Michael Shurkin
Is Zionism Colonialism? p. 5

With regard to the first, are Israelis themselves colonizers, or only those who settle in the West Bank and Gaza? Memmi characterized the colonizer as being primarily motivated by economic advantage. Life is cheaper in the colony than in the métropole. This holds for the large number of Israeli settlers who crossed the Green Line for the sake of cheaper housing, and it applies as well to many of the more recent immigrants to Israel. However, the vast majority of immigrants to Israel, and above all the Zionists who built the country, settled in Palestine for distinctly non-economic reasons. Most Zionist ideologues in fact wanted nothing to do with Arab labor because they wanted to create an entirely Jewish proletariat. Most Jews went to Palestine because they were harried, persecuted, and massacred into fleeing their countries of origin and seeking refuge. This was true even before the Holocaust, though the Holocaust makes its truth self-evident. Or at least it should. Too many Arab leaders and intellectuals either ignore the realities of Jewish history or play down and even deny Jewish suffering, including the Holocaust. They insist instead on reading Jewish colonialism (Zionism) as identical with European colonialism and thus economically motivated. Their motivations vary, but I am struck by the willingness of ostensibly intelligent and rational men to ignore, distort, or flat out deny historical truth because of an unwillingness to concede that their might be some justice to the Zionist cause.

A more sympathetic reading of Jewish history reveals that Zionism is not a colonialism but an anti-colonialism. It is an anti-colonial ideology of national revolt. In fact, Jews can be considered the ultimate colonized people. They have certainly exhibited all the traits of the colonized detailed by Memmi. Their existence in the Diaspora has been premised on their economic exploitation by sovereign powers complimented by a legal and cultural system that placed them outside of history and outside the community. For centuries Jews were locked in the status quo. They correspondingly made a virtue of stability and quietism; their religion preserved them from despair. With the modern era came the hope of escape. Most chose assimilation, and the result, in Europe at least, was self-hatred and failure. Consider the Zionists themselves: men like Theodore Herzl and Max Nordau absolutely hated the average Jew, for they believed most Jews were guilty of even the most disgusting charges leveled at them. Herzl and Nordau leave little doubt in their writing that they would happily assimilate if they could, if they thought Germans would have them. Other Jews were more optimistic about assimilation as a way out, but they were all slaughtered anyway. Zionists opted for revolt.

Zionism was a response to being colonized. Anticipating Fanon by some sixty years, Zionists envisioned regeneration through radical social and cultural revolution. Some hoped to transform themselves through agricultural labor. Others had vague notions of Nietzschean "transvaluation of values." A few looked to violence. All drew from fin-de-siècle notions of honor, strength, and vitality. They wanted Jews to walk tall and to fight back. They wanted a Muskeljudentum. Like all colonized peoples, moreover, Zionists suffer from the syndrome of being trapped in a dialectical relationship with their colonizers, Europeans. "In full revolt," Memmi wrote, "the colonized continues to think, to feel, and to live against and thus in relation to the colonized and colonization."

What this means is that, despite what Arabs think, Zionism is not really about them. It is about Europe, and it is about negating in the Jew that which the Europeans (and thus acculturated modern Jews) found hateful. Indeed, Amos Oz's essays on Zionist writers and ideologues in Under This Blazing Light describe a rage that matches word for word Memmi's description of the fury of the colonized. Zionism is an attempt to best Europe, to combat Europe, to spite Europe.

When Arabs and Left attack Zionism for chauvinism, nationalism, and racism, they are not entirely wrong. However, the chauvinism, nationalism, and racism of Zionism are those that, according to Memmi, should be expected of colonized peoples in revolt. Zionists are reacting to the hatred that the world has dumped on Jews incessantly for almost two millennia. Zionism, like Arab nationalism, is a fight against Europe, and the self-hatred that Jews absorbed there. It is as much an attempt by the colonzed to regenerate themselves as that celebrated by Memmi and even Fanon and Sartre. Coming from European critics, the racism libel against Israel is cruel and disgusting. Coming from Arabs, the libel is little better. Among other things, Arabs are guitly of completely eliding their own historical treatment of Jews, both in the wake of Israel's creation and during the more than a thousand years of Jewish life in Muslim and Arab lands. Memmi's own account of his Tunisian childhood is punctuated by the terror of Arab pogroms. If the irony of Arabs calling Zionists and Jews racists and chauvinists were not so great, their hypocrisy would be laughable.

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Image: Kibbutzniks at Deganya Aleph, 1934 (Snunit)

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
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