Jews or Zionists?
by Elias Davidsson
[See critical comments by John Spritzler below]
The question whether condemnation of Israeli policies should be framed as condemnation of Zionist or of Jewish wrongdoing has bedevilled a debate within progressive circles. Some people consider that attributing the crimes of the State of Israel to “Jews” is factually inaccurate and counter-productive while others perceive that Israeli policies are founded on Jewish principles and on Jewish solidarity. In trying to untangle this complex question, I suggest that one can discern (within the framework of rejection of Zionism) three distinct perspectives (approaches) to the question Jews or Zionists.
1. ZIONISM AS A POLITICAL REGRESSIVE MOVEMENT
This approach informs an agenda focussed on dismantling the “Jewish” state in Palestine, because it is illegal, racist, etc. and replacing it by a secular, democratic state. The approach is limited to the political dimensions of Zionism and can, but not necessarily so, be coupled with an anti-imperialist perspective. This approach does not deal with the concept of Jewish power, as such, nor with the religious or mystical sources of political Zionism. Anti-Zionists who focus on the question of Palestine are not generally interested in the more wide question of Jewish Power. Some, however, are concerned with the relationship between Zionism and Jewish religion, insofar as it relates to the oppression of the Palestinian people. This first approach is shared by most anti-Zionists who identify as Jews, and wish to maintain the distinction between Jews and Zionists. Implied in this approach is disinterest in Jewish religion or, alternatively, a benign, humanist, interpretation of Jewish religion.
2. ZIONISM AS THE REFLECTION of Jewish Power.
This approach, often wrongly equated with anti-Semitism, is that Jews (or more accurately prominent/rich Jews and/or Jewish organisations) possess sufficient power to affect the policies of (non-Jewish) governments. The means of exerting this power includes lobbying, sophisticated forms of organisation, community cohesion, financial clout, control of media, etc. Adolf Hitler was not the only, nor the first person, who expressed his belief in the formidable clout of Jewish Power. Even Israeli writers have sometimes alluded to the power wielded by American Jews and expressed the fear that such power might generate a backlash against Jews in general. It cannot be denied that Jews (defined herein as individuals known for their participation in Jewish community life or identifying positively as Jews), who comprise 0.2 percent of the world’s population, possess collectively vastly more financial and political power, than their numbers would suggest.
This fact does not necessarily mean that such power was obtained illegally or deceitfully, nor that such power is abused. It merely indicates that Jews, as a collective and organised entity, possess vast power which has affected and continues to affect the policies of dominating world powers. Jewish power, regardless how it is defined, is nothing more than a means to consolidate specific Jewish interests, including the consolidation of the Jewish State as a material base from which Jewish interests can be defended and promoted. Jewish Power is thus a means to consolidate the collective power of the Jewish people, as defined by Jewish religion (in Hebrew: klal Israel). There is nothing illegitmate, as such, in this endeavour: Every collectivity attempts to secure its well-being. Those who are mainly interested in studying and opposing Jewish Power, regard the Palestine question as one item in a vastly greater agenda. They may at times show solidarity to Palestinians, but only to the extent that such solidarity is in opposition to Jewish Power. Those who focus on Jewish Power are not necessarily concerned by the plight of the Palestinians, and may even include anti-Arab racists and white supremacists. For anti-racists, the question is whether a pragmatic alliance with opponents of Jewish Power is justified or not. This question is beyond the scope of this small essay.
3. ZIONISM AS AN Outgrowth of THE JEWISH Religion
This approach that seeks to understand both Zionism and Jewish Power as a modern verions, as it were, of Jewish religion, i.e. a secular, worldly, implementation of the more or less hidden Talmudic concepts such as Jewish chosenness and discriminatory attitudes to gentiles. This approach, conflated with the contents of the Protocols of the Elderly of Zion, a notorious and rightfully denounced artifact, is wrongly regarded as anti-Semitic. It is inaccurate to attribute malicious or racist intent to those involved in comparing the terms of the Protocols with what can be observed in the current world. Regardless whether the Protocols are a fraud or not, the claims raised in the Protocols can be subject to analysis as any other writing, even if such writing is attributed to the wrong person. Any statement, however absurd, can be subject to critical evaluation, acceptance or rejection, on its own merit.
Whether Zionism and Jewish Power in political life can be related to the Talmud is a legitimate subject of inquiry for anyone interested in religion and politics. For the person who contends that one of the main stumbling-blocks to a just peace in Palestine is Jewish religion, it appears logical to focus on the relation of Jewish religion with its secular cousins expressed in political and legal terms. Such inquiry is legitimate and may be beneficial. The late Professor Israel Shahak and other Israeli authors, including former Israel’s intelligence chief Yehoshafat Harkabi, contributed valuable insight into this theme.
An important consideration underlying any discussion regarding anti-Jewish incitement (wrongly labelled anti-Semitism*), is whether the inciters are suggesting to deny individuals defined as Jews their fundamental human rights. To the extent that criticism of acts, expressions and other activities by Jews or organized Jewry, is not intended to have Jews denied their human rights, such criticism cannot be correctly designated as racist. The extent of racist offences in Western nations is highly exaggerated. In France, for example, less than one percent of all offences against individuals’ physical integrity have a racist motive. The term racist is, however, more aptly applied to the policies of the most powerful international institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, who preside over the maintenance of a third of humankind. in utter poverty. One would wish that Jewish organisations use their organisational and financial acumen to expose the racism of these powerful institutions who are indirectly responsible for the daily deaths of 30,000 children, instead of warning that sporadic graffiti on Jewish graves threatens a new Holocaust.
My personal view is that it depends much what one is aiming to achieve in the short or long–term, which of the above perspectives gain the foreground. The struggle for a just peace in Palestine, including the establishment of one secular democratic state, does not exclude other struggles for justice, including those focussing on Jewish Power, imperialism and general human rights. The tragedy in Palestine and the blindness of Zionism to the humanity of non-Jews should not lead us to become oblivious of the larger picture of African misery, civil war and genocide, or to the erosion of human rights in the whole world. We should continue to ask whether the same human groups are responsible for the oppression of the Palestinian people and the majority of the world’s population, and if so how these groups should be defined.
I do not think that Jewish billionaires and the leaders of Jewish world organisations are only concerned with the parochial interests of the State of Israel. The Jewish State may be perceived – from their vantage point – as a sovereign jurisdiction under international law from which it can consolidate the power and security of the Jewish people (or “klal Yisrael” in Hebrew) and, in some particular cases, as a place of refuge from American or European tax authorities. The interests of the “Jewish people” thusly construed are global. That such perception is not a mere figment of the imagination or a “conspiracy theory” can be inferred by examining the foreign policies of the Jewish State and the services rendered worldwide by US diplomacy to the Jewish State, even when such services do not provide any direct benefits to the United States.
It is my belief that the movement for global justice will, sooner or later, clash with Jewish Power for the simple reason that whose who preside over Jewish Power do so, primarily, to consolidate the interests of the “Jewish people” and not to cater to the needs of all of humanity. One may regard such exercise of power as corporative whereby the corporation is “the Jewish People”.
I think that all those who take an anti-Zionist position because they espouse principles of human dignity and equality, would do well to also reflect on the more large perspective of Jewish Power and the religious and ideological grounds for such concentration of power. Such examination is necessary, legitimate and is grounded on the need to consider every human being, without discrimination, as deserving dignity and rights. <end>
Critical comments by John Spritzler (February 2007):
The Jewish ruling class, like other ruling classes in our capitalist era, consists of very wealthy Jews (Jewish Israeli and diaspora billionaires) and other elite Jews (like Israeli generals and politicians) who serve them. I don’t think any of these ruling classes act in the interests of “their own people.” On the contrary, they exploit, lie to, manipulate, oppress and control their own people in order to enrich themselves and gain power on the backs of their own people, and secure elite privileges denied to ordinary people of their own nationality or ethnic group.
One of the main ways these rulers strengthen their power over their own people is to foment wars between “their own” nation (or ethnic group) and another. For example, Ilan Pappe, in his recent The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, shows that in 1948 David Ben Gurion gave speeches to the Jews in Palestine telling them that they faced a 2nd Holocaust and that they were fighting for their lives against Arabs who wanted to drive them into the sea, but that in his private discussions with other Zionist leaders in the “Consultancy” he expressed no fear of Arabs whatsoever and only confidence that the Zionist forces finally had a golden opportunity to carry out ethnic cleansing. Virtually all of the ruling classes benefit from these ethnic/national wars, especially when they fear domestic pro-democracy movements inside their own nation (as they usually do.) That is why the mainly Gentile American ruling class supports Israel. Even the Arab ruling classes benefit from the ethnic war that Israel foments.
I therefore disagree with your statement: “It is my belief that the movement for global justice will, sooner or later, clash with Jewish Power for the simple reason that whose who preside over Jewish Power do so, primarily, to consolidate the interests of the “Jewish people” and not to cater to the needs of all of humanity.” True, Jewish Power does not care about humanity, and any positive movement will clash with it. But neither does Jewish Power care about ordinary Jews. They didn’t care about ordinary Jews during the Holocaust (when the Jewish Zionist leaders fought against any rescue effort that didn’t involve Jews going to Palestine) or right after it (when they used violence against Jews in the European Displaced Persons Camps who refused to be drafted by the Haganah and go to Palestine to fight Arabs) or in the 1980s (when they worked to pressure the U.S. and other countries to deny Russian Jews visas so they would have nowhere to go to other than Israel if they feared anti-Semitism in Russia) or today (when they have driven Jewish Israeli workers down economically to the point that inequality in Israel is 2nd only to the U.S. for Western nations.)