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Talking Zionism

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"HE TALKS Zionism,"
used to be a very derogatory comment when I was young. It meant that some elderly functionary had come to waste our time with a boring speech consisting largely of empty phrases.

That was before the foundation of the State of Israel. Since then, the term Zionism has been elevated to the status of a state ideology, if not state religion. Everything the state does is justified by the use of this word. Some would say that Zionism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

When I visited Prague for the first time, right after the fall of the Communist regime, I was shown a hotel of incredible luxury -- chandeliers from France, marble from Italy, rugs from Persia, the lot. I had never seen anything like it before. I was told that the place -- or palace -- had been reserved for the communist elite.

It's then and there that I understood the essence of a state ideology. Communist regimes were founded by idealists, imbued with humanist values. They ended as mafia states, in which a corrupt clique of cynics used the communist ideology as justification for privilege, oppression and exploitation.

I don't like state ideologies. States should not foster ideologies.

THE ONLY people who have an official confirmation that they are sane are those who have been released from psychiatric hospitals. In a similar way, I may be the only person in Israel who has an official confirmation that he is not an anti-Zionist.

It happened this way: when my friends and I founded the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace in 1975, a right-wing organ called us "anti-Zionists." I didn't give a damn, but my co-founders insisted on suing them for libel.

Since I had published a book entitled "Israel Without Zionists" a few years earlier, I was called by the defendants as their star witness. They grilled me for many hours on the witness stand on what I meant by this title. In the end the judge asked me to define my attitude towards Zionism in simple words. On the spur of the moment I coined a new term: "Post-Zionism."

Since then, the term has been expropriated as a synonym for anti-Zionism. But I used it quite literally. As I explained to the judge, my position is that Zionism was a historical movement with its glorious achievements as well as its darker side. One can admire or condemn it, but either way Zionism has come to its logical end with the creation of the State of Israel. Zionism was the scaffolding that made the building of the state possible, but once the house is built, the scaffolding becomes a hindrance and must be removed.

So the judge decided that I am not an anti-Zionist. She ordered the defendants to pay us hefty compensation, which helped us to finance our activities.

I still adhere to that definition.

NOWADAYS, WHEN the term Zionism is used in Israel, it can mean many different things.

For ordinary Jewish Israelis, it means not much more than Israeli patriotism, combined with the dogma that Israel is a "Jewish State," or the "State of the Jewish People." These definitions, by themselves, allow for many different interpretations. For the legendary "man or woman in the street" it means that the Jews around the world are a "people," and that Israel "belongs" to this people, though Jews have no rights in Israel unless they come here and receive citizenship. Of course, the Jews around the world have never been asked to decide whether Israel is their state or not.

From this point on, the definitions go in many different directions.

At the beginning, the dominant Zionist color was red (or at least pink). The Zionist dream was coupled with socialism (not necessarily of the Marxist kind), a movement that built the pre-state Jewish society in Palestine, the all-powerful trade union organization, the kibbutz and much more.

For religious Zionists (unlike the anti-Zionist Orthodox), Zionism was the forerunner of the Messiah, who would surely come if only all of us observed the shabbat. Religious Zionists want Israel to become a state governed by the Halakha, much as Islamists want their states to be governed by the Sharia.

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Gush

Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli (more...)
 
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