By Osama Al Sharif
IT is striking that Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent characterization of Zionism as a crime against humanity on equal footing with fascism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, was denounced by the White House and ardent pro-Israel congressmen, when in fact a good number of Israelis and Jews around the world are equally critical, if not more. The Turkish prime minister was expressing a personal opinion, one that is shared by millions of Turks, Arabs, Muslims and others around the world. It was not the first time that Erdogan had made such controversial statements, but the timing was probably intentional.
Turkish-Israeli relations had hit rock bottom since Israeli commandoes intercepted and raided a mercy flotilla heading to the besieged Gaza Strip in 2010, killing and wounding dozens of Turkish nationals. Erdogan’s statements came on the eve of a maiden trip by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Ankara, which was intended to mend relations between the two Washington allies, among other things.
But while criticism of Zionism, and Israel for that matter, is considered an anathema to most Western countries today, the irony is that many notable Israelis, both secular and religious, are even more vociferous in their condemnation of Zionism and what it entails for Israel and Judaism. In fact the debate, inside Israel and beyond, has never stopped ever since the birth of Israel in 1948.
Last month Israel Prize laureate Amoz Oz, speaking before academics in Israel, denounced the government of Benjamin Netanyahu and compared the country to an apartheid state. He condemned the government for killing the two-state solution adding that it believes that “Jews can rule over an Arab majority for a long time. No apartheid state in the world has lasted without collapsing after a few years.”
It is not the romantic nationalistic ideals of Zionism, controversial as they are, that warrant criticism and even condemnation. It is the policies of Israel, as an occupying power, against the Palestinians that have created what Michael Warschawski, director of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem and a well known anti-Zionist activist, calls “ugly Israeli.”
It’s been more than 20 years since the UN’s General Assembly rescinded a 1975 resolution equating Zionism to racism. In 1991 the world mood was changing. There was hope for a historic peace settlement between Arabs and Israelis, and most importantly between the Jewish state and the Palestinians. But two decades later the reality in the occupied territories is different. The Palestinians have been denied access to self-determination. In the West Bank they live under a repressive regime where their land is confiscated and their young men and women are subject to incarceration and administrative detention. Special laws and rules enforce a discriminatory reality on Palestinians.
Arab residents of East Jerusalem are not allowed building permits. They cannot expand existing properties or build new ones. The policy is designed to force them to leave. There are thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails, many of them held without charge. Israel has been accused by international human rights organizations of resorting to torture and collective punishment against Palestinian detainees.
There is no denying that Palestinians are subjected to daily horrors by their Israeli occupiers. In his prize winning book “On the Border” Warschawski talks about “an Israeli beyond the Zionist context” and points to the left’s abandonment of “democratic principles and socialist values” to the “hysterical nationalism” engendered by the 1967 war.
In fact anti-Zionism is not a novel concept, nor is it an Arab or Muslim doctrine. Many Jewish intellectuals and religious figures have argued against anti-Zionism. Recently the Jerusalem Post launched a vehement attack against anti-Zionist Jewish organizations now active in many Western countries including the US, Canada, Britain and France. In its report it quoted French intellectual, Pierre-André Taguieff, as saying that “Those ‘alterjews,’ who systematically take the side of the Jews’ enemies, can they still be considered Jewish? Beside the fluke of their birth, in what way are they Jewish? Can we apply to them the old Talmudic formula according to which ‘the Jew who has sinned stays Jewish’? How can one tolerate the fact that they self-identify as Jews only to attack the Jews (the ‘Jewish Jews’).” The newspaper believes that “anybody who identifies as anti-Zionist, even if one professes to be Jewish, cannot be considered anything other than a representative of a very marginal group in the Jewish world.”
In reality there are tens of Jewish anti-Zionist organizations around the world today, some defy Zionism on religious grounds while others believe that the future of Israel is doomed because of its Zionist beliefs. Erdogan’s condemnation is nothing compared to what most of these organizations and prominent figures believe and practice. Perhaps the most scathing censure of Zionism comes from renowned scholar in the humanities, Judith Butler, author of the controversial book, “Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism,” in which she calls for the delinking between Israel and Zionism while advocating boycotting and divesting from Israel and imposing sanctions against it because of its occupation policies.
Anti-Zionism is a political reality and not just an emotional rebuke by critics of Israel. Erdogan’s comments were attacked because they were uttered by him and not by a Jew or an Israeli.