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The following is an excerpt, used with permission from the author, from the book Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Palgrave: 2009).
“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.
Consider a list of the political actors who have had more than a passing connection to the Zionist project and, who, at one time or another, have affected or have been affected by this project. First, there are the different Zionist factions, the Jewish diaspora and, later, the state of Israel. These entities are overlapping, with the degrees of overlap between any two of them changing over time. The second set of actors consists of Western powers – especially, the United States, Britain, and France – the Christian Zionists especially in the United States, the Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe. Finally, there are actors who are the direct and indirect victims of the Zionist project, those who have paid the costs of Zionist success. They form four concentric circles around Israel, including the Palestinians, the Arabs, the Middle East, and the Islamicate. These three sets of actors make up the dramatis personae in the unfolding tragedy of the Zionist project.
Clearly, the number of actors involved, their variety, and, not least, the multilayered power commanded by the Zionists and their allies would indicate that Zionism is no sideshow. Directly, it has involved much of the Western world, on one side, and the global Islamicate on the other side, who will soon make up one-fourth of the world’s population.
Many white settlers established colonies in Africa during the nineteenth century. In Palestine, the Jews established the only white settler colony to be established in the Middle East – or for that matter, anywhere in Asia. Of all these colonial settler projects, only the Jewish settlers in Palestine have endured. In 1948, only three decades after they gained British backing for their project, the Jewish colons created their own state, Israel, which, almost overnight, became the dominant power in the region, capable of defeating any combination of the military forces of the neighboring states. Within two decades of its founding, the ‘tiny’ Jewish state had also acquired an arsenal of nuclear weapons, the only country in the region with such weapons of mass extermination. In recent decades, militarily, Israel has ranked behind only three other countries, the United States, Russia, and China. In addition, Israel has forged a special relationship with the United States, which finances its military, arms it, and shields the country from the sanction of international laws, leaving it free to expand its colonial project, and threaten and attack its neighbors at will. After September 11, Israel and its allies were a major—if not decisive—factor in pushing the United States to invade and occupy Iraq. For several years now, they have been itching to instigate the United States into a war against Iran.
How did the Zionists manage to do all this?
In part, the answer to this question lies in taking a measure of the forces that underpin Israel’s capacity to endure. Had the French colons survived in Algeria, had they partitioned the country to create a white colonial settler state along the Mediterranean coast, like Israel, this settler state too would be armed to the teeth, backed by a special relationship with France, and perpetually at war with Algerian refugees and with its Arab/African neighbors. In 1960, David Ben-Gurion had urged Charles De Gaulle, the French president, to create a colonial settler state in Algeria in the rich agricultural areas along the Mediterranean coast. In the Algerian civil war, Israel had supported the faction within the Organisation Armée Secrete (OAS), the underground militant organization of the colons in Algeria, which wanted to partition Algeria. Had it gone through, the partition would have prolonged the conflict in Algeria, created an Israeli twin in North Africa, and deepened the bond between France and Israel. Unluckily for Israel, de Gaulle firmly rejected partition. He was convinced that French rule could not be maintained in Algeria and conceded independence to the Algerians.
How did the Jewish colons in Palestine succeed in creating an exclusionary colonial settler state in the middle of the twentieth century, and continue to grow with support from a surrogate mother country, while the French colons in Algeria, the Italians in Libya or the British colons in Kenya had to give up their colonial projects?
The answer to this question is simple. The white colons in Algeria, Libya, or Kenya simply did not have enough influence over the mother country—over France, Italy, and Britain—to overrule what the elites in the mother country had decided was in their interest: to pull out of their colonies. The Jewish colons in Palestine had more power than the white colons in Algeria, Libya, and Kenya. Where did their power come from?
The success of Jewish colons in Palestine and the failure of the colons in Algeria, Libya, or Kenya is a paradox. The French, Italian, and British settlers had a natural mother country, a country of origin, with whose people they shared an ethnic bond. The Jewish colons in Palestine did not have a natural mother country, a powerful Jewish state to support their colonial project. Yet, their colonizing project succeeded, and they drove out the Palestinians to create a nearly pure Jewish state in Palestine. The Jewish colons did not pull off this feat on their own; they succeeded because of their ability to recruit the greatest Western powers, and many others besides, to support their colonial project. Somehow, the Zionists turned what could well have been a fatal deficiency for their colonial project – the absence of a natural mother country – into their greatest asset. They gained the freedom to pick and choose their mother country.
How did the Zionists bring this about? The Jews were not a majority in any country, but there existed a Jewish minority in nearly every Western country. In itself, the presence of Jewish minorities could not have been a source of strength; a weak Jewish minority in any country could do little to help their coreligionists in another country. What made the Jewish minorities different was that they carried a weight that far outweighed their numbers. Over the course of the nineteenth century, they had become an important, often vital, part of the financial, industrial, commercial, and intellectual elites in several of the most important Western countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States. Moreover, the most prominent members of these elites had cultivated ties with each other across national boundaries.
Once these Jewish elites, spread across the key Western countries, had decided to support the Zionist project, they would become a force in global politics. On the one hand, this would tempt the great powers to support Zionism, if this could buy them the help of the Jewish communities, based in a rival or friendly power, to push their host country in a desirable direction. Conversely, once the Zionists recognized this tendency, they too would seek to win support for their cause by offering the support of Jewish communities in key Western countries. It would be in their interest to exaggerate the results that Jewish communities in this or that country might be able to deliver. During periods of intense conflicts – such as World War I – when the fate of nations hung in the balance, the competition for Zionist support became more intense than ever. This placed the Zionists in a strong position to trade their favors for the commitment of the great powers to their goals. In September 1917, this competition persuaded Britain, at a difficult moment in the execution of its war, to throw its support behind the Zionist project.
The Zionists continue to market their colonial project as a haven for Jews, fleeing anti-Semitic persecution. This is misleading. Overwhelmingly, Jews fleeing persecution in Europe have stayed away from this ‘haven’ when alternatives were available. On the contrary, the Zionists were counting on support from the anti-Semites to propel their nationalist-cum-colonial project. They were counting on anti-Semitic persecution to send Jewish colons to Palestine; and they were counting on the European anti-Semite’s desire to be rid of Jews to recruit Western powers to support their colonial project in Palestine. Zionism was primarily a nationalist movement, whose origins predated the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the late nineteenth century. Even then, most Jews sought to combat anti-Semitism through assimilation, Jewish autonomism, and socialist revolutions. When forced to emigrate, they overwhelmingly preferred destinations outside Palestine. The fortunes of Zionism improved only when most Western countries closed their doors to Jewish immigrants. When these doors were closing in the early 1900s, it was little opposed by the Jewish diaspora, whose leadership now identified increasingly with Zionist goals. Little pressure too was applied to reopen these doors before the 1960s.