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In a well-intentioned but ultimately ignorant article published last week, one of The Lawrentian staff declared that the terms Zionism and anti-Zionism were “causing more trouble than they’re worth” and that we should simply stop using them in political discussions about Israeli occupation and the Palestinian struggle. For an American audience who is already quite unaware of the immense urgency of Palestinian liberation, saying a statement like that is just tightening the blindfold that American audiences are so used to wearing when it comes to Israel-Palestine and the American sponsorship of Palestinian ethnic cleansing. I’m here to take that blindfold off and show you exactly what Zionism is and how it has single-handedly caused the apartheid state, which renders Palestinians second-class citizens in their homeland.
First, let us look at Villerius’s ideal definition of Zionism: “In my perfect world, these labels would never come up in political discussion. Zionists would be those broadly with Jewish pride.” This comes after an entire article lamenting Israeli genocide against Palestinians with no mention whatsoever that Zionist political practices led to Palestinian internal displacement of an enormous scale, the establishment of a Palestinian diaspora around the world and Palestinian ethnic cleansing. When discussing the historical term “Zionism,” as well as what subsequently occurred in the building of a nation-state based on ethnic-religious apartheid, Villerius very conveniently states that the movement of Zionism has to do with Jewish self-determination. He leaves out that this movement was always centered around Jewish self-determination at the expense of Palestinian land, dignity and pride. The British and French, who were the primary tools through which Zionists were able to occupy Palestinian land to establish their settler colonies, were also fully aware that they would once again be drawing lines in the sand which they had no business doing.
It is not that Zionism has come to mean, today in 2021, “those who are supportive of the actions of the Israeli government,” but rather “those who are supportive of Jewish self-determination at the cost of Palestinian political autonomy.” This is what the leaders of the Zionist movement have argued for, and it has been the attitude of Jewish settlers in the region well before the establishment of Israel as a nation-state. Also, let us look precisely at which actions are being supported by those who call themselves Zionists: forced removal of Palestinians from their villages and homes in the Nakba of 1948, which continues to this day, denial of the right to return for the majority of the Palestinian diaspora, establishment of checkpoints and one of the most highly funded militaries in the Middle East, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, propaganda and indoctrination through various programs such as the birthright trip and reduction of Palestinians to second-class Israeli citizenship or statelessness. This is not an extreme reading as the author would like us to think because the foundation of Israel has always been based on ethnonationalism.
I would also like to refute several of Villerius’s false equivalencies. The first is a condemnation of Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the same breath. Now, I get it. Americans have been raised in largely neo-liberal frameworks where seeing an Islamic militia is very scary. However, to condemn the only scrappy defense force that Palestinians have against a colonial occupying power armed to the teeth with American money, weaponry and tactics is quite ignorant and diminishes the enormous power gap between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Under international law, the Palestinians have a right to self-defense, and they should be able to exercise that right in any way they see fit to combat ethnic cleansing because the world has failed them for 73 years. Most Palestinians don’t even want to be associated with Hamas or their policies but in a 21st century technological occupation of immense proportions, that’s all they have along with slingshots, stones and their words. Not an even fight, right? So, let’s not do a sweeping condemnation in one breath, either.
The second occurs in the conclusion: “whether you tout #FreePalestine or ‘Jewish Indigeneity,’ none come untainted.” Again, this is an occupation of immense proportion which has resulted in the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people. Let’s not compare a slogan aimed at liberation with one that justifies the occupation. The concept of Jewish indigeneity to historic Palestine is a Zionist nation-building concept in which those who were supposedly displaced thousands of years ago have more of a claim to historic Palestine than those currently living there. And that claim merits them the right to colonize, settle and ethnically cleanse the real indigenous population.
For further reading and understanding about Zionist policies and how they have degraded Palestinian standard of life, I would highly recommend Edward Said, Noura Erakat and Leila Khaled. To learn more about the faulty media coverage and American understanding of Israeli occupation in a way that garners support for the imperialist American foreign policy, Ida Nikou’s conference paper “Framing the Gaza Conflict: U.S Media Portrayals of Palestinian Arabs” is a good starting point to critically examine the media you have been fed on the Palestinian struggle. I hope these writers and speakers are able to convince you why we need to continue having this debate instead of living in a world of abstractions where Zionism is merely “Jewish pride” and not the concrete examples of apartheid put in practice by the Israeli government. Now is not the time to bury our heads in the sand; rather, it is a time to stay informed and make critical links between the foundation of Israel as a settler colony with that of the foundation of the United States of America. Now is the time to see U.S sponsorship of Israel as not some confusing foreign policy tool happening in a far-off desert but rather one tentacle of an expansive policy meant to ensure American economic domination. Now is the time to be anti-Zionist with honor rather than guilt, with free will rather than with a gun to your head.