Zionism: Two Deficits

M. Shahid Alam

We do not fit the general pattern of humanity…”

David Ben-Gurion

…only God could have created a people so special as the Jewish people.

Gideon Levy

The fecundity of the Zionist project in producing claims of exceptionalism is not in doubt. Anyone who scans the voluminous Zionist literature will be suitably impressed by its repeated resort to claims of Jewish and Israeli exceptionalism. There is scarcely any aspect of Israeli or Jewish history that has not been embellished with some claim to uniqueness.

Israeli exceptionalism has many uses. It defends, obscures, explains away the ‘abnormal’ character of the Zionist nationalist project. When the Irish sought national liberation, their goal was straightforward. They wanted to regain national control over their lives and their country from a foreign power. No one had to convince the Irish that they are descended from the gods; that they possessed a unique essence which set them apart from all other peoples; or that their history, religion, race, language, morality or culture set them above their colonial masters. Occasionally, driven by exuberance or hubris, nationalists have advanced exceptionalist claims, but the success of their movement has not depended on their acceptance. The Irish claimed sovereignty because they knew that they are a nation with their own territory. In order to create their own state, they did not have to establish that they are exceptional.

The Zionists confronted two handicaps that Irish nationalists did not face. The diverse and scattered Jewish communities of Europe – and even more so, the world – did not constitute a single people. Instead, the Jews of the world were loosely united by their religious heritage, but they shared their languages, cultures and genes with their neighboring communities. Moreover, no Jewish community had its own country, a substantial and contiguous territory where it formed a majority of the population. Despite these twin Jewish deficits – the absence of a nation and a national territory – the Zionists were determined to ‘liberate’ the Jews of Europe and endow them with their own state.

The Zionists would remedy the first deficit by denying its existence. They knew that the Jews were not a nation, but it would be unwise to begin their ‘nationalist’ movement with the admission that a Jewish nation did not yet exist. They also did not think that this deficit was a serious hindrance to their movement. With help from anti-Semites, whose attacks had been growing in recent decades, the Zionists were convinced that they could quickly convince enough frightened Jews that they are a nation. Instead of constructing a nationalism based on a common religion, however, the Zionists chose to cultivate a racial basis for Jewish nationalism. They embraced the anti-Semitic accusation that Jews of Europe are an alien race, not Germans or Russians, descended from the ancient Hebrews.

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3. A Ghazal from Ghalib

translated by M. Shahid Alam

If a thing’s delayed, there’s a thing delaying it.
Not you, your suitors slowed you down a bit.

It wasn’t right, pinning my troubles on you.
The furies, fate, kismet, each had a hand in it.

If you can’t remember, let me jog your memory.
I was your prized quarry: you grew fond of it.

Captive, I stay awake, thinking of you all night.
It’s true my shackled feet also hurt a bit.

I hadn’t asked for this blinding flash of light.
I wish He’d speak to me: my heart aches for it.

I bared my neck for her. She backed out of it.
She is a sharp shooter. An arrow too could do it.

Wrongly, we are tried on the report of angels.
Is there a man like us to say he saw us do it?

Ghalib, you do not have the crown of the ghazal.
It’s rumored there was Meer, with better claim to it.

First published in Beloit Poetry Journal, Fall 2001.

For more ghazals from Ghalib, click here.

M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University. He is the author of Israeli Exceptionalism (Palgrave, 2009) and Challenging the New Orientalism (IPI, 2007). Visit his website at http://qreason.com. Write to him at alqalam02760@yahoo.com.

Zionist Dialectics: Past and Future

Excerpted from Israeli Exceptionalism (Palgrave: 2009).

by M. Shahid Alam

My God! Is this the end? Is this the goal for which our fathers
have striven and for whose sake all generations have suffered?
Is this the dream of a return to Zion which our people have
dreamt for centuries: that we now come to Zion to stain its soil
with innocent blood?”

Ahad Ha’am, 1921

This study has employed a dialectical framework for analyzing the destabilizing logic of Zionism. We have examined this logic as it has unfolded through time, driven by the vision of an exclusionary colonialism, drawing into its circuit – aligned with it and against it – nations, peoples, forces, and civilizations whose actions and interactions impinge on the trajectory of Zionism, and, in turn, who are changed by this trajectory.

It would be a bit simplistic to examine the field of interactions among the different actors in this historic drama on the essentialist assumption that these actors and their interests are unchanging. Instead, we need to explore the complex ways in which the Zionists have worked – and, often have succeeded – to alter the behavior of the other political actors in this drama: and, how, in turn, the Zionists respond to these changes. Most importantly, we need to explore all the ways in which the Zionists have succeeded in mobilizing the resources of the United States and other Western powers to serve their specific objectives.

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Rumi On Reason

(adapted from his Fihi Ma Fihi )

M. Shahid Alam

Man seeks to know God, not because he is knowable;
not reasonably, but by reasoning he knows him.

When man accepted the trust, it was reason
he acquired, to say yes to his Creator.

Man is a moth, God a candle. When his wings
wrap around the candle’s flame,
why should they not burn –
and he perish in its fire?

A moth that shuns the candle’s flame
is not a moth. A candle that does not
draw the moth, that will not
burn it to ashes – is not a candle.

Man is not man if he denies God,
if he eviscerates his urge to know him.

A god that man can know is not
God, he is man’s alter ago.

— M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University, Boston, and author of Israeli Exceptionalism (Palgrave: 2000). Visit his website – http://qreason.com – and write to him at alqalam02760@yahoo.com.

Israel: A Failing Colonial Project

by M. Shahid Alam

Increasingly, despite its early military and political successes, Israel cannot for long endure as a colonial project. It must choose between wars – and destruction – or transition to a state for all its peoples.

In order to firmly secure its existence – as firmly as that is possible for any state – a settler state has to overcome three challenges. It has to solve the native problem; break away from its mother country; and gain the recognition of neighboring states and peoples. It can be shown that Israel has not met any of these conditions.

Consider Israel’s native problem. In 1948, in the months before and after its creation, Israel appeared to have solved its native problem in one fell swoop. It had expelled 80 percent of the Palestinians from the territories it had conquered. In addition, with the rapid influx of Arab Jews, Palestinians were soon reduced to less than ten percent of Israel’s population.

So, had Israel licked its native problem for good? Not really.

The Palestinians inside Israel pushed back with a high natural rate of growth in their numbers. As a result, despite the continuing influx of Jewish immigrants, the Palestinian share in Israel’s population has grown to above 20 percent. Increasingly, Jews in Israel see Israeli Arabs as a threat to their Jewish state. Some are advocating a fresh round of ethnic cleansing. Others are calling for a new partition to exclude areas with Arab majorities.

The Palestinians expelled from Israel in 1948 did not go away either. Most of them set up camp in areas around Israel – the West Bank, Gaza, southern Lebanon and Jordan. In 1967, when Israel conquered Gaza and the West Bank, it could expel a much smaller fraction of the Palestinians from these territories. In consequence, with more than a million additional Palestinians under its control, Israeli had recreated its native problem.

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Getting Out of Palestine?

by M. Shahid Alam

When veteran journalist Helen Thomas was asked recently if she had any comments on Israel, she shot back, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” She apologized for the remark, but, as the campaign against her escalated, she chose to retire from her position as White House correspondent.

Putting aside the edginess in her words, does Helen Thomas’s remark deserve serious consideration?

Over the years, it has been receiving just that from many tens of thousands of Israelis, who have been emigrating from Israel, applying for emigration, or staying in Israel but holding or applying for dual citizenship. According to Arnaud de Borchgrave, half a million Israelis hold dual citizenship.

Although the Israel lobby expressed particular outrage at Helen Thomas’ suggestion that Israelis go back to Germany and Poland, many Israelis have done precisely that. In his book, The Seventh Million, Tom Segev writes that many thousands of Israelis have “requested and received German passports.” According to the Jewish Virtual Library, there were 118,000 Jews living in Germany in 2006. Another 49,700 lived in Hungary and 3,200 in Poland.

Disconcerting as some Zionists may find this, Jews have not stayed away from countries where they faced near extermination under the Nazis. Does this mean that these countries are now safer for Jews than Israel?

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Reading Roger Cohen in the New York Times

Roger Cohen: Liberal ZionistM. Shahid Alam

Roger Cohen is the rare columnist at NYT who makes an occasional effort to bring some objectivity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, how far does his objectivity go?

Consider his piece of June 10, “Modern Folly and Ancient Wisdom.”

I have selected a few excerpts for comment.

First excerpt:
“Israel’s bloody interception of the Mavi Marmara and its motley crew was crass — another example of the counterproductive use of force — but nothing about it could justify the Turkish prime minister’s outrageous statement that the world now perceives “the swastika and the Star of David together (italics mine).”

Why does he speak of the “motley crew” on the Mavi Marmara? First, is ‘crew’ the appropriate word for the humanitarian activists on a ship bringing relief to people under blockade. ‘Crew’ has unpleasant connotations. Let us consult the Oxford English dictionary. Originally, it meant “an augmentation or reinforcement of a military force.” Now, by extension, it means “Any organized or associated force, band, or body of armed men.”

In addition, why is this a ‘motley’ crew? Does he mean heterogeneous? In fact, most were Turkish. Why then are they “motley?” The word has a bad odor. The OED concurs. Consider two entries in the OED. Entry one: “Of a thing or collection of things: composed of elements of diverse or varied character, form, appearance, etc. Freq. with implication of poor design or organization (italics added).” And entry two: Of a gathering or group of people: consisting of people of diverse or varied appearance, character, etc.; miscellaneous. Freq. depreciative (italics in the original).

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