A Canadian Jew responds to charges of anti-Semitism: "Zionism doesn't define Jews - it divides us"
Gabor Maté is a Vancouver physician and writer belonging to the Jewish
faith. In this article printed in Canada's national daily, The Globe and
Mail, he responds to growing number of Jewish Canadians who consider any
criticism of Israel as an act of anti-Semitism.
Read and reflect.
Thursday, December 12, 2002
Zionism doesn't define Jews - it divides us
By GABOR MATé
The Globe and Mail
Given its horrific 20th-century connotations, anti-Semitism is a serious
charge. It was levelled against critics of Israel on this page recently by
three people who have demonstrated a strong lifelong commitment to
humanitarian values. Lawyer Clayton Ruby, labour leader Jeff Rose and
physician Philip Berger wrote that they feel "anti-Semitism has emerged as
a powerful force" among some left-wing opponents of Israeli policy.
As a Jew and a former member of a Zionist youth movement, I understand the
affinity the three writers have for Israel. I can also see why the blindly
murderous attitudes and actions of some in the Palestinian resistance
trigger a powerfully defensive emotional response in the Jewish community.
But the flaw in their argument is rooted in a confounding of Jewish
identity with the Jewish state. They write of an "artificial distinction
between Israel and Zionism, on one hand, and Jewish identity on the
The modern identification of Jews and Israel emerged largely as a reaction
to the Nazi genocide. Although it may represent the majority view today,
it should be not taken for granted. Historically, it never has been. It is
unlikely to persist.
From its beginnings, political Zionism faced opposition within the Jewish
world. The Zionist identification of a people with a state is incompatible
with the real position of most Jews as freely chosen citizens of other
countries. Long before Roman times, Jews formed widely dispersed
religious, cultural and ethnic groups whose commonality was not based on
geography or politics. Only their spiritual practices were centred on
Some Jews saw in political Zionism a vulgarization of Jewish Messianic
tradition that would debase Jewish moral life. The Russian-Jewish writer
and "spiritual Zionist" Ahad Ha'am, who emigrated to Palestine, was one of
the first to recognize the ethical costs of a project to establish a
Jewish state at the expense of the indigenous Arabs. "If this be the
Messiah coming," he wrote in the first years of the last century, "then I
don't want to see him arrive."
Zionist theory denied the legitimate presence of an emerging, indigenous
nation in Palestine. Zionist practice ensured its dispossession and exile.
"We may be a people without a home," said a disillusioned German Zionist
in 1925, "but alas, there is not a country without a people. . . .
Palestine has an existing population of 700,000, a people who have lived
there for centuries and rightfully consider the country as their
fatherland and homeland."
Ahad Ha'am's dark prophecy of an anti-Messianic future has been fully
realized. My medical friend and colleague Philip Berger would be appalled
if he saw with his own eyes, as I have, the disastrous humanitarian and
health consequences of a policy that grants settlers from New York six
times as much fresh water per capita as native Palestinians.
Human-rights lawyer Clayton Ruby would be outraged to witness the
proceedings of military courts where tortured Arabs are accused, convicted
and sentenced without the right to know the evidence against them.
Unionist Jeff Rose would be shocked at policies that de facto make
Palestinian labour groups illegal, exposing their organizers to the threat
It owes nothing to anti-Semitism that Israel is the subject of more
critical scrutiny than are the neighbouring Arab autarchies, dictatorships
and pseudo-democracies. No one mistakes the true nature of those regimes.
No credible voices are raised in their defence, nor do the abhorrent
Palestinian suicide bombings have any serious apologists. Only Israel's
relentless and ultimately self-destructive expansionism, militarism and
state violence find many supporters.
The Palestinians continue to be disenfranchised, dispossessed and
humiliated. Mr. Rose, Dr. Berger and Mr. Ruby, were they to drop their
self-generated fear of leftist anti-Semitism, would be inspired by the
words of the Israeli officer who chose this week to join dozens of his
comrades in jail rather than serve in an army of brutal occupation: "I
will do my time in a visible prison for a few months for refusing to
enlist in Israel's academy for prison guards: the IDF, Israel's 'Defense
Forces' which have been imprisoning an entire people for 35 years."