image in many claims of the pro-BDS left, particularly on university campuses.

Left without a humanising understanding of the traumas of the other side, our narratives drift ever further apart and harden ever more. Against this must be an effort at genuine compassion, a real recognition of generational traumas and the hope that our narratives can at least begin to converge. In that convergence, then, we may begin to see a path forward to the shared solutions that today seem more distant than ever.

What Is Zionism?

Aaron Simons

Few words have become as flexible as ‘Zionism’. All at once, Zionism has become synonymous with Israel, nationalism, Jewish liberation, oppression, support for Israel, colonialism, Jewish identity, racism, anti-racism, nation-state theory, ultra-nationalism, ethnic exclusivism, Jewish heritage, occupation, territorial maximalism, and much else.

Any party with a stake in Israel and Palestine likes to claim and redefine the term as if that constitutes winning the debate. By rendering Zionism synonymous with support for Israel, sympathetic but critical voices are invalidated. By making Zionism and colonialism one and the same, there is no place for any sympathy with the Zionist narrative. By making Zionism and Judaism the same, any opposition to Zionism is construed as anti-Semitism.

Far from winning the debate, the politics of terminology over Zionism is largely a pathetic attempt to suppress debate. Instead of engaging with the issues at hand, debate is shut down, as the topic of the debate already comes preloaded with a final judgement. If someone says that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, any debate on Zionism is automatically shut down. Likewise, saying Zionism is colonialism does not win a debate, rather it just suppresses it. The merits and criticisms of Zionism cannot be discussed when the definition itself becomes a loaded one. Opposing views simply use different definitions and shout over each other at deafening volume.

To move away from the politics of terminology into genuine debate, it is worthwhile outlining a basic definition of Zionist ideology. This means looking not at actions or consequences of Zionism, or what has been done in the name of Zionism, or interpretations of Zionism, but at what the basic premises of Zionist ideology actually are.

Zionist ideology contains three key premises. Zionism claims that 1) the Jewish people 2) should have self-determination in a national home 3) in the land of Israel.

Like most ideologies, each premise here is a separate conceptual claim. If we are to have any meaningful discussion on what it means to be Zionist, we need a clear and nuanced understanding of what each principle entails.

Zionism’s first principle: the Jewish people

This is an often overlooked but nonetheless important aspect of Zionism. Zionism is Jewish nationalism, claiming that the Jews are a not merely a religious group, but a people or nation. Zionism argues firstly that modern Jewish identity has all the characteristics of nationhood: a shared history, culture, common identity, tradition, and religious heritage. The idea of the Jewish people is the first premise of Zionism, and a building block for its later arguments.

The principle of Jewish peoplehood today goes largely unchallenged, as it does accurately describe contemporary Jewish identity.  Historically, however, this was not always the case. Zionism triggered dramatic intra-communal debates on the nature of Jewish identity in the 1930s and 1940s, between those who claimed Jewish identity was solely religious and those who claimed it was national. Similarly, today many ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel are explicitly anti-Zionist, as they reject any idea that Jewish identity can be based on anything other than adherence to the laws of the Torah. The concept of Jewish peoplehood also has important implications for Israel as the Jewish state today, as it is this concept which defines the members of the national community.

Zionism’s second principle: self-determination in a national home

Zionism argues that the Jewish nation, like other nations, should have national self-determination in a national home. It is this principle which is at the core of Zionism, but also its lack of specificity places this principle at the centre of the various strands of Zionism. In its most basic form, this principle means the Jewish people should be free to live as they like, in control of their own lives, rather than relying on the benevolence of others as an ethno-national minority.

The various strands of Zionism diverge at this point. There is divergence over what political form the national home should take to fulfil the idea of self-determination. The political Zionism of Herzl argued that a Jewish state was required, whilst Ahad Ha’am’s vision of cultural Zionism argued a state was unnecessary. Many Jews envisioned a Jewish state but had no idea how it would come about, imagining decades of immigration under British or American control. Revisionist Zionism, led by Jabotinsky, argued for a romantic militaristic Jewish state based on an ‘Iron Wall’ against Arab opposition. The binationalist Zionists, such as Henrietta Szold and Judah Magnes, sought a single unitary state of Jews and Arabs. Radical socialist Zionism also sought one state based on the unity of the working classes.

There is also divergence at here over what principles the Jewish national home, and then the Jewish State, should embody. Labour Zionism argued that the Jewish state should be secular and socialist, based on the communal living of the kibbutz and moshav. Cultural Zionism saw the Jewish state as a means to inspire a national cultural and religious revival, educating the Jews of the diaspora. Religious Zionism saw the Jewish state as key to restoring the Jewish faith to a messianic age, and today sees settling in the biblical lands of Israel (the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria) as central to this goal. Liberal Zionism emphasises democratic values and the protection of human rights.

Zionism as a whole cannot be reduced to any of its individual interpretations. Zionism is only the broader principle from which all these interpretations are derived. The differing interpretations of Zionism remain at the core of Israeli politics today. Netanyahu’s Likud follow Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism, sitting in coalition with the religious Zionist parties. Herzog’s Zionist Union is the inheritor of Labour Zionism, whilst Yesh Atid, Kadima, and Meretz all carry strands of liberal Zionism.

Zionism’s third principle: the land of Israel

Zionism holds that the location of the Jewish national home should be in the land of Israel. This is based on the presence and status of the land of Israel in Jewish texts, scripture, and history. Quite simply, the Jewish homeland could not be anywhere else. The importance of the land varies according to the strands of Zionism, ranking highest in religious Zionism due to its emphasis on the land’s biblical heritage.

Ideology in Context

None of this is intended to preclude criticism of Zionist ideology, or to whitewash the history of Zionism, or to invalidate interpretations of Zionism, critical or otherwise. Defining Zionism by its own ideological claims sets a common basis for what Zionism fundamentally is. It does not mean that Zionism has to be accepted, or that it is free from judgement. Nor does it free Zionism from interpretation. Zionism can be interpreted both as a liberation movement and as a colonial movement, but neither interpretation fundamentally changes this definition.

What is required is an end to the politics of terminology, whereby interpretation and judgement are interwoven with definition. Redefining Zionism is not a substitute for argument; it is rhetorical isolationism. Attempting to redefine Zionism in this way simply fragments debate into a series of misfiring echo-chambers, each unable to engage with opposing views. If any substantive debate on Zionism is to occur, it is time to move beyond such pettiness.

Dear Mum and Dad

Emma Brand

Sometimes, when I talk about Israel, my dad worries that I am becoming an anti-Zionist. And sometimes, when I talk about Israel, my mum worries that I’m going to make Aliyah.

Their responses are symptomatic of a mainstream Jewry that is, quite simply, baffled by the liberal Zionist brand of scathing, loving critique of Israel. It does not surprise me when liberal Zionists are branded “anti-Israel”, but I want to clarify our position.

We do not hate Israel. We criticise Israel because we love it, and want it to live up to its lofty ideals. We passionately believe in, and are fighting for, a liberal and democratic Jewish state. We’re fighting for the Jewish state that most Jews believer already exists.

So, on behalf of liberal Zionists everywhere, here is my message to the Jewish community.

I know it’s upsetting for you to hear us lambast the actions of the Israeli government, and it confuses you to when we support Palestinian initiatives. I know you would like us to do more to support Israel on campus, using the familiar mantras of Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East, a hub of scientific progress which benefits the entire world, and the only place in the region where women’s rights and LGBT rights are properly protected. But for me personally, those arguments have become little more than slogans. I want them to be a reality.

You claim that Israel is a homeland for all Jews, a safe haven that would welcome us indiscriminately should we ever be in need. Yet many Jewish sections of Israeli society, including Sephardi, Mizrachi, and Ethiopian Jews, face severe discrimination. Furthermore, Reform Judaism has been so openly disparaged by high-ranking politicians that it often seems that Reform Jews have no place in the Jewish state. I’m not saying these things because I hate Israel. I’m saying them because I love Israel, and wish it was the Jewish homeland that it promised to be.

You often proudly point to Israel’s democratic nature, and I’ll agree, Israel protects the rights of minority groups better than any other country in the region. But that really isn’t saying much. And we liberal Zionists will have a hard time forgetting that when Arab Israelis were exercising their rights in the recent election, they were vilified publically by their own prime minister.

And that’s only in Israel “proper”. In East Jerusalem, part of the occupied West Bank, Arabs are underfunded in education, healthcare, and public services, and their planning permission rejections vastly outnumber those of their Jewish neighbours. Furthermore, many Arabs are only classified as “residents” rather than citizens, meaning that they pay taxes, but cannot vote. This is without even starting on the sheer violence of the occupation. I’m not saying this because I hate Israel. I’m saying this because I love Israel, and wish it lived up to its liberal and democratic reputation.

You compare Israel’s criminal justice system favourably with the fanatical religious law which governs many other countries in the Middle East. Yet you overlook the fact that in the West Bank, there are separate criminal processes for Jews and Arabs. Arabs live under martial law, and youths as young as six have been tried in military courts without lawyers. The penalty for stone-throwing has recently been extended to four years imprisonment, and Netanyahu has just approved the use of snipers against the perpetrators. I’m not saying this because I hate Israel. I’m saying this because I love Israel, and believe that a Jewish state should be a just state.

You cite Israel as the only country in the region that guarantees freedom of expression, and it is undeniable that Israeli artists have produced masterpieces as a result. Yet only this past summer, a theatre production in Haifa, the city hailed as Israel’s interfaith success story, had its funding withdrawn and was removed from the list of plays eligible for student subsidies because it was seen to be showing too much sympathy towards the Palestinian terrorists it was portraying.

Subsequently, the Al-Midan Theatre had its funding temporarily suspended, and several other Palestinian and cross-communal theatres also seemed under threat. I’m not saying this because I hate Israel. I love Israel, and want it to be a place that inspires and protects freedom of speech.

You see Israel as a symbol of progress, a Jewish nation but a secular state, a centre of innovation and modernity. Yet only this past summer, the forces of religious extremism made the headlines when a sixteen-year-old girl was stabbed by an ultra-orthodox Jew at a Gay Pride event, and “Price Tag” Jewish terrorists, burnt a Palestinian toddler and his parents to death. I’m not highlighting these painful examples because I hate Israel. I’m highlighting them because I love Israel, and I’m devastated that these things are still happening there.

In short, what I want, and what I do not believe we have, is a Jewish state that reflects Jewish ideals. It’s not enough that Israel has a majority Jewish population, if it does not act in accordance with Jewish values. Jews are taught, “Justice, justice shall you pursue”, and “Do not oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Eqypt.” Israel may keep its Jewish festivals, have Shabbat as its day of rest, and a meat industry which practises Shechitah. But that is not enough when Israel is detaining African refugees in Holon, humiliating Arabs living under occupation in the West Bank, and systematically destroying the Bedouin way of life through forcible resettlements.

When did diaspora Zionism become so fearful of critical thought? For me, being a Zionist is not about blindly defending Israel, no matter the moral costs. Being Zionist is about building the best Jewish State possible. That means I cannot sit by and pretend that Israel has no flaws. I am fighting for an Israel that I do not feel embarrassed to champion.

So, Mum and Dad, I’m not declaring myself an anti-Zionist, and I’m certainly not making Aliyah any time soon. But if I did, I’d want to be moving to a country that I could be proud of whole-heartedly. It may not be fair to hold Israel to higher standards than other countries in the world. Compared with Russia, or China, or Venezuela, it’s doing pretty well. But I don’t want it to be like Russia, or China, or Venezuela, or even Britain for that matter.

I want Israel to be what it was intended to be, a light among the nations. Until that is the case, I won’t stop fighting for it.

Why Are Most Jews Zionist?

Noah Lachs and Joel Collick

It’s often glibly assumed that most Jews are Zionist simply because it says Jerusalem a few times in the Tanakh, or that Jews want to recreate a civilisation that faded away 2000 years ago.

Religious texts and geographical heritage do play a part in the Zionist narrative, but it is way off the mark to reduce Jewish support for Zionism to this. The attraction of Zionism is the product of the Jewish experience in past and present, as well as a reflection of the contemporary world.

It’s worth starting at Zionism’s core principle: that Jews constitute a nation in the world of nation-states. Zionism claims that Jewish identity is primarily national, rather than based on religious practice. The first principle of Zionism is Jewish peoplehood.

This principle resonates with most Jews today, for whom their Jewish identity is not simply a religion. As well as religious obligation, Jews share history, culture, tradition, language, heritage, and much more. Jewish peoplehood recognises the breadth of Jewish identity for both religious and secular Jews.

This is however only part of the story. Zionism does not have a monopoly on Jewish national identity. The Bundist movement, for example, made similar national claims. What distinguishes Zionism is its desire for a Jewish national home in the land of Israel.

Why do Jews desire a Jewish homeland?  Why do Zionist Jews place such high value on national self-determination? It is not, as some slurs suggest, due to a vision of ethno-supremacy.

Jews support the idea of a Jewish national home for two main reasons: the negative push of anti-Semitism, and the positive appeal of national self-determination. It is for these two reasons that Zionism cements itself in the rubric of Jewish identity, religious or otherwise.

The fate of the stateless Jew has been one of near-existential crisis. During the Medieval period, Jews were accused of using the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes as a pretext for anti-Semitic imprisonment, torture and murder. Jews were deprived of basic rights, expelled from major European countries, later ghettoised, and exploited economically.

The 19th century promised citizenship rights for some Jews, many of whom became more integrated into European society than ever before. However, Enlightenment liberalism failed to deliver. Jewish emancipation was largely contingent on assimilation and renunciation of one’s Jewishness. When that failed, dogmatic European nationalism saw Jews as an unassimilable and permanent fifth column. No case proves this better than the Dreyfus Affair of 1894.

In Eastern Europe, Jews who lived in the relatively secluded shtetls were not free from anti-Semitism. These communities, governed by their own councils or kahal, sought to preserve and protect both Jewish people and their faith. Alas in the face of pogroms it could do neither. During the early 20th century, an estimated 70,000 to 250,000 civilian Jews were murdered at the hands of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, the Ukrainian Green Army, nationalist gangs, the White Army and the Red Army.

Middle-Eastern Jewish communities were also ravaged by pogroms. The destruction of the Jewish quarter of Fez in 1912 and the 1941 Farhud in Iraq shatter the illusion that anti-Semitism was solely a European phenomenon pre-1948.  Middle-Eastern Jews even faced blood libels, as in Damascus in 1840, where eight leaders of the Jewish community were imprisoned and tortured after being falsely accused of killing a Christian monk.

Over 2000 years of Jewish homelessness, neither assimilation nor seclusion succeeded in overcoming systemic and violent anti-Semitism. The onset of the Holocaust, and murder of six million Jews—actively assisted by collaborators, and unhampered by apathetic Allied forces—showed that even in the face of annihilation, Jews could not rely on anyone to come to their aid.

The persecution experienced by Jews at the hands of others reinforced over and again a need for a home of their own. Zionism was not a reaction to the Holocaust. The Holocaust, once and for all, proved the need for Zionism. The fact that Jews today do not face the same levels of persecution does not invalidate this long history, nor does it mean this anti-Semitism will not return. 60 years of relative safety is an anomaly over a 2000 year history of persecution.

Support for Zionism is not, however, solely a reaction to anti-Semitism. Zionism today still has the strong positive appeal of self-determination. Abba Eban illuminates these motivations for Zionism. Eban wrote in 1947: “Even if the world were a federation of free, democratic states devoid of the least hint of anti-Semitism, Zionists would not surrender their claim to win a national existence of the Jews.”

Consequently, Eban makes a vital point: Jewish people desire to determine their own forms of political and cultural expression. This is not simply because history has prevented Jews from doing so, but also due to the intrinsic appeal of these objectives. An independent national home allows Jewish tradition and culture flourish.

Socialist Zionist youth movement, Hashomer Hatzair had similar views. Historian Stephan Wendehorst notes how the movement “was opposed to refugee Zionism; first, as it appeared to give credence to the idea that Zionism was merely the product of anti-Semitism, the Jewish nation a creation of Hitler, and not the ‘positive reflection of the deep-rooted urge of the Jewish people for its own life’”.

In wanting a national home, Zionism seeks only to realise for the Jewish people what all other nations desire. For Jews, its promises loom larger when juxtaposed with history: Zionism trades communal vulnerability for collective rights. Zionism consists in nothing less than the emancipation of the Jewish people from perpetual guest status to equality amongst the nations of the world.

It is clear, then, why Jews support the principle of Jewish people, and why for both negative and positive reasons they would want a national home. But what is the significance of Zion? Why the strip of land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean?

Jewish history, philosophy and liturgy concretises Israel as a homeland; the connection is tangible not simply mythic. Israel is where the Jewish forefathers dwelt, the territory governed by Kings Saul, David and Solomon and their successors for a millennium, where there was a significant Jewish presence until the Bar Kochba revolt and a small minority of Jews have remained there ever since. Establishing a Jewish national home anywhere else just wouldn’t be authentic. This does not mean that all Zionists think the Jewish right to live there is exclusive.

That is, in long form, why most Jews are Zionists. Put it in short form and the case becomes even clearer. Zionism is the emancipation of the Jewish people from centuries of expulsion, inquisition, and mass murder, the establishment of the State of Israel, a phoenix from ashes. Zionism elevates the Jewish people from minority status to national equality, providing a place where being Jewish doesn’t mean being an exception from the norm, and gives the Jewish nation a national home.

Think Twice Before Using the Term ‘Zionism’

Noah Lachs and Joel Collick

“Zionists are not welcome here” was the statement released in June by the administrators of NoHeterox**, Oxford’s online forum for the Queer and Trans community. NoHeterox** justified their position “because we are anti-colonialist; we are anti-empire”, before a post called for the expulsion of all “Zios”. On Skin Deep, Oxford’s largest platform for the discussion of racism, Jews have been labelled “Zionist infiltrators” or simply “Zionists” by members when flagging up anti-Semitism. explains how “Zionism = Racism”.

Critics of Israel love to use the word ‘Zionism’. It’s rhetorically punchy, and creates an all-encompassing enemy that all criticism can be focused on. Many unconnected people and organisations use “Zionist” as a catch-all term for everything and anything connected to Israel, or as an insult, or as a synonym for occupation, colonialism, racism, and control.

Where do the pejorative connotations come from? For many, the answers are the Nakba, the Palestinian refugee crisis, occupation, settler expansionism, and so on. These are each topics for discussion in their own right, and all deserve attention. But it is a misinterpretation of Zionism, as well as selective simplification and deep-set prejudice that elicit the kind of statements above.

There are three reasons to be cautious, clear and specific when using the term ‘Zionism’ in discussion of Israel and Palestine.

Firstly, the complete amalgamation of Zionism with all these related and unrelated issues is just factually wrong. It is important to separate Zionism from the State of Israel. Zionism is Jewish nationalism; the belief in the Jewish people’s right to self-determine in the land of Israel. Since 1942, Zionism chose the path of statehood to fulfil these national aspirations, with the State of Israel coming into formation in 1948. It is a state like many other states, with leaders, institutions, and policies.

Railing against Zionism or Zionists in order to criticise Israeli policy, institutions, socio-religious groups, and policy, misses the crucial difference between an ideology that supports the existence of the State, and the subsequent actions of that State.  

Zionism is not actions done by Israel, or a politician who wins just 25% of the vote in Knesset elections. Zionism is not the discrimination and racism experienced by Israeli Arabs, or even Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews. It is not a byword for Palestinian oppression. Many Zionists oppose all these things.

That is not to say Zionism itself is free from analysis. Nor is it to deny that Zionism has historically caused injustices, or that certain interpretations of Zionism play a direct role in Israel and the Israel-Palestine conflict today. However it is to say, that if you are using the word ‘Zionism’, be aware that you are not tackling these specific interpretations of Zionism, or just the occupation, or the IDF. It means you are tackling nothing less than the entire basic concept of Jewish national self-determination.

Secondly, Zionism is not a monolithic entity. Zionists do not represent an organized mass conspiracy of malign intent. Zionism, as the broad principle of Jewish nationalism, includes within it a speckled cohort of conflicting voices, independently projecting their own interpretation of what Jewish self-determination should look like.

Many Zionists shudder at the thought of Binyamin Netanyahu, while others venerate him. Zionism can be religious and secular. Some Zionists aspire to territorial maximalism, depriving the Palestinians of a state. Most Zionists don’t believe in this vision and favour a two state-solution. Some Zionists think Israel should give preferential treatment to its Jewish citizens. Other Zionists think this is abhorrent. All these groups claim the mantle of Zionism, as they share a belief in its core principles.

There is a tendency on the left to subsume all of these groups into one, and that one is normally the worst incarnation of Zionism. To extract the least palatable aspects of a broad-church ideology to represent an entire belief system is not only lazy but disingenuous and prejudiced. There is an added irony too, in that by seeking to divide those who support and criticise the State of Israel into ‘Zionists’ and ‘Anti-Zionists’, the left excludes Zionists who are harsh critics of Israel and also desire change.

Thirdly, there is another group which also uses ‘Zionism’ as a catch-all term: anti-Semites. Contemporary anti-Semitism masks itself using the word Zionism. The story goes as follows; the Zionist lobby instructs international policy, the Zionist banks finance it, the Zionist media pumps out propaganda, and Zionist forces execute racist imperial oppression, globally. It is in this vein that David Duke, blamed “the Ziomedia” for falsely reporting that he had endorsed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and Saxophonist Gilad Atzmon attributed Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity to party members’ “fatigue” with “Zionist interventionist wars” – presumably referring to Iraq.

These kind of conspiracies blend dated anti-Semitic tropes with contemporary accounts of Palestinian oppression. It is not only those on the political fringes that are responsible. To quote Liberal Democrat Peer, Baroness Tonge “The pro-Israel lobby has got its grips on the Western world, its financial grips. I think they’ve probably got a grip on our party”.

Indeed some portrayals of Zionism reel into the downright disgusting. The Independent published a cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating a Palestinian baby in 2003, reimagining the blood libel slur for the 21st century. Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitic tropes coincided recently in the title of Samantha Comizzoli’s documentary, “Israel, the Cancer”. This presentation of Israel as an unassailable far-reaching sickness carries haunting echoes of some of Europe’s worst anti-Semitic propaganda.

Needless to say, to criticise Israel—its government, its policy, its military, and its judiciary; the racism in its society, the settlements, and the occupation; even the conditions and events of its founding—is not necessarily anti-Semitic.

However, if your statement sounds like a Der Stürmer headline with the word ‘Zionist’ substituted for the word ‘Jew’, it obviously carries anti-Semitic overtones. Remember that NoHeterox** statement? “Zionists are not welcome here.”

Whether or not you mean to be anti-Semitic is irrelevant if you’re using language and images of anti-Semitism. Jews shouldn’t have to decode what is political critique and what is vicious hatred. The burden should not be on Jews.

By all means say you’re anti-occupation, condemn the Nakba, and rail against racism in Israel. Critique Zionism itself, if you’re being very specific about what you’re critiquing. But for all three of the reasons above, stop using Zionism as a coat-hook for every Israel-associated grievance, or indeed anti-Jewish sentiment that you might harbour.

Demystifying Israel

Chesney Ovsiowitz

If you have never been to Israel, this is for you. If you have, this is for you too. If you have a flat in Tel Aviv, cousins in Jerusalem, and grandparents in Beit-Shemesh, this is for you. If you have never met a Jew before, this is for you.

I have been to Israel many times, and have been in Israel for a lot of time. As the product of a Jewish secondary school I was taught to love the Jewish homeland unconditionally, to turn towards Jerusalem when I pray, and to ask G-d for peace in the world. I felt as though I understood Israel, its culture, its people, its language; I had experienced it. Zionism was intellectually ingrained within me.

Yet when I went to Jerusalem for a month this summer, these certainties were violently undone. I wrestled between the most natural part of me, my Jewishness, and something that now felt artificial, Zionism. None of the narratives about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in mainstream media were able to help me reconcile these two sides to myself. And then I met a Palestinian of my age, and where I once saw culture, people, language, I saw cultures, peoples, and languages, and ‘Israel’ as a topic felt foreign.

Unlike many, I have never claimed to be an expert on Israeli-Palestinian relations. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been a fan of politics. Debating policies, scandals, exclusion zones, budgets, and death tolls whilst engineering cults of personality in order to win elections does not appear to me as an effective way of catering to the needs of individuals affected by the headlines. By no means is politics ineffective, but it is sometimes easy to feel that it is both a means and its own end; it can override and cloud the truths behind the issues.

Yet when I met the girl from East Jerusalem, politics became a plain and simple background upon which humans were messily scribbled.

She asked me to order a coffee for her before she showed me around the Arab Quarter of the Old City. “Don’t you speak Hebrew?” I retorted with careful we’ve-just-met sassiness. She pulled her face and laughed: “Ew no”. In that moment I felt incredibly naive: I couldn’t understand how someone who lived the city where I’d been living, where I’d been speaking Hebrew, could be so out of touch with what I had experienced. Yet as we walked east and spoke and took in the sights of a familiar city through new eyes, it started making sense. She showed me a side of Israel that I had never seen before outside of carefully-planned, executed, and biased educational trips.

As Ramadan came to a close for the day, the streets around the Damascus gate flooded with people buying food from the vendor stalls. The image didn’t fit into what I’d been taught to expect. Looking at West Jerusalem from the outside for the first time, from the borders of its Eastern neighbour, it began to seem grotesque, with its modern architecture and gaudy Mamilla mall.

“That’s not my country, why would I learn its language?” My first instinct was to try to talk to her about politics and the two-state solution, about government and democracy — even though these are self-professed weak-points of mine — to somehow try to fit her into readymade paradigms and frames of reference. She didn’t want to talk about politics, but she did want to tell me that she was upset, and angry, and hopeful.

We talk about perspective as if Israel is just a series of essays, different news stations, or different theories. It seems obvious enough, but perspective is above all else human. My short and by no means extreme or unique experience of perspective felt like a coming of age. This new friend of mine destabilised my outlook on Israel, and left me feeling confused. Maybe I don’t like this place? Does this make me a liberal Zionist, or an anti-Zionist, or what? Am I ‘allowed’ to call myself anti-Zionist? What would my parents say? The dismantling of my Jewish education on Israel that took place during my month in Jerusalem gave me the strength to say ‘I don’t know’. When the only voices that can be heard around you are screaming either yes or no, it is hard to side with either (or both). Extreme opinions are always easier to defend than nuance or confusion.

Zionish: What’s in the Name?

Zionish wants to break the restrictive parameters placed on debate on Zionism, Israel, and Palestine.

We want to open the discussion on Zionism beyond the simplistic narratives and concepts that dominate our Jewish communities. We want to fundamentally change the view that to be Zionist means to only hear one side of the story, to shout over any dissent, and to uncritically buy every Israeli government line.

We want to challenge the idea that Zionism is defined by unquestioning support of every Israeli policy and wilful blindness to every Israeli flaw. We believe Israel’s problems are to be engaged with, rather than ignored.  We are willing to point out both the rights and the wrongs of Israel in the hope and aspiration that we can fight for a better and more just situation in Israel and Palestine.

We absolutely reject that voicing criticism of Israeli policy and the occupation makes one automatically anti-Zionist, working against the interests of the community. In fact, we argue the very opposite.

We want Zionism to be based on a re-engagement with Zionist theory and the meaning of Israel. We want to reverse the trend where Zionist thought has been reduced into shouting about Intel Core Processors and Tel Aviv beaches. We want Zionism to be about what vision we want for Israel. The Jewish community is long overdue a debate about what we want the Jewish State to actually look like, and what values it should embody.

We also want to open the discussion on Zionism in our student communities. Any discussion on Zionism is dominated by those for whom Zionism is synonymous with oppression and apartheid. Debate is forbidden and anyone who dares deviate beyond the prescribed perspective are intimidated and excluded by their fellow students. We want our student communities to be full of open, honest, and critical debate on Zionism, Israel and Palestine, rather than the aggressive and hostile conversation that currently dominates.

We want to challenge the doctrine of the student debate, and the prevailing conceptions of what Zionism is.  We want to argue Zionism is more than one long apologia for occupation and colonialism, and that there are a multiplicity of narratives that deserve attention in the pursuit of peace and justice in the region. We aim to challenge the conspiracism and  selectivity in student debate on Israel and Palestine.

We also want our fellow students to consider the fact that Zionism is no monolith, and that there are many Zionists who share their anger and fears about the status quo. These voices should be engaged with rather than ignored, or silenced.

We will fight the anti-Semitism that rears its ugly head in debate, and fight even harder attempts to legitimate it.

And so we created Zionish. The name is intended to be subversive. We named our publication Zionish because we seek to challenge the dominant conceptions of what it means to be Zionist. We hope those on both sides of the debate will listen.

Welcome to Zionish

This website was born out of a combination of frustration, idealism, and hope.

For too long, we’ve been frustrated when talking about Israel and Palestine. We’re frustrated at a situation in Israel and Palestine which seems to be sinking ever deeper into the quagmire. As we approach 50 years of occupation, I’m frustrated that peace seems further away than ever.

We’re frustrated at the blindness of diaspora Jewry, which would rather shield itself from reality than embrace the difficulties and contradictions of Israel. We’re frustrated at a student community that renders Zionism the enemy and seeks to silence any Jewish perspective they disagree with, despite the fact that many of these Jews and Zionists seek similar goals of justice and equality. Both of these are symptomatic of a deeper worry: as the situation worsens, debate polarises, and the argument shifts more and more to the extremes.

We do, however, remain idealistic. For too long we and many others felt excluded from the discussion for not subscribing to either polarity. So Zionish was set up to fight for an alternative. When all around us debate falls into hostile and exclusionary narratives, we retain the idealism that states these different narratives can be reconciled, and that an approach guided by nuance and sensitivity can create a united movement for a better future in Israel and Palestine. Commentators are all too quick to declare the death of liberal Zionism. We contain the idealism to reinvigorate it.

Finally, we are hopeful. We are hopeful that those who read Zionish do so with an open mind. We are hopeful that those who come to Zionish will not see us as the enemy, but as a valid and equal part of the discussion on the future of Israel and Palestine. We are hopeful that the debate does not have to be characterised by hate and aggression, but honest and free discussion. We are hopeful that readers realise that we are not a minority fringe, but a real and growing movement in our communities.

So welcome to Zionish. Have a browse of our first articles. We hope there’s a bit of something for everyone. You’ll find a basic definition of Zionism and how we can engage with it away from the politics of terminology. We have analysis of why most Jews are Zionist. For those interested in getting to grips with the historiography of Zionism, you’ll find challenges to the conventional history of Zionism as an irreligious rejection of Judaism. Our writers challenge head-on Zionist perceptions of Palestinians. There are passionate ripostes to those who demand Jews sever themselves from Israel, and articles addressing a Jewish community which so often misunderstands liberal Zionism.

There will be plenty more to come too. We want to talk about the occupation, Jewish peoplehood, the breadth of Zionist thought, the Nakba, anti-Semitism, borders, Jewish Israel education, BDS, anti-Arab racism, the Israeli left, and much more.

Please do take a look. Approach each piece with interest rather than suspicion, and find our what we have to say.