Jews or Zionists? Three approaches
by Elias Davidsson
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. An anti-Zionist approach.
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. An approach based from
the perception 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, however defined, is however a means to consolidate specifically 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). 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 particularly concerned by the plight of the Palestinians, and may even include anti-Arab racists and white supremacists. For anti-racists, the question is whether an pragmatic alliance with those who fight against Jewish Power, is justified, in order to defeat the Zionist state. This question is beyond the scope of this small essay.
3. Outgrowth of a Religion
This approach that seeks to understand both Zionism and Jewish Power as a outgrowth of Jewish religion, i.e. the secular, worldly, implementation of the more or less hidden Talmudic concepts such as Jewish chosenness , supremacy and discriminatory attitudes to gentiles. This approach, of which the Protocols of the Elderly of Zion is a notorious artifact , is generally regarded as anti-Semitic. It is, however, 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, on their own merit. Any statement, however absurd, can be subject to falsification.
Whether Zionism and Jewish Power in political life can be related to the Talmud is a legitimate subject of inquiry. 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 to its secular expressions of political and state power. Such inquiry is legitimate and should not be lightly dismissed. Professor Israel Shahak laid some groundwork in this research, yet no one can accuse him of anti-Semitism.
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 lead to denying Jews their human rights, such criticism cannot be truly 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 physical integrity have a racist motive. The term racism 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 destitution of a third of humankind. Have Jewish organisations used their clout to expose the racism of these powerful institutions who are indirectly responsible for the deaths of 30,000 children every single day ?
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 inhumanity of Zionism should not lead us to become oblivious of the larger picture of African misery, civil war and genocide, or to the human rights in countries such as China. We should continue to ask whether it is the same forces who are responsible for the oppression of the Palestinian people and that of the majority world.
I do not think that Jewish billionaires and the leaders of Jewish world organisations are only concerned of the local interests of the State of Israel. The Jewish State may be perceived - from their vantage point - as merely a sovereign jurisdiction under international law from which it can consolidate the power and security of the Jewish people (or "klal Yisrael" in Hebrew). The interests of the "Jewish people" thusly construed are global. That such perception is not a mere figment of the imagination can be substantiated by observing the global perspective of the foreign policies of the Jewish State and the services rendered worldwide by US diplomacy to the Jewish State.
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 both necessary and legitimate.