Zionism beyond Israel: Is Jewish nationalism bad for the Middle East?

Such an important question which is sure to generate a wealth of answers and controversy. Photo: Associated Press

OCALA, Fla., October 30, 2013 — Zionism, even if mentioned only in passing, is a weighty subject.

Much of the debate concerning Zionism relates to the Holocaust and subsequent formation of Israel.

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While many of those with extreme ideologies speak of Zionism in heated terms, it has a fairly simple definition: The desire for a Jewish state, the continued support of that state, and policies which encourage Jewish emigration to said state.

In the United States, Zionism is most often mentioned in a political context,  much in the same way that tax cuts and environmental regulations are. For those in the Middle East, though, it is far more than an issue on election day, but rather a way of life.

“Zionism exported to the Middle East an ethnic nationalism of the kind that nearly destroyed Europe last century,” says British-born journalist Jonathan Cook to The Washington Times Communities. He currently lives in Nazareth, where he has spent over a decade covering the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Cook continues: “Its entirely negative role in the region should therefore hardly surprise us. Zionism was a reaction to the ethnic nationalisms that used to dominate Europe and so mirrors all their faults.

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“Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, developed the concept of a Jewish state after the infamous Dreyfus affair in France, when a very assimilated Jewish army officer was accused of treason. Herzl rightly saw that as an expression of endemic anti-semitism among French elites. 

“The lesson for him was that assimilation was futile. To survive, Jews needed to hold firmly on to their ethnic identity and create an exclusivist state based on the same ethnic principles.

“There’s a huge irony here, because those ethnic nationalisms ended up tearing apart Europe, culminating in the expansionary German war machine, the Second World War and the Nazi death camps. International institutions such as the United Nations and international humanitarian law were developed precisely to stop the repeat of such a cataclysmic event.

“Once in the Middle East, Zionism shifted the locus of its struggle, from opposing Euopean anti-semitism to creating an exclusive Jewish homeland on someone else’s land, that of the Palestinians. If one wants to understand the impact of Zionism in the Middle East, then one needs to see how destabilising such a European ideological implant was.

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“The idea of ethnic-religious supremacism, which history suggests is at the very least latent in ethnic nationalisms, quickly came to the fore in Zionism. 

“It believes in segregation at all levels (today made concrete in the separation wall across the West Bank); exclusivism (Palestinian citizens inside Israel are even denied an Israeli nationality); a kind of national paranoia (walls are built to protect every border and missile systems to create a ‘roof’); and, paradoxically, a refusal to define borders (and with it a craving for expansion and greater ‘living room’).

“All of this was entirely predictable if one looked at the trajectory of ethnic nationalisms in Europe. Instead, we in the West see all this as a reaction to Islamism. The reality is we have everything back to front: this aggressive ethnic nationalism fed reactionary forces in the region like political Islam.”

There are many who disagree with Cook’s views on Zionism. In a November 1999 article titled “Was Zionism Unjust?” Hillel Halkin of Commentary wrote that “if Zionism was intrinsically just, this was because its analysis of the Jewish situation, which held that without an independent homeland in Palestine the Jewish people had no life in our times, was correct and has nothing to fear from the historical truth, whether this comes from the ‘new historians’ or the old.

“What needs to be feared is a Jewish people that forgets who it is. The Palestine conflict was inevitable, Tom Segev writes in The Days of the Poppies, because Palestine was too small to be divided equitably between the Jews and the Arabs. Fifty years later it has not grown any larger, while its Jewish population has increased over eightfold and its Arab population—after the flight of much of it—by two-and-a-half.”

All of this brings about a very serious question: What does the future of Israel hold insofar as Middle Eastern geopolitics are concerned?

“That is crystal ball stuff,” Cook remarks. “There are too many variables. What can be said with some certainty is that we are in a time of transition: chiefly economic for the West and chiefly political for the Middle East. That means the global power systems we have known for decades are starting to break down. Where that will ultimately lead is very difficult to decipher.”

Last month, in the American Thinker article “Israel’s Bright Future”, French academic Guy Milliere didn’t mince words about his perspective on what lies ahead for the small nation.

“Although it is less present in the Tel Aviv intellectual elites,” he wrote, “a feeling of belonging to a society sure of its values and core beliefs is very strong in Israel: the Jewish people regained their land and their roots, and Israelis feel that they are part of something much larger than themselves. People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are always happier.

“Israelis who contemplate the history of their nation cannot but be impressed by what was accomplished in so short a time.  In little more than six decades, Israel has evolved from a developing country to a country at the forefront of technological accomplishments, and from a tiny and fragile country to the most stable and the strongest power in the Middle East.  

“Israel was constantly faced with wars and terrorism but never ceased to be an exemplary democracy and never restricted freedom of speech.”


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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