Michael Shurkin
Is Zionism Colonialism? p. 4

Memmi offered two other warnings that appear to be directly relevant to Israel. The first is that the colonized in revolt cannot distinguish between 'innocent' and 'guilty' colonists. To them, all Europeans in the colony are colonists and thus colonizers. The second is that the rebels cannot be expected to emerge from the colonial experience as liberals and universialists. On the contrary, they will be chauvinists, nationalists, and very likely racists. For too long, Memmi explained, colonized people are told that they are different and that they cannot be assimilated. The colonized assimilates this idea and accepts it. "He will be that man" whom the colonizers have told him he is. "The same passion that made him admire and absorb Europe, will make him affirm his differences, for these differences, in the end, constitute him, constitute properly his essence." (148) Memmi continued:

[the colonized] will be nationalist and not, understandably, internationalist. Of course, this being the case, he risks slipping into exclusivism and chauvinism, to hold himself more upright, to oppose national solidarity to human solidarity, and even ethnic solidarity to national solidarity. But to expect the colonized, who has suffered so much from not existing for and by himself, to be open to the world, humanist and internationalist, appears to be comic foolishness.
(Memmi 150)

Memmi intended his remarks on the chauvinism of the colonized as a response to 1950s Leftists who were reluctant to embrace nascent colonial nationalisms because they were aggressive affirmations of particularist identity, whether ethnic, religious, or national, as opposed to universalist or, more ideally, proletarian. Memmi was not endorsing the colonized's intolerance. As a Jew he suffered directly from Arab nationalism's inability to find a place for him in a post-colonial Tunisia, and the protagonist of his autobiographical novel Statue de Sel, after being rejected by his Arab nationalist friends, is forced to choose between emigrating to Palestine (Zionism) and emigrating to the New World.

A final area where Memmi's study fits Israel is his assessment of colonial politics. His disparagement of the colonialist Left makes for great reading, and its relevance to Israel's Left is intriguing. What I found more interesting, though, is his insight into the deformation of colonial politics in general relative to the métropole. Memmi observed that although colonists initially identify with the métropole, they eventually find themselves only supporting those aspects of themétropole that support them, in most cases reactionary and conservative elements. These the colonist regards as the 'true' nation. Threatening aspects, regarded as traitorous, are fought tooth and nail. Thus the colonizer becomes a hyper-nationalist while at the same time developing a deep resentment of the métropole. He no longer has the same values as the métropole. To some extent, he is no longer a part of it. Worse, he threatens to poison the métropole with the "temptation of fascism."

These observations appear to apply directly to Israeli settlers, who are certainly rabid nationalists while at the same time nurturing a subversive resentment of the 'métropole,' in this case the largely-secular, non-triumphalist Israel on the other side of the Green line. I have heard settlers say countless times that the government and mainstream Israelis "do not understand" or "have abandoned them." They feel personally threatened not just by liberal Israel but by the liberal democracy that frustrates their own agenda. This is why settlers and their supports flirt dangerously with anti-liberal politics. A few, like Yoram Hazony, quietly become fascists, by which I mean they find redemption by pairing a cult of action and aggression with a savage critique of liberal culture. Others, like Baruch Goldstein, become terrorists, and one, Yigal Amir, became an assassin. This is why there has been lots of seditious talk in the West Bank of religious soldiers disobeying future orders to dismantle settlements, or even why the government must use soldiers for this task in the first place. What these people all share is a sense of themselves as true Zionists who are upholding true Israel. In contrast, the State of Israel and all of those "North Tel Avivniks" have betrayed the cause.

Memmi's portraits make clear that Zionism is colonialism at least to the extent that Israel reproduces between Jews and Arabs distinctly colonial relations that disfigure one party into colonizers and the other into colonized. However, his study should also make clear the limitations of applying archetypes to reality. If Zionism is colonialism in some ways, in others it does not fit the description. The differences are not purely academic. They have great consequences particularly for those who seek to bring peace to the region. In particular, the comparison of Zionism with colonialism founders on three questions: Who are the colonizers? What is the métropole? What is the meaning of the word "occupation"?

[1]       [2]       [3]       4       [5]       [6]       [next->]

Image: Ian Lustick, 1994

June 2003

Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here

Zionism and

Michael Shurkin

Simulacra and Science Fiction
Dan Friedman

I Hear America

Jay Michaelson

I wish I was...
Harbeer Sandhu

Josh Gets Contacts
Josh Ring

When I Met Humility, I saw Letters
Abraham Mezrich

David Stromberg

Zeek @ Low
June 26, 2003
Click for details

about zeek