The Definitions of Zionism

I’ve been giving more thought lately to Israel’s deportation of Norman Finkelstein, and I’m struck again by this quote:

“…the decision to deport Finkelstein was connected to his anti-Zionist opinions and fierce public criticism of Israel around the world.” (Emphasis mine.)

What an odd thing to say.

The part about banning him for his “fierce public criticism” is obviously outrageous; the fact that they can say with a straight face that they deported someone because they disagree with him shows you how low the Israeli government has sunk. It’s the anti-Zionist part that gives me pause. Since when does every Jew on Earth have to be a Zionist?

The meaning of the quote is ambiguous, of course. Perhaps “anti-Zionist” meant “anti-Israel,” which all too often doesn’t mean “anti-Israeli foreign and domestic policy,” but rather “anti-Israelis.” Perhaps, in the official’s mind, “anti-Zionist opinions” meant “belief that all Israelis should be forcibly evacuated.” I don’t know. But if that was what the official meant, why didn’t they just say “anti-Israel?”

The flexible and somewhat shifting definition of Zionism adds to the confusion. At its inception, Zionism simply advocated for the creation of a Jewish homeland, with no specific geographic area in mind; anywhere would do, as long as Jews could govern themselves and live free of pogroms. When Zionists decided on Palestine and received backing from the British and Ottoman empires, though, that particular area became the crux of the movement.

There’s a third component to Zionism, as well. When I went to Israel in 2005, I witnessed one of the lesser-known tenets of the movement’s philosophy: the belief that all Jews must immigrate to Israel; that a Jew’s life simply isn’t complete if they’re living in the Diaspora, and that their identity is broken if they’ve assimilated even partially into other cultures. It was a subtle but definite vibe I picked up from various off-hand comments and thinly-disguised imperatives. We fought so hard to form this country, people seemed to imply, and now you can’t even bother to move here?

It’s the same sentiment that Eli Valley expresses in his Israel Man and Diaspora Boy comics. Israel Man is presented as a strong, handsome (and suspiciously Aryan-looking) Uber-mensch; Diaspora Boy is a curly-haired, bespectacled, big-nosed joke of a human being, squat and gangling and surrounded by flies. While Valley’s satire is so over-the-top as to be tiring, I was instantly able to relate to his point: that dedicated Zionists see Diaspora Jews not only as ridiculous, but as harmful to the well-being of the Jewish nation.

And I think that’s the context in which we need to look at the anti-Zionist comment. I think that, on some level, it’s a rejection any implicit support for the Diaspora. I think it’s a demand for Jews everywhere to privilege Israel’s identity over their own and move there, already.

At the same time, it’s frustrating when Zionist is used as a slur. This occurs pretty regularly on the Left – We must defeat the Zionists; The Zionists are destabilizing the Middle East; Stop the Zionist agenda; Zionists are racist murderers. There are two problems with this kind of generalization. The first is that many Leftists don’t know that “Zionist” has become a dogwhistle for Jew (and I don’t mean one of those pansy-ass slips of the tongue; I mean it is a deliberate code word) thanks to neo-Nazis like David Duke. When someone says something like “The Zionists are the biggest threat to world peace since Hitler,” there’s a very, very good chance that they’re not just talking about Israelis. Is it really productive to echo that?

The second problem is that it’s possible to be a Zionist of the original variety – that is, someone who believes in the importance of a Jewish homeland for security and self-determination – even if one doesn’t think that homeland should be in Palestine, or that every Jew on the planet should flock there. It’s possible that, when you’re railing against the Zionists, the person beside you will in fact be one. Just not of the genocide-supporting Diaspora-ridiculing variety.

Still… Deported for “anti-Zionist opinions?” Is this what we’ve come to?

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14 Responses

  1. I imagine, most Jews today mean “the creation of Israel was a good idea,” when they use the word. A few perhaps still mean that all Jews ought to make aliyah, but when the project of creating a Jewish state has been successful, that seems not to be an imperative.

    But if we hold Zionism to this originalist meaning of favoring the creation of a Jewish state, doesn’t anti-Zionism mean favoring the dissolution of the Jewish state? What else could it mean (except to draw an empty and vague distinction with something else)? And while Finkelstein is a proponent of a two-state solution, he’s not in favor of Israel being a “Jewish state.” And I can assume your familiar with the thoughts he expressed to a Lebanese journalist about how Hezbollah represent hope? It’s a stretch to say he represents any actual threat to Israel -and I agree the decision to ban him was absurd- but he does make himself an ideological opponent of Israeli security and Israel as it conceives itself, doesn’t he?

  2. I used to be one of the lefties who threw the word “Zionist” around, until someone I respected (i.e. a lefty Jew) asked me to stop. Also, when I moved south, I discovered that a lot of fundamentalist Christians consider themselves “Zionist” in the extreme. (It is NOT a codeword for Jews, in these circles.) Criticism of “zionism” can often mean a certain theological bent, one who questions Revelation as “inspired”–for instance. And these people are uniformly right-wing. So, the meaning of “zionist” changes, depending upon where you are. And don’t think these fundies don’t VOTE! They sure do; so these people are influencing US policy in Israel.

    Lots of fundie churches like ZION in the title, rather as they did in THE MATRIX.

    I am pretty familiar with Finkelstein, after reading up on him after seeing him hold forth on C-Span. One of the things he hated about Israel is… well, this kind of thing. Apparently they have deported lots of people who piss them off.

    And so, they are proving him right, aren’t they? It’s exactly the kind of thing he accuses them of…

  3. Well, I mean, that’s sort of the trouble, I guess – when people mention “Zionists”, do they explicitly refer to the fundamentalist Christians? And if so, is there still an explicitly Jewish connotation when people write about the alliance of these people with AIPAC or the ADL or “the Jewish lobby”?

    The problem is that it’s always kind of tricky, really, using the word “Zionist” in a critique, regardless, because it’s been long coded to mean something specific and blur the boundaries with “Jew”.

  4. At its inception, Zionism simply advocated for the creation of a Jewish homeland, with no specific geographic area in mind; anywhere would do, as long as Jews could govern themselves and live free of pogroms. When Zionists decided on Palestine and received backing from the British and Ottoman empires, though, that particular area became the crux of the movement.

    Uhm, I’m pretty sure Zionism has always advocated for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Israel. The term Zion is a synecdoche for Jerusalem and Israel. If there were thinkers who merely advocated for a Jewish independence and a state of any kind, then they would not be Zionists by definition. So your paragraph here doesn’t even make sense.

    The so-called Father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, quite explicitly considers Palestine alongside Argentina for the possible Jewish State.

    He has plenty of antecedents. Moses Hess, Mordacai Noah, the entire Tanakh pretty much.

    Now if you have specific thinkers in mind who advocated specifically for Jewish independence and nationhood, but never brought up returning to Israel (and in fact used the term Zionism to describe this movement) by all means share.

    Secondly, being allowed into a nation you’re not a citizen of is a PRIVILEGE. No nation is required to allow you within its borders if you aren’t a citizen.

    The second problem is that it’s possible to be a Zionist of the original variety – that is, someone who believes in the importance of a Jewish homeland for security and self-determination – even if one doesn’t think that homeland should be in Palestine, or that every Jew on the planet should flock there. It’s possible that, when you’re railing against the Zionists, the person beside you will in fact be one. Just not of the genocide-supporting Diaspora-ridiculing variety.

    Great idea, GD! How aobut we brainstorm some possibilities for relocation of the Jewish homeland?

    How about the holy city of Medina, which was once the Jewish colony of Yathrib, right smack in the middle of Saudi Arabia? After all, we have historic roots in the city at least before it became illegal for non-Muslims to enter it. Then again considering how pissed off the so-called Palestinians got about Jews controlling the third holiest city in Islam (i.e. the holiest in Judaism which has had a Jewish presence long before the state of Israel was reformed) I can’t imagine the Muslim world would react rationally to the acquisition of the second holiest city in Islam. Guess that’s not going to work . . .

    Hmm, we can do better! Let’s turn to the Bible for guidance. The Bible says Abraham came from Mesopotamia, which is Modern day Iraq. So maybe the Iraqis will give us that country and move somewhere else! Right? Right? Okay, maybe it isn’t fair to ask for the whole country for a new Jewish homeland; after all, what about all those Iraqi Arabs? Where are they supposed to go? Besides, I am going out on a limb here, but I don’t think Iraq as our new homeland would solve Muslims being “angry at the Jews” for stealing their so-called lands. Bummer!

    Wait, perhaps the Bible offer more answers. Many biblical scholars have claimed that the Jews came from Northern Mesopotamia. Alright! So we can have the Northern part as our new homeland. I think we may have solved our problem. ::Smacks head:: Whoops! Silly me! What about the Kurds! We can’t just take their homeland after all, especially since I very much support their right to form a homeland out of the pieces of the other countries that make up “Kurdistan” (Turkey, Iraq, Iran) so they don’t have to live among their oppressors. I mean they’re practically Jews in that way, except, you know, Kurdish. Guess that’s not going to work out either.

    Wait, I know all the anti-Semi…whoops I mean the anti-Zionists like to claim that all the Ashkenazi Jews are really Khazars and have no relation to the Ancient Israelites. Maybe we are onto something here. Let’s see the Khazars controlled and occupied what is today southern Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan, large portions of the Caucasus (including Circassia, Dagestan, Chechnya, and parts of Georgia), and the Crimea. Wait a minutre, perhaps we need to be a little more tentative; after all, we have more Muslim countries and some Slavic/Russian countries too. Let’s think about this before doing anything hasty. Certainly WW II and the Russian pogroms that helped form a great deal of Ashkenazi American Jewry suggests that the Slavs and Russians just absoutely love the Jews (tough love is the best kind of course)! I also doubt the Muslims would have any problems with us taking part of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan for our new homeland since they’ve shown themselves to be so considerate of our concerns in the past. Not to mention I’m sure the Cechens who are attempting their own seperatist movement from Russia would appreciate ceding their land for the new Jewish homeland since historically it belonged to the Khazars first. They seem like very reasonable people; they would never hurt innocent civilians and children.

    Okay, maybe we need to stay the hell away from the Muslim countries. They don’t seem like they’re willing to give the Jews any land. How about Europe?

    I know! We can all return to Germany! 6 Million Jews return and demand half the country for new historical homeland! I can picture the headlines now. Certainly that wouldn’t piss off many Germans and bolster the strength the Neo-Nazi movement there; after all, they owe us one. Certainly that wouldn’t exaccerbate Jewish in-fighting since the Sephradic and Mizrahi might wonder why the tradition lands of the Ashkenazi are going to become the new Jewish homeland, thus denigrating their own unique heritages. Hmm, maybe that isn’t going to work either. Maybe they’ll be kind enough to send us to Madagascar; they thought about doing that once already after all.

    You know what I got it now! Maybe we can all just move to Alaska like the Iranian president says. We might not have to move anyone out since the 6 million Jews coming in would be far larger than the 670,000+ current population of Americans living there. Nevermind that Alaska has the largest proportion of Native American populations in the country. Sure, the presence of 6 million Jews might marginalize those populations even further, but damn it the Jews need a homeland to be secure and apparently it can’t be Israel.

    Looks like we’ve gone through most of the logical possibilities for a new Jewish homeland. Hmmm, how about China?

    Satirical smartassness aside, I’m not convinced a Jewish homeland at a different spot would solve ANY of the external problems that plagues the current Jewish homeland.

  5. Damn, looks like my original really long post got gobbled up.

    Okay, I’m going to summarize my points less elegantly and a lot quicker than I originally wrote them.

    1) Zionism contains the word Zion, which is a synecdoche for Jerusalem and Israel. To speak of a Zionism that advocated for a Jewish homeland not necessarily in Israel makes no sense whatsoever. You’re not talking about Zionism anymore; you’re talking about a Jewish national-independent movement.

    The so-called father of Zionsim, Theodor Herzl, does mention quite explicitly Palestine as a possibility for the Jewish state as well as Argentina.

    Many of his predecessors, such as Moses Hess and Mordecai Noah also advocated for Zionism long before Herzl (i.e. moving to Israel and turning it into a possible homeland for the Jewish people).

    2) A non-Citizen’s ability to enter a country is a PRIVILEGE, not a RIGHT. Every country has the right to choose who it allows and doesn’t allow into their country as long as they aren’t citizens.

    3) I had a long satirical post addressing your last point going through different possible relocation sites for the Jewish people, but alas I don’t feel like rewriting my smartassy comical gold.

    So I’ll turn it into a question instead: Where would you relocate the new Jewish homeland? How are you going to get the sovereign government to agree to cede that land? How are you going to convince the people already living there to move or relocate from the Jewish state? In other words, how would you prevent basically all the problems we currently have now from reappearing?

  6. “Uhm, I’m pretty sure Zionism has always advocated for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Israel. The term Zion is a synecdoche for Jerusalem and Israel. If there were thinkers who merely advocated for a Jewish independence and a state of any kind, then they would not be Zionists by definition. So your paragraph here doesn’t even make sense.”

    From Jewfaq.org/israel.htm:

    Zionism was not a religious movement; it was a primarily political. The early Zionists sought to establish a secular state of Israel, recognized by the world, through purely legal means. Theodor Herzl, for example, was a completely assimilated secular Jewish journalist. He felt little attachment to his Jewish heritage until he covered the trial of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish captain in the French military who was (unjustly) convicted of passing secrets to Germany. The charges against Dreyfus brought out a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment that shocked Herzl into realizing the need for a Jewish state. Early Zionists were so desperate for a refuge at one point that they actually considered a proposal to create a Jewish homeland in Uganda. Alaska and Siberia were also discussed. But the only land that truly inspired Jewish people worldwide was our ancient homeland, at that time a part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire known as Palestine. (Emphasis mine.)

    I concede that the chronology isn’t as tidy as I made it out to be. However, the fact that they considered other areas demonstrates that early Zionists’ main concern was a homeland, not necessarily a homeland in Palestine.

    As for your second point, I wasn’t arguing that Israel was committing a crime when they deported Finkelstein; I was saying that their reasons for doing so are unjust. Also, how exactly does Finkelstein’s “privilege” to enter Israel jive with his right of return – that is, the right of any Jew, codified in Israeli law, to immigrate to Israel? How can he live there if he can’t even enter? Or has he lost the right of return for criticizing Israel? What kind of precedent does that set?

    Finally, I’m not sure how you translated my last paragraph into a call to relocate the citizens of Israel. Believing in the idea of a Jewish homeland in the abstract isn’t the same as believing that Israel should be “relocated.” Furthermore, you can believe in Israel’s right to exist – as I do – while believing that Diaspora Jews shouldn’t be ridiculed and the starvation of Palestinians shouldn’t be happening.

  7. Eric, tucked away in your 800+ words of “satirical smartassness” is the phrase “the so-called Palestinians.” Is that anything like the “alleged Holocaust”?

    BTW, sarcasm≠satire.

  8. 1) I admit my issue with your post is mostly one of semantics.

    The movement you’re speaking of is properly classified as Territorialism. Zionism specifically means the formation of the Jewish national state in Israel.

    It makes no sense to claim: “it’s possible to be a Zionist of the original variety that is, someone who believes in the importance of a Jewish homeland for security and self-determination – even if one doesn’t think that homeland should be in Palestine”

    If you believe in a Jewish homeland, but not in Palestine, then you’re a Territorialist, not a Zionist. The phrase “original variety” makes even less sense as you already granted because there is no such thing as some “original” group.

    “At its inception, Zionism simply advocated for the creation of a Jewish homeland, with no specific geographic area in mind; anywhere would do, as long as Jews could govern themselves and live free of pogroms. When Zionists decided on Palestine and received backing from the British and Ottoman empires, though, that particular area became the crux of the movement.”

    This sentence with the ideas already discussed in mind also doesn’t make any sense. Zionism cannot advocate for the creation of a Jewish homeland that is not in Palestine. It would no longer be Zionism then, it would be Territorialism. Certainly a Zionist can advocate such territorialist beliefs and they are interrelated movements. However, this confuses a Zionist (an individual who practices Zionism, but is also capable of participating in other movements) and Zionism (the movement itself and what is specifically means).

    You’ll notice the part you emphasized in Jewfaq quote actually uses “Zionists” — really just a lazy rhetorical shorthand that points out rightfully that many Zionists supported these other places, but doesn’t mean that is what Zionism is — rather than Zionism, which is what you speak of in your original post.

    Zion specifically signifies Israel and Jerusalem; Zionism has a very specific meaning.

    The etymology of both the word Zion and Zionism can be found here.

    2) The Law of Return is not unlimited. A Jew can be denied an Oleh visa if they have a criminal record, if they have a deadly contagible disease (at least prior to making Aliyah), or if they are engaged in activities directed against the Jewish people.

    That last part is left fairly ambiguous.

    See: Law of Return

    Jewish Voice for Peace (aka Muzzlewatch) has a post on Tthe incident, which is much more forthcoming about the details:

    The Shin Bet said Finkelstein “is not permitted to enter Israel because of suspicions involving hostile elements in Lebanon,” and because he “did not give a full accounting to interrogators with regard to these suspicions.”

    . . . Finkelstein visited Lebanon a few months ago and met with Hezbollah operatives there, and subsequently published articles.

    . . . He also said in the interview that he was “en route to Palestine to see one of my oldest and dearest friends, Musa Abu-Hashhash.”

    . . . Finkelstein said he was asked whether he had met with Al Qaida operatives, whether he had been sent to Israel by Hezbollah and how he intended to finance his stay in Israel.

    . . . Finkelstein said he has been to Israel at least 15 times

    Now it may be that they departed Finkelstein because of his political views at the end of the day, and this is just a convenient excuse. However, there is also no denying that given all the other evidence he put himself in a relatively bad position to allow for such convenient excuses to be used. He met with Hezbollah, really?

    Despite all that, the law of return in this case is a total non-issue anyway. He wasn’t making aliyah. So the law of return has nothing to do with this situation in the slightest. The law only applies to people wishing to become a citizen. Finkelstein was visiting just like any other tourist or guest, not as a potential citizen.

    3) “The second problem is that it’s possible to be a Zionist of the original variety – that is, someone who believes in the importance of a Jewish homeland for security and self-determination – even if one doesn’t think that homeland should be in Palestine, or that every Jew on the planet should flock there.” (emphasis mine.)

    I think if you look at the parts I emphasized, it is reasonable to read them as claiming that a Jewish homeland should exist just not in Palestine. However, I’ll take your word for your own views that you followed up with and say I might have misread the remarks.

  9. 1. If you don’t like Jewfaq’s description of Zionism, then take it up with them.

    2. I posed the question of right as return as food for thought, not because I was under the impression that Finkelstein might be considering Aliyah. As for whether he was “engaged in activities against the Jewish people,” that brings us right back to the initial point of my initial post. The Israeli government has yet to prove that he actually poses a security risk (if he was involved in some secret plot with Hezbollah, why would he publish articles about his meetings with them?). Being in a “relatively bad position” isn’t enough to warrant deportation and banning.

    You’ve now left aggressive and condescending comments on both my blogs. If you disagree with me, fine, but telling me my posts “make no sense” and (on my other blog) dictating what I should and shouldn’t be offended by doesn’t exactly endear you to me. Are you here to exchange ideas or pick fights?

  10. Exchange ideas.

    Your comments that I can come off as condescending and aggressive at times rings true enough. When I was writing my Masters papers, my professors indicated that one of the weaknesses in my writing was that I sometimes took a very, “aggressive tone towards other thinkers whom I disagreed with, flatly rejecting them instead of engaging in a more subtle and productive way.” So I recognize this as a habit I sometimes have when I engage others in debate. So I apologize. In all honesty, I really mean no offense.

    With that said, sometimes the exchange of ideas requires one to pick a fight. And yes, I’m willing to fight for my ideas until proven wrong.

    For example, one of the reasons I agreed with you in the thread on your other blog is I ultimately listened to what you had to say, your responses, and agreed with you. You engaged with me, you were able to address all my points effectively, and you offered information that I had to stop and really think about. So in theory exchange ideas, but I never said that would be an easy task.

    I also noticed there was a lot of “rah, rah, rah!” we-all-pretty-much-agree with each other going on in the comments (a huge problem on political blogs, in my opinion) and thought it wouldn’t hurt to get a little bit of debate going.

  11. The problem with your definition of “territorialism”, Eric, is that the originator of the idea of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, never himself in life had any specific attachment to Israel, initially – he was thoroughly secular, through and through, so this idea of Uganda came from the leading lights of the Zionist movement at the time and was rejected by the everyday Jews who came on board. So the term “territorialism” is a later invention to separate two things that initially weren’t actually separate.

    Also, yeah, attempting sarcasm less-than-successfully isn’t always the best way to get a debate going, especially when it’s a thousand words in length. But it seems like you’ve admitted that so I won’t hammer the point in.

  12. That’s true enough, Brownshoes. Though, I should point out Territorialism isn’t my definition exactly, but the Jewish Virtual Library’s. Also, my only real issue is one of tautology.

  13. Yeah, I guess I should probably take up my objections with them instead!

  14. […] especially regarding Israeli and Palestinian issues; two of the best entries so far have been about the definition of Zionism, and a proposed solution for those who want to visit Israel without supporting the occupation.  So […]

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