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COMMENTARY TYPICALLY CENSORED IN THE U.S.:

I and Thou: The Road of Jewish Anti-Zionism

by Chris Floyd

The Jews of Israel have every right to live safely, to follow (or not) their religious faith, to adhere (or not) to their cultural heritage, to speak Hebrew. What they do not have is the right to continue to dispossess and oppress another people.
It is of course a sad fact that many people who call themselves "anti-Zionists" are, when you peel back enough layers, actually racists who hate Jews in general, and ascribe any sinister acts perpretrated by individual Jewish people or oganizations to some sort of racial, genetic or cultural taint that pervades the entire group. I've gotten emails from many such folks over the years, who begin the exchange with justified blasts at war criminals like Paul Wolfowitz and Ariel Sharon and end up with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a wholesale, often word-for-word re-write by the Tsarist security services of a French satirical novel that had nothing to do with Jews), Rothschilds under the bed, the whole schmeer.

Yet it is equally true that many people are, genuinely, anti-Zionist, with no quotation marks required, and no secret hatreds simmering beneath the surface. And a great many of these anti-Zionists are Jews. In fact, as is well known, some of the most vigorous and unflinching denunciations of Israel's horrendous policies -- recently on savage display in Gaza -- are leveled by Jews.

One such vigorous and unflinching voice has been that of Mike Marqusee. Although he is an American writer, Marqusee seems to be more well-known on the other side of the water, in particular as a frequent contributer to the Guardian's opinion pages. (He has also written extensively – and well – on Bob Dylan, among many other topics.) Today the Guardian has an excerpt from Marquesee's newest book, If I Am Not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew. In it, Marqusee tells of his transition from the comfortable bastions of Jewish life in suburban America – with their ingrained belief in the indelible, unchallengeable, intertwined goodness and exceptionalism of the United States and Israel – to his embrace of anti-Zionism as "part of a larger opposition to racism," including the racism now being written on the bodies of the Palestinians. The whole book excerpt is well worth reading, especially the passages on Marqusee's upbringing, but the clip below has special resonance in light of the recent intensification of the on-going carnage is Israel's occupied terrorities:

Today, as cracks show in the presumed monolith of Jewish backing for Israel, increasing numbers of Jews are interrogating and rejecting Zionism. Nonetheless, the existence of anti-Zionist Jews strikes many people - Jews and non-Jews - as an anomaly, a perversity, a violation of the first clause in the ethical aphorism of Hillel, the first-century rabbi and doyenne of Jewish teachings: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"

Zionism is an ideology and a political movement. As such it is open to rational dispute. Jews, like others, might view the Jewish claim to Palestine as irrational, anachronistic, and intrinsically unjust. They might consider the Jewish state to be discriminatory or racist or might object - on political, philosophical, or even specifically Jewish grounds - to any state based on the supremacy of a particular religious or ethnic group. As Jews, they might reject the idea that Jewish people constitute a "nation", or at least a "nation" of the type that can or should become a territorial nation-state. Or they might have concluded on the basis of an examination of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians that the underlying cause of the conflict was the ideology of the Israeli state.

Any or all of the above should be sufficient to explain why some Jews would become anti-Zionists. But that doesn't stop critics from placing us firmly in the realm of the irredeemably neurotic. Whenever Jews speak out against Israel, their motives, their representativeness, their authenticity as Jews are questioned. We are pathologised. For only a psychological aberration, a neurotic malaise, could account for our defection from Israel's cause, which is presumed to be our own cause.

Anti-Zionist Jews are not and do not claim to be any more authentic or representative than any other Jews, nor is their protest against Israel any more valid than a non-Jew's. But "If I am not for myself", then the Zionists will claim to be for me, will usurp my voice and my Jewishness. Since each Israeli atrocity is justified by the exigencies of Jewish survival, each calls forth a particular witness from anti-Zionist Jews, whose very existence contradicts the Zionist claim to speak for all Jews everywhere.

In a separate article in the paper, Marqusee expands on these ideas:

Of course, being an anti-Zionist Jew is a negative identity. It's a disavowal of a politics commonly ascribed to Jews. And if one's anti-Zionism is made up exclusively of a rejection of Zionism, then it's not worth much. But for myself and for the anti-Zionist Jews I know, anti-Zionism is part of a larger opposition to racism and inequality, an expression of a positive solidarity with the Palestinians as victims of injustice and specifically of colonialism.

It should go without saying, but unfortunately cannot, that being an anti-Zionist by no means implies a desire to destroy the Jews who live in Palestine. On the contrary, anti-Zionism is founded on a refusal to countenance discrimination on racial or religious grounds. The Jews of Israel have every right to live safely, to follow (or not) their religious faith, to adhere (or not) to their cultural heritage, to speak Hebrew. What they do not have is the right to continue to dispossess and oppress another people.

NOTE: Vanity Fair has a new article detailing the key role played by the Bush Administration in fomenting the current violence and chaos in Gaza. The Guardian looks at the story here. More on Gaza below:

Jonathan Schwarz: Christian Science Monitor Successfully Turns Up Down

Daily Telegraph: Gaza residents tell of sniper attacks on homes

The Observer: Scores killed in raids on Gaza; Observer uncovers block on seriously ill patients being treated abroad


photo of Chris FloydChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at cfloyd72@gmail.com.

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.



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This story was published on March 4, 2008.