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?