28TH UPDATE ON GAZA:
The Israeli military Operation Cast Lead
was launched in the Gaza Strip on December 27 2008. Ten
months later, how has it affected civilians there? Dr.
Akram Nafie, Médecins Sans Frontières mental health
programme doctor in Gaza, provides an insight:
"I continued working during the early days of the
war. We went to the schools where people had gathered. We
made donations and provided emergency medical care. MSF
had given me a medical kit with antibiotics, supplies for
making dressings and treating burns and wounds, oral
rehydration salts, analgesics and tranquilisers. I was
able to treat about sixty people in my neighbourhood,
people who could no longer get to a healthcare facility.
The hospitals were overwhelmed by people with serious
injuries who were flooding in, anyway.
After the ceasefire, everything was devastated. The F-16
bombings had left craters more than 20 feet deep in the
streets. All the water tanks on the roofs of the houses
had been destroyed. People put plastic sheets in the
windows to replace the glass and began cleaning up the
houses. There was dust everywhere.
A consequence of the war has been post-traumatic stress
syndrome. It shows up an average of three to six months
after the causative events now, in other words. A
lot of people who seemed to be doing well immediately
afterward are really bad off now. They're having
hallucinations, are very aggressive and nervous, both on
the street and at home. I see a lot of abdominal pain and
diarrhoea. There's also a lot of cancer (leukemia,
prostate, and breast) including among the very
Most children are wetting their beds. My son wakes up
every night after an hour or two; he's terrorised, but
doesn't hear us or see us when we try to calm him. My
wife starts crying at the least siren. As for me, I feel
like things are still not totally right. I have memory
and concentration problems, but I'm managing.
Before the war, I followed an average of 13 patients in
the mental health program. Now I have about 50. They're
in really bad shape not eating or sleeping. One
young man lost a leg and both eyes. He and his friends
were trying to help other people during a bombing attack.
All his friends were killed and he lay under their bodies
for three hours. At the hospital they thought he was dead,
too, and put him in the morgue. His family was in
mourning for two days before learning that he had, in
Another patient lost her three sons, her husband, and her
daughter-in-law in the war. She gathered up what was left
of them and stayed shut up in a stable for three days
like that. Israeli soldiers evacuated her, but refused to
bury the bodies and drove right over them. How can
someone not be totally depressed after experiencing such
things? MSF has been monitoring her and has put her on
medication. We found her an apartment. She was totally
apathetic, but she's slowly starting to live, sleep, feel
hot and cold, and cook again. She'll continue to need
help for months yet, but when I see a patient get better
like that, I feel useful.
The amputees are happy to be alive, but want to get back
their independence, be fitted with prostheses but
they don't have any. How can they put themselves back
together? We have so many problems in Gaza. Building
materials, drugs, medical equipment, clothing, shoes,
coffee, watch batteries. So many goods aren't allowed in
because of the embargo. Some infant formulas are allowed,
others aren't, and it's really hard to find baby bottles.
Prices are skyrocketing; dairy products take two days to
get in and are spoiled when they do. The borders are
closed and urgent medical cases can't get out. Before,
trucks managed to get through, but now the situation is
really getting complicated. And then there's the
unemployment another result of the war.
I'd like to be able to leave from time to time, to get
some air, see the sky, and then come back".
with Judge Richard Goldstone
By Rabbi Michael Lerner
October 02, 2009 "Tikkun" -- This interview
was given to Tikkun magazine by Judge Goldstone (herein
referred to as RG) and conducted by Rabbi Michael Lerner
(ML below), editor of Tikkun magazine and chair of the
interfaith organzation The Network of Spiritual
Progressives and by Rabbi Brain Walt (BW below), founding
chair person of Rabbis for Human Rights (North America)
and chair of Ta'anit Tzedeck.
ML: I really appreciate you for taking the time to be
RG: Well thank you for making the contact, I really
ML: Was and is the blockade of Gaza a war crime?
RG: It was a violation of international law, it was not a
war crime because there was no war. It was a violation of
the 4th Geneva convention. There has to be an actual
military armed conflict for it to be a war crime. It is
also a violation of international human rights law.
ML: What are the specific steps that Israel could have
taken to stop the shelling of southern Israel before
commencing an attack on Gaza?
RG: Well, it could have used greater pressure by
diplomatic means. They could have used the security
council for that purpose. Israel could have put the
security council on notice and said "if you don't
stop this, if you don't do something to stop it, we will
have to resort as a last resort to military means."
But in our report we didn't question the right of Israel
to use military force.
ML: So you are saying that the attack on Gaza was, by
your estimation, not a violation of any international
laws or agreements?
RG: I'm not sure I want to comment on it, it was not
something we looked into. We were looking at war crimes,
which are crimes committed during military operation. We
didn't look at the justification for using military force.
ML: Do you think Israel could have succeeded in stopping
the bombing of Sderot had it gone to the Security Council?
RG: Well, I don't know. If it didn't work, then I have
got no doubt that Israel was entitled to take a strong
action to put a stop to the firing of rockets and mortars
and has a duty to its own population to protect them.
Military force should be the very last resort. I think it
is arguable here that other diplomatic means could have
worked. If they didn't work then the last resort is to
use force, and whether it is military or policing action
force, Israel was entitled to take active steps.
ML: Hamas and supporters of the Palestinian cause have
always said that Israel could have taken the step of
ending the blockade of Gaza, and that would have been a
condition for ending the attacks by Hamas.
RG: That is getting into the politics of the situation,
which I don't wish to do. What I hear you say is why
peace is so crucial in the Middle East. There is a sort
of spiral, the blockade, the refusal to respect the right
of self-determination for the Palestinians.
ML: So once deciding to attack, the question gets raised:
Is there any way to fight a war against terrorists that
would not result in deaths and casualties of civilians,
assuming that urban terrorists have located themselves in
the midst of the population?
RG: You know, commando actions could have been taken. But
in any event, even though Israel might have been entitled
to use force, the real point of the report was that it
was disproportionate force. Look at the thousands of
homes destroyed, the factories, the agricultural land,
this is almost impossible to justify militarily.
BW: Also in your view, in the view of your report, it was
RG: I don't think there is any dispute about it. The
Israeli army has very sophisticated weaponry, and I don't
think they make many mistakes as to what they target.
BW: But I think that is the one piece where your critics
are very upset about the report: the whole question of
intention. And they do deny that there is intention, they
claim that the civilians died accidentally
RG: I think we are talking at two different levels. When
it comes to the destruction of infrastructure, they haven't
really responded at all to that, and that was part of
what the report addressed. None of the Israeli responses
have even said a word about the property destruction, the
bulldozing of agricultural fields, the bombing of water
wells, the bombing of sewage works that caused a huge
spill over a huge area. There has been no attempt to
justify that. When it comes to the actual killing of
civilians in urban areas, that is where the big dispute
comes in. I think all I can do is refer to the 36
incidents that we report on. And with almost all of them,
we found the Israeli response to be disproportionate.
BW: As regard to wells and the factories, one can make a
reasonable argument, not a pleasant argument, why Israel
would want to do it?
RG: There was a political reason, and that was collective
punishment and an effort to weaken the support for Hamas.
ML: Is that a violation of international human rights,
destruction of infrastructure?
RG: It is a war crime. It is an attack on civilian
objects, as opposed to military objects.
ML: Is that the kind of attack that is serious enough to
warrant reprimand through the ICC?
RG: It would certainly be something that falls within the
jurisdiction of the ICC.
BW: Let's jump to civilians. Do you follow that same
logic with regard to civilians? i.e. in regard to the
water, electrical, and food, they wanted to go after the
infrastructure, in regards to civilians, was that
disregard for human rights, or was it intentional killing?
RG: Certainly some of the incidents appear to be
intentional. What we didn't do, because it wasn't our
mandate to do, was to investigate who bore responsibility.
Whether this was policy at a high level, or policy at a
battalion level, or specific soldiers who acted on their
own. That is the sort of investigation that we suggested
should be taken by Israel itself.
BW: If I remember correctly, in the report, you quote
Israeli officials who say "we are going after the
infrastructure, we want to cause them hurt," and so
on and so forth, but I don't remember any references to
Israeli officials indicating their intention to kill
RG: No, we didn't make any allegation that there was a
policy to kill civilians.
ML: That is an issue that has to be investigated.
BW: Like you, I was raised in the South African Jewish
community. I know exactly the community you have come
from, I was raised in the same community, with similar
values around Israel and so on. And it seems to me that
when I read the statement that you made yesterday just
before the council ... it felt to me very courageous
because I admire immensely what you did. It was so moving
to me to read that statement.
ML: You made a statement in response to a woman who was
attacking you for betraying your own people?
RG: I said I wasn't going to dignify her remarks with a
response, but they call to mind the attacks made on me as
a white South African for going against the interests of
whites during the Apartheid era. And I said I thought
having regard to the terrible history of the Jewish
people, of over 2000 years of persecution, I found it
difficult to understand how Jews wouldn't respond in
protecting the human rights of others. And I talked about
that as being a fundamental Jewish value.
BW: Rabbi Lerner and I are involved in an organization,
Ta'anit Tzedeck, that is calling for the lifting of the
blockade because of the material deprivation it causes,
and we are calling upon people to fast the 3rd Thursday
of each month in solidarity with this demand. I wondered
for you as a South African Jew who cares about Israel,
how is it to face the incredible wall that Israel has
placed in your way about this, and seeming disregard,
like they aren't really interested in your findings and
substantive things. It is a position of arrogance.
RG: When I went into this, I didn't know any of the
details we were going to find. I obviously watched the TV
and knew there was tremendous destruction, but I wasn't
prepared for what I saw on the ground.
BW: What happened when you saw what you saw on the ground?
RG: I was shocked at the number of buildings that had
been razed. Particularly private homes. And I wasn't
prepared for the stories that were told by witnesses we
considered to be credible. As to the way the Israeli Army
treated them. I felt a great deal of shame and
embarrassment particularly as a Jew, but also as a human
ML: Maybe you could cite one such story?
RG: Well, the one that really upset me was the shelling
of a full Mosque during the afternoon service. And we
didn't look at other Mosques. We accepted the idea that
maybe some Mosques were used to give shelter to fighters
and militants. They may also have been used to store
weapons, but even if that was true (and we found that it
wasn't in respect to this particular Mosque), but even if
it was, it is completely unacceptable and a warcrime to
shell the Mosque during a service. There were hundreds of
people in that Mosque, and 15 people were killed and many
more were injured. It is that sort of conduct that is
absolutely unacceptable. That was one of the incidents
that caught me in particular. And it is a particular
concern because of the reaction of people who were there.
I put myself in the position how Jews would feel if they
were attacked in a synagogue when it was full of
ML: Israeli Prime Minister said "The Israeli public
will not be willing to take risks for peace if stripped
of its right to self-defense." And the article said,
Netanyahu referred to the Goldstone report written by the
fact-finding UN mission that investigated IDF operations,
stating that the peace process would be brought to a halt
if the report was submitted to the international court in
The Hague. A democratic state's right to defend its
population has been crushed by the UN body.
RG: Well, it is absolutely incorrect. Our report doesn't
bear on the question of self-defense at all. It is not a
relevant remark to make.
There is not a word in the report that questions the
right to self-defense.
ML: Netanyahu, however, is saying that de facto, you can't
conduct defense in a war against terrorists without
engaging in operations against civilians, and your
response is, there is a way to conduct those.
RG: Yes, it is a question of what is proportionate.
ML: Your report suggested that Israel has to conduct a
further investigation, and the question is, is there any
point in a government-led investigation?
RG: It depends who they appoint. If they appoint someone
who is transparent and public about it, then I think that
would certainly be exactly what we had in mind.
ML: Do you think you could state any minimum requirements?
Those who are critical of Israeli policy think that the
investigation would be a way of avoiding taking any
responsibility and would get the public's eye away from
the Goldstone report and would drown the impact of the
Goldstone report and would probably come up with a much
more equivocal finding than your report. I am wondering
if you could state any minimum criteria for what it would
take for people outside to take a government report where
the government is investigating itself.
RG: I think the investigation must be conducted by people
who are independent and are perceived to be independent
like former Israeli Chief Justice Aharon Barak. And it
must be done with openness and transparency. And it
certainly must take into account evidence from all sides.
One of the problems I've got with these military
investigations is, as far as I know, there's only one
which I've read about where the military investigations
even spoke to any of the victims, spoke to any of the
people from Gaza who obviously are the best people to
ML: In other words you're saying that the first criterion
is that the people be independent, and second...
RG: that the investigation is a transparent one.
ML: The second is transparent and the third is that they
speak to the victim.
ML: The victims of the assault, not just to the military
people to explain what they were intending to do.
ML: Are there any other criteria?
RG: No, I think those are the major criteria. And Israel
has done it. I think the Israel's investigation into
Sabra and Shatilla is a very good example. And that was
accepted absolutely by the international community as
ML: You say people are independent but there were some
people in the peace movement in Israel who say that
Aharon Barak himself led a Supreme Court that never
challenged the Israeli military's denial of human rights
RG: It's a difficult one. I've known Aharon Barak for
many years and I absolutely respect his independence and
integrity. In my book he'd be a very appropriate person.
ML: OK. Let me give you one of the frequent criticisms of
the Goldstone report that I've heard and that I'd like to
put to you. Not that it's inaccurate but that it's a
reflection of a prejudice because of selective
prosecution. The UN gives this attention to the sins of
little countries or powerless countries, relatively
powerless countries, while never daring to do a
comparable report on big guys like the human rights
violations of the United States in Iraq, of Russia in
Chechnya, China in Tibet. The argument goes that when one
picks on historically oppressed groups like Jews for
their sins while ignoring the far greater sins of the
more powerful, the UN participates in a kind of double
standard that in other contexts would be seen
transparently as racist or illegitimate. So that even
though you, Judge Goldstone, were perfectly fine in what
you did, the actual investigation itself by virtue of
selecting this target by a body that doesn't target the
more powerful is a reflection of prejudice.
RG: Generally I agree with the criticism. I think the
powerful are protected because of their power. But it's
not prejudice it's politics. It's a political world.
There's no question of not investigating countries
because of who they are for religious reasons or cultural
reasons, it's because of their power. They use their
power to protect themselves. It doesn't mean that
investigations [in countries] where politically they can
be held are in any way necessarily flawed or shouldn't
take place. The same argument was raised by Serbia in
particular. They said, "Why was the international
criminal tribunal set up for us? It wasn't set up for Pol
Pot, it wasn't set up for Saddam Hussein, it was set up
for Milosevic." And my response at the time when it
was put to me by the Serb minister of justice, as I
remember very well, was if this is the first of the lot,
then I agree with you, it's an act of discrimination, but
if it's the first of others to come then you can't
complain, you have no right to complain because you're
the first. And if crimes are being committed then at
least, to go after those that one can go after
politically is better than doing nothing.
ML: For example, there haven't been any comparable
investigations of human rights violations by Syria, by
Saudi Arabia, by Egypt -- admittedly these are against
their own populations.
RG: I think that what distinguishes this from that is
that these war crimes are committed in a situation of
international armed conflict. It's not going to be a
civil war situation.
ML: And you don't think there is something inconsistent
or one-sided and prejudicial in investigating this type
of crime but not internal crime?
RG: I think it's a double-standard more than prejudice.
ML: So you would agree that there's a double-standard.
ML: And that it should be changed, but that doesn't
invalidate what you do.
RG: This is why. The best way of changing it is for every
nation to join the International Criminal Court.
ML: About that. Do you have any theory of why the Obama
Administration has not embraced your report.
RG: I really don't know. No reasons have been given. I'm
happy that it supports the recommendation of internal
ML: What do you think about those who'd say that pushing
accountability on these kinds of crimes will be
destructive to the process of peace, because Israel once
facing this kind of international pressure will not be
willing to submit itself to any other pressure for actual
peace and that consequently the Obama Administration's
refusal to take your human rights violations seriously is
a reflection of their desire to make the peace process
RG: I don't know that but if that's correct I would
strongly disagree with their reasoning. It's been my
experience that there can be no peace without justice.
There can be no peace if victims are not acknowledged. [Editor's
note: This view, of course, has been the underpinning of
the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa that
did in fact yield peace between the white and black
populations, an outcome that has frequently been
attributed to this process of requiring both the African
National Council and other freedom fighters as well as
the supporters of the apartheid regime to fully describe
what they did and when they violated the human rights of
others. The Goldstone report calls for both Hamas and for
Israel to conduct investigations.]
ML: Can you say another sentence about what gives you
that feeling. What's the historical basis for thinking
RG: Well you know you're not going to get peace when a
society has a deeply imbedded call for revenge. And the
way to avoid that, and a way to avoid collective guilt is
through justice. The crimes that we've identified that
were committed by the Israeli Defense Force are not in my
view crimes committed by the people of Israel. There are
many people in Israel who would oppose them.
ML: I'll look at that then. Do you think there's anything
in the speculation of some in the United States that the
reason why it wants to distance from the Goldstone report
is because by the similar criteria the United States
might be brought to a similar accounting for what it has
done in Iraq or Afghanistan?
RG: I don't. I absolutely don't, I haven't read or heard
of the U.S. intentionally attacking civilians. if
innocent civilians have been killed or injured by the
United States in Afghanistan or Iraq it's been by
negligence. It hasn't been by intention. And when it's
happened it's usually been followed by apology.
ML: What do you think Americans can do now to push our
government to take seriously the recommendations of the
RG: My first choice would be to put added pressure on
Israeli to have the sort of investigation we've been
talking about. I don't know, maybe I'm a naive optimist,
but I thought the statement by Netanyahu that the cabinet
is going to consider an investigation is a positive shift.
ML: And do you have any views on the larger conflict
itself, about what you think would be the most wise path
that would come to settlement between the two sides?
RG: It seems to me its a question of leadership. I think
we're lucky in South Africa to have leaders of the
caliber of DeClerk and Mandela. Leadership could deliver
what they promised. And it seems to me that that's what
missing at the moment in the Middle East. Particularly on
the Palestinian side. As long as they're going to be
fighting against each other who's going to represent them
meaningfully at the peace negotiations?
ML: Your daughter Nicole is alleged to have told the
international media that you are a proud Jew and one who
loves the State of Israel and if not for your efforts the
outcome of the report would've been even more damaging.
RG: That's her opinion, and I really don't want to
comment on it. The first part is absolutely correct. I
don't think it's possible to say whether the report would've
been more or less damaging if I hadn't been involved.
ML: Could you say one last sentence about what your
feelings are about Israel and Zionism. I wanted to hear
RG: I've worked for Israel all of my adult life.
I've been involved with the governor of the Hebrew
University for what must be thirty years. And I've worked
in World ORT since 1966. I've been involved in working
for Israel and I'm a firm believer in the absolute right
of the Jewish people to have their home there in Israel.
ML: That's a strong and clear statement. I want to thank
you for this work. It's a Kadush Hashem from my
standpoint and the standpoint of many many Jews. I know
that Israel will be much stronger when its embodying
Jewish values of generosity or love of a stranger
RG: Thank you very much for reaching out to me. I much
appreciate it and certainly it's really crucially
important for Jews particularly to stand up for Jewish
values. I don't think this is what's happening
To read the full Goldstone report, go to:
This interview was
conducted on October 1st, 2009,
with Judge Richard Goldstone, the chair of the UN
commission investigating the War in Gaza in 2008 and 2009.
In the latter years of Apartheid in South Africa, Goldstone
served as chairperson of the South African Standing
Commission of Inquiry Regarding Public Violence and
Intimidation, later known as the Goldstone Commission. The Commission played a
critical role in uncovering and publicizing allegations
of grave wrongdoing by the Apartheid-era South African
security forces and bringing home to "White"
South Africans the extensive violence that was being done
in their name. The Commission concluded that most of the
violence of those years was being orchestrated by shadowy
figures within the Apartheid regime, often through the
use of a so-called "third force." The
Commission thus provided a first road map for the
investigations into security force wrongdoing that, after
democratization, were taken up by the country's Truth and Reconciliation
After South Africa's first democratic election in April
1994, Goldstone served as a judge of the Constitutional Court of South
from July 1994 to October 2003. The Court was entrusted
with the task of interpreting the new South African Constitution and supervising the country's
transition into democracy.
He also served as
national president of the National Institute of Crime
Prevention and the Rehabilitation of In August 1994,
Goldstone was named as the first chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal
for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which was established
by a resolution of the UN Security Council in 1993. When
the Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal
(ICTR) in late 1994, he became its chief prosecutor, too.
He was a member of the International Panel of the
Commission of Enquiry into the Activities of Nazism in
Argentina (CEANA) which was established in 1997 to
identify Nazi war criminals who had
emigrated to Argentina, and transferred victim assets (Nazi
gold) there. Goldstone was
chairperson of the International Independent
Inquiry on Kosovo from August 1999 until
December 2001. Goldstone serves on the Board of Directors
of several nonprofit organizations that promote justice,
including Physicians for Human Rights, the International Center for
Transitional Justice, the South African Legal Services
Foundation, the Brandeis University Center for Ethics, Justice,
and Public Life, Human Rights Watch, and the Center for Economic
and Social Rights. He is a trustee of Hebrew University.
Subsequent to the
release of his UN report which criticizes human rights
abuses and violations of international law by both Hamas
and Israel, and calls for each to conduct an independent
and objective investigation, he has been assaulted by
various leaders in the Jewish world and described as
By Yakov M Rabkin
October 02, 2009 "Information Clearing House" --- The word
Zionism means different things to different
people. Some use it a badge of honour, unconditionally
defending the state of Israel right or wrong. Yet, many
Zionists take umbrage at the appellation of Israel as a
Zionist state. They insist that it is a Jewish
state, a state of the Jewish people.
Quite a few people who identify themselves as Zionists,
are distressed by what Israel is and does, but remain
reluctant to express their distress in public. Others,
including quite a few Israelis, see Zionism as the main
obstacle to peace in Israel/Palestine, a path to
collective suicide. And, finally, in some circles the
word is used as an insult.
This article proposes to demystify Zionism by outlining
the origins of the Zionist idea and of its relationship
with religion. It continues with a cursory look at the
evolution of Zionism, from motley seemingly incompatible
ideologies to a rather monolithic political stance
prevalent nowadays. The article concludes by offering
answers to two questions that concern many people today:
what explains the solid support that Canadian, US and
other Western governments offer the state of Israel, and
why rejection of Zionism and criticism of Israel are
often regarded as an anti-Semitic act.
Zionism is a product of European history and one of the
last movements in contemporary history that set out to
transform man and society. Both Zionists and their
opponents agree that Zionism and the State of Israel
constitute a revolution in Jewish history, a revolution
that began with the emancipation and the secularization
of European Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Secularization, which affected many Jews in Europe, was a
necessary, albeit not a sufficient, factor in the
emergence of Zionism. Another important factor was
resistance against the entry of Jews into European
society, which coalesced into the secular ideology of
racial or scientific anti-Semitism. Unlike Christian anti-Judaism,
which aimed at salvation through conversion, modern anti-Semitism
considers Jews to be a race or a people intrinsically
alien, even hostile, to Europe, its population and its
Secularization also revolutionized Jewish identity from
within: traditional Jews can be distinguished by what
they do or should do; the new Jews by what they are.
While they practice the same religion, it would be truly
daring to assume that Jews from Poland, Yemen and Morocco
belong to the same ethnic group, let alone are
descendents of the Biblical Hebrews. Some, such as
Professor Shlomo Sand of Tel-Aviv University, argue that
the Jewish people, as an ethnic concept, was simply
invented for the needs of Zionism in the late
19th century: after all, one needs a nation to be a
In the words of the late Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz of
Hebrew University in Jerusalem,
The historical Jewish people was defined neither as a
race, nor as a people of this country or that, or of this
political system or that, nor as a people that speaks the
same language, but as the people of Torah Judaism and of
its commandments, as the people of a specific way of life,
both on the spiritual and the practical plane, a way of
life that expresses the acceptance of
the yoke of
the Torah and of its commandments. This consciousness
exercised its effect from within the people. It formed
its national essence; it maintained itself down through
the generations and was able to preserve its identity
irrespective of times or circumstances.
Zionism rejected the traditional definition in favour of
a modern national one. Thus Zionists accepted the anti-Semites
view of the Jews as a distinct people or race and,
moreover, internalized much of the anti-Semitic blame
directed at the Jews, accused of being degenerate
unproductive parasites. Zionists set out to reform and
redeem the Jews from their sad condition. In the words of
Professor Elie Barnavi, former Israeli ambassador in
Paris, Zionism was an invention of intellectuals
and assimilated Jews
who turned their back on the
rabbis and aspired to modernity, seeking desperately for
a remedy for their existential anxiety. However,
most Jews rejected Zionism from the very beginning. They
saw that Zionists played into the hands of their worst
enemies, the anti-Semites: the latter wanted to be rid of
Jews while the former wanted to gather them to Israel.
The founder of Zionism Theodore Herzl considered anti-Semites
friends and allies of his movement.
Among the many tendencies within Zionism, the one that
has triumphed formulated four objectives: 1) to transform
the transnational and extraterritorial Jewish identity
centred on the Torah into a national identity, like ones
then common in Europe; 2) to develop a new national
language based on biblical and rabbinical Hebrew; 3) to
transfer the Jews from their countries of origin to
Palestine; and 4) to establish political and economic
control over the land, if need be by force. While other
European nationalists, such as Poles or Lithuanians,
needed only to wrest control of their countries from
imperial powers to become masters in their own
houses, Zionists faced a far greater challenge in
trying to achieve their first three objectives
Zionism has been a rebellion against traditional Judaism
and its cult of humility and appeasement. It has been a
valiant attempt to transform the meek pious Jew relying
on divine providence into an intrepid secular Hebrew
relying on his own power. This transformation has been an
Zionism and Religion
According to a sarcastic remark of an Israeli colleague,
« our claim to this land could be put in a nutshell: God
does not exist, and he gave us this land. » Indeed,
secular nationalism and religious rhetoric lie at the
root of the Zionist enterprise.
Indeed, Zionism turned prayers and messianic expectations
into calls for political and military action. In his
intellectual history of Zionism, Professor Shlomo Avineri
of Hebrew University observes Jews did not relate
to the vision of the Return in a more active way than
most Christians viewed the Second Coming.
remains that for all of its emotional, cultural, and
religious intensity, this link with Palestine did not
change the praxis of Jewish life in the Diaspora: Jews
might pray three times a day for the deliverance that
would transform the world and transport them to Jerusalem,
but they did not emigrate there. They did not
because Jewish tradition discourages collective, let
alone violent, return to the Promised Land: this return
is to be operated as part of the messianic redemption of
the entire world.
There is little wonder that the Zionist idea provoked
immediate opposition among traditional Jews.
Zionism is the most terrible enemy that has ever
arisen to the Jewish Nation.
Zionism kills the
nation and then elevates the corpse to the throne,
proclaimed a prominent European rabbi nearly a century
ago. The Israeli scholar Yosef Salmon explains this
It was the Zionist threat that offered the gravest danger,
for it sought to rob the traditional community of its
very birthright, both in the Diaspora and in the Land of
Israel, the object of its messianic hopes. Zionism
challenged all the aspects of traditional Judaism: in its
proposal of a modern, national Jewish identity; in the
subordination of traditional society to new life-styles;
and in its attitude to the religious concepts of Diaspora
and redemption. The Zionist threat reached every Jewish
community. It was unrelenting and comprehensive, and
therefore it met with uncompromising opposition.
Rabbis were also concerned, long before the declaration
of the state of Israel, that the Zionists would
ultimately create a Judaism of cannons and bayonets that
would invert the roles of David and Goliath and would end
in a perversion of Judaism, which had never glorified war
and never idolized warriors. This has in fact
happened, particularly within the National Religious
movement that has been the engine of Zionist settlement
in the territories conquered by Israeli troops in 1967.
Grafting traditional Jewish symbols on essentially
secular Zionism, however incongruous, is very potent.
Identification with Israels reliance on force has
increased even among many observant Jews, in spite of the
principled rejection of Zionism by the rabbis they
continue to revere. More importantly, Zionism has
replaced Judaism as a new religion for millions of
secular and atheistic people. They reflexively reject
disapproval of Israel and avoid unpleasant facts about it.
Believing to act as good Jews, they cherish and cheer on
an ideal, virtual Israel, just as Western communists used
to support an ideal Soviet Union, which had little to do
with the real one.
At the same time, a broad variety of Jews continue to
oppose Zionism, accusing it of destroying Jewish moral
values and endangering Jews in Israel and elsewhere. It
remains to be seen whether the fracture between those who
hold fast to Jewish nationalism and those who abhor it
may one day be mended. Or, like Christianity before it,
Zionism will coalesce into a new identity independent of
While Zionism has profoundly divided the Jews, it has
united tens of millions of evangelical Christians in the
United States and elsewhere. Some of them claim that
Israel is more important for Christians than it is
for Jews. For the prominent evangelical preacher
Reverend Jerry Falwell the founding of the State of
Israel in 1948 is the most crucial event in history
since the ascension of Jesus to heaven
State of Israel in the Holy Land, there cannot be the
second coming of Jesus Christ, nor can there be a Last
Judgement, nor the End of the World. The coalition
of Christians United for Israel claims many times more
supporters than the sum total of Jews the world (between
13 and 14 million). Most Zionists today are Christian,
which is hardly surprising since the very project of
actually gathering the Jews in the Holy Land had emerged
in Anglo-American Protestant circles well before Jews
embraced it in late 19th century.
Evolution of Zionism
Political ideologies within Zionism used to vary from
militant exclusive nationalism to humanistic socialism
and national communism. While the former were convinced
that the indigenous Palestinians would only acquiesce to
Zionist colonization in the face of a overwhelming
military force, the latter believed that eventual
benefits of progress and modernization would lead to
proletarian unity between the colonizers and the
colonized. Unlike the right-wing Vladimir Jabotinsky, who
openly endorsed the colonialist and therefore forceful
character of Zionism, the socialist majority of the
Zionist pioneers refused to acknowledge conflict over the
land between Zionists and the indigenous population.
Jabotinsky, an admirer of Mussolini, who called for
mobilization of the Jews for war, revolt and
sacrifice, derided the illusions of the Social-Zionists
and their insistence on the purity of arms.
In fact, emphasis on the use of force was almost as
common among the socialist Zionists. True, thousands of
socialist and communist rank-and-file Zionists were
opposed to the idea of a Jewish state, that they
considered reactionary and even fascist in the 1920s. At
the same time, Labour Zionist leaders did not apply
socialist egalitarian principles to local Arabs and
Jewish immigrants from Muslim countries. Socialism was
for them no more than an instrument to be used in the
cause of nationalism, rather than an intrinsic social or
political value. David Ben-Gurion, the future founder of
the state of Israel, declared in 1922:
It is not by looking for a way of ordering our lives
through the harmonious principles of a perfect system of
socioeconomic production that we can decide on our line
of action. The one great concern that should govern our
thought and work is the conquest of the land and building
it up through extensive immigration. All the rest is mere
words and phraseology, and let us not delude
ourselves we have to go forward in an awareness of
our political situation: that is to say, in an awareness
of power relationships, the strength of our people in
this country and abroad.
According to Zeev Sternhell, Israels foremost
historian of right-wing movements, Ben-Gurions
socialism was inspired by the German nationalist
socialism of the years immediately following the Great
War. In the introduction to his book, The Founding Myths
of Zionism, Sternhell goes to great lengths to come up
with the term nationalist Socialism to avoid
calling Ben-Gurions political outlook National
Socialism. While some Zionists deplore the disappearance
of the small beautiful Israel of the 1950s,
which was admired by the international left, it was to be
expected that practical Zionism, which involved
displacement of local population, would evolve towards
exclusive nationalism, away from socialist ideals that
enthused Zionist pioneers.
An Israeli political commentator once remarked that had
Jean-Marie Le Pen transferred his party to Israel, it
would find itself in the centre left of the
countrys political spectrum. Media in Israel have
termed as fascist and racist the
parliament elected in 2009. This election came in the
wake of a popularly supported massive attack on Gaza that
left behind thousands of civilian dead and wounded. The
new government has proposed a series of repressive
legislative measures, intensified police harassment of
Jewish dissident groups, and barred entry to UN officials.
However, Western governments did not react to all this
with disapproval, which followed the election of Hamas in
Gaza or even the ministerial appointment of Heider in
Austria. Most expressed confidence in the robustness of
Israeli democracy and abstained from voicing criticism.
Canadas Conservative government continued its
policy of enthusiastic support and security cooperation
with Israel. Why does Israel enjoy so much support from
One of the reasons is the right wing shift in political,
social and economic conditions in Israel. The gap between
the rich and the poor increased, competition replaced
social solidarity, and privatization encroached even on
kibbutzim. This dovetailed with measures to dismantle the
welfare state in major Western nations in the wake of the
dissolution of the Soviet Union. As if in reaction to the
Soviets internationalism, overt ethnic nationalism
has made a comeback, first in the Baltic republics, and
later in the rest of Europe. Egalitarian liberal
discourse has ceded its once dominant place to attempts
to exclude the other.
Liberal values emerged during the post-colonial period
when it became no longer admissible to proclaim the
superiority of one culture over another, one religion
over another, let alone one race over another. Cold War
made racism illegitimate as intensive struggle was
conducted between superpowers for sympathies in the Third
World. There was shame and regret expressed with respect
to past racist practices in Europe and in the colonies
around the world. The end of the Cold War reversed this
process. One has begun to hear justifications of colonial
rule in France, to see monuments to SS troops erected in
Ukraine, and watch Roma, Africans and Asians violently
attacked throughout Europe. Mass massacres accompanied
the collapse of Yugoslavia, while Czechoslovakia
dissolved peacefully along ethnic lines. References to
national and religious intrinsic factors of
behaviour regained legitimacy as Western nations engaged
in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Here again Israel, espousing ethnic, not civic,
nationalism, appeared as a trendsetter. As Zionists would
not admit that injustice against indigenous population
lies at the foundation of their state, they would not
attribute the enduring enmity of the displaced
Palestinians to grievances about their deportation and
dispossession. Rather, the Arabs are
portrayed as irrational haters, religious fanatics or
even modern-day Nazis. Some would compare them to animals
and insects, a zoological vocabulary being common to many
colonizers. Western reaction to the events of September
11 embraced Israels narrative about the Arabs
irrational hatred of progress and freedom, their inborn
hostility to Judeo-Christian values. Moreover,
Israel has come to play a major role as a privileged
source of expertise and equipment in the war on
terror conducted by Western nations, while being
hailed by the evangelical right, which sees in it a
harbinger of the Second Coming of Christ.
However, Western support is fragile since it suffers from
democratic deficit. Public opinion in the countries,
whose governments enthusiastically endorse Israel,
consistently considers it a major threat to world peace.
While business circles express their admiration for
Israel, unions and other grass-root associations condemn
it as an apartheid state and campaign for boycott,
disinvestment and sanctions. Israel has firmly positioned
itself as a beacon for the right.
Is it anti-Semitic to reject Zionism and to criticize
Ever since 1948, when Zionists unilaterally declared
independence against the will of the majority of
Palestines population Christians, Muslims
and quite a few Jews Israeli leaders began to
worry about ensuring a Jewish ethnic majority. They have
used a range of methods to encourage immigration of
Jewish citizens of other countries. Since most immigrants
have moved to Israel under the threat genuine or
fake of anti-Semitism, rather than for ideological
reasons, anti-Semitism has always served Israels
Nowadays anti-Semitism is mostly fallout from the Middle
East conflict. Jews are increasingly associated with
Israels bomber aircraft, gun-toting soldiers and
Zionist settlers that fill the TV screens. However,
Israeli authorities are not concerned that their policies
towards the Palestinians breed anti-Semitism around the
world. To the contrary, the rise of anti-Semitism
supports their claim that only in Israel can a Jew feel
safe, and, in practical terms, increases immigration.
At the same time, vassals of Israel (a term
coined by the former Israeli ambassador to France Elie
Barnavi for persons often mistaken for Jewish leaders),
not only proclaim their loyalty to Israel, but also
defiantly fly Israeli flags at the entrance of Jewish
institutions, including old-age homes and hospitals. Such
conflation of Israel and Jewish citizens of other
countries provokes anti-Semitism and invites hostility.
The standard Zionist claim that Israel a distant
and combative state most Jews neither control nor inhabit
is the state of the Jewish people
implicates Jews around the world into what Israel is and
does. Calling Israel the Jewish state predictably foments
anti-Semitism and breeds anti-Jewish violence.
By stifling even the most moderate critique of Israel
with accusations of anti-Semitism, these vassals of
Israel further enhance anti-Jewish sentiment.
Conversely, Jews who speak against Israeli actions
such as Independent Jewish Voices in Canada
undermine fundamental anti-Semitic beliefs. They embody
the actual diversity of Jewish life two Jews,
three opinions that flies in the face of the
anti-Semitic canard of world Jewish conspiracy. But Jews
need not be the only people authorized to
discuss Zionism and Israel.
Conflation of Israel with Jews and their history serves
to muddle and throttle rational discussion. This is why
it is so important to make distinctions between the
following concepts: Zionism and Judaism; Israel as a
state, as a country, as a territory, and as the Holy Land;
Jews (Israelis and others), Israelis (Jews and non-Jews),
Zionists (Jews and Christians) and anti-Zionists (again
Jews and Christians). Israel should be treated as any
independent country: according to its own merits and
faults, without references to the Holocaust or the
pogroms in Odessa. To avoid anti-Semitic overtones in
discussing Israel, it is important to remember that
Zionism has been a daring revolt against Jewish
continuity and to dissociate Jews and Judaism from the
State of Israel and its actions.
One of Israels experts in Zionism Boaz Evron brings
a sense of rationality to this often emotional issue:
The State of Israel, and all the states of the world,
appear and disappear. The State of Israel, clearly, will
disappear in one hundred, three-hundred, five-hundred
years. But I suppose that the Jewish people will exist as
long as the Jewish religion exists, perhaps for thousands
more years. The existence of this state is of no
importance for that of the Jewish people
throughout the world can live quite well without it.
The author is Professor of History at the University of
Montreal; his recent book, A Threat from within: A
Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism (Fernwood), has
been translated to eight languages and nominated for the
Governor General Award.