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Post-Zionist leap of faith

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    We need a post-Zionist leap of faith John Rose http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1450719,00.html The dispossession of the Palestinians reinforces
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 24, 2005
      We need a post-Zionist leap of faith
      John Rose
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1450719,00.html


      "The dispossession of the Palestinians reinforces this argument. How
      can we justify the right to Israeli citizenship when the Palestinians
      have no country?"

      "Meron Benvenisti, one-time deputy mayor of Jerusalem, agree. "He says
      the Zionist revolution is over. He suggests scrapping the law of
      return that allows Jews anywhere to become Israeli citizens."

      "He says he loves the land and it''s an Arabic land."

      "A history where the Jewish value asserted with most consistency was
      solidarity between Jews and non-Jews in the resistance."


      Does the religious and historical attachment of so many Jews to the
      "land of Israel" justify the Zionist project? The idea of a Jewish
      homeland continues to pose two problems. The first is the denial of
      Palestinian rights, especially the rights of the dispossessed
      refugees, who see an Israel built on their homeland. And the second is
      what "homeland" means for the Jewish majority that lives outside Israel.

      There is an interesting and unexplored link between these two
      problems. Resolving the second can contribute to resolving the first.
      But that means Jews in the west renouncing our automatic right to be
      potential citizens of Israel.

      This position chimes with the rhythms of Jewish history, especially,
      paradoxically, in the Middle East. More than 2,000 years ago, long
      before the fall of the second temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, the Jewish
      philosopher Philo of Alexandria addressed this very question.
      "Homeland", patris, was one''s place of birth and education. There was
      Jewish pilgrimage to the temple at Jerusalem, but this meant
      reluctantly abandoning patris to visit what Philo called not
      "homeland", but a "strange land".

      Incidentally, the existence of flourishing Jewish communities such as
      Philo''s across the Mediterranean and beyond, long before the fall of
      the second temple, upset the Zionist myth of "exile". This held that
      Jews went into exile after the fall of the second temple as a result
      of the Roman policy of forcible dispersal. The Zionist enterprise is
      supposed to overcome the dispersal 2,000 years later. But "dispersal"
      appears to be a much more "natural" historical condition.

      More than a thousand years later, also in Egypt, we have a highly
      successful Jewish community in the newly built Islamic city of Cairo.
      Professor Shelomo Goitein, the brilliant scholar of Islamic
      Arab-Jewish relations, in his analysis of the "Geniza" documents
      discovered in a medieval synagogue, has left us a vivid insight of how
      the city''s Jews saw "homeland". This is the high point of
      Islamic-Jewish relations symbolised by Saladin, the Islamic world''s
      greatest leader, protecting Cairo from the Crusaders as well as
      expelling them from Jerusalem.

      It is worth reminding ourselves that it was the European Crusaders who
      slaughtered the Jews (as well as Muslims, of course) in Jerusalem, and
      it was Saladin who invited them to return. But most Jews had no
      intention of living in Jerusalem. It was a religious and spiritual
      centre, not a "homeland". The communities felt "at home" in villages,
      towns and cities throughout the Islamic world.

      Jews migrated from Europe to the Islamic world to escape the Crusades.
      Cairo''s Jews readily offered help to their European co-religionists.
      According to Goitein, Islamic authorities made no attempt to impede
      this migration. What a contrast with our contemporary "civilised"
      attitudes to migration.

      The Jews of early 20th-century Iraq have similar lessons for us. To
      this day, Iraqi Jews understandably boast about their uninterrupted
      2,500-year history, from Babylon to Baghdad. Joining the Iraqi
      national movement to throw out the British immediately after the first
      world war, they certainly did not want the Zionists. Menahem Daniel, a
      Baghdadi Jewish notable, wrote to them in 1922: "You are regarded as a
      threat to Arab national life." He told them: please stay away.

      Jewish culture flourished as part of Iraqi culture. Over a third of
      Iraq''s top musicians were Jewish. In 1949 as the crisis for Iraq''s
      Jews gathered pace, cynically engineered by both Israel and Britain,
      as well as Iraq''s pro-British puppet government, the Jewish
      Chronicle, to its credit, reported on the determination of Iraq''s
      Jews to hang on: "On the whole, Islamic tolerance has enabled Baghdadi
      Jews to flourish as a centre of learning and commerce. They and their
      kind would like to stay..."

      It will be objected that the European Jewish experience, nevertheless,
      suggests the need for a securely Jewish homeland as a kind of
      insurance against another Holocaust. Yet here we have what is
      sometimes called the "lachrymose" view of Jewish history: the
      inevitability of Jewish suffering at the hands of non-Jews. As one
      writer has put it, there is a danger of the scar doing the work of the
      wound.

      In truth, the European Jewish experience is far more complex. The
      Jewish response to the anti-semitic pogroms of the collapsing Tsarist
      Russian empire more than 100 years, ago deserves particular study. The
      Jewish mass migrations to western Europe and America begin here. The
      Zionists developed their best cadres here. Yet the astonishing levels
      of participation by Jews in the resistance to the Tsar speak of a
      different Jewish history in the making. A history where the Jewish
      value asserted with most consistency was solidarity between Jews and
      non-Jews in the resistance. The Jewish socialist Bund helped pioneer
      this value, which the Zionists simply could not understand.

      The value of solidarity was built into the promise made to the Jews by
      the Enlightenment and the French revolution. It said you are welcome
      here as equal citizens in the land of your birth.

      Is this not the expression of Jewish history in modern times? Are not
      the Jewish communities in Western Europe and America models of an
      enlightened assimilation where we can express our Jewish identities,
      as well as feeling at home in the lands of our birth?

      The dispossession of the Palestinians reinforces this argument. How
      can we justify the right to Israeli citizenship when the Palestinians
      have no country?

      Arab-Jewish reconciliation demands an alternative approach. It can
      legitimately point, borrowing an insight from Walter Benjamin, to
      "sparks of hope" from the past history of Arab-Jewish relations in the
      Middle East. Some Israelis understand this. Israeli intellectuals
      associated with the trend known as post-Zionism imagine with
      confidence a Jewish life in the area without a Zionist state. A tiny
      number of former Zionist leaders, such as Meron Benvenisti, one-time
      deputy mayor of Jerusalem, agree. He says the Zionist revolution is
      over. He suggests scrapping the law of return that allows Jews
      anywhere to become Israeli citizens.

      He says he loves the land and it''s an Arabic land. Perhaps the old
      Jewish Enlightenment thinkers who believed in assimilation were much
      more correct than even they realised. Imagine the
      great-great-grandchildren of European Jewish settlers in Palestine
      assimilating into Arabic culture, absorbing it and contributing to its
      development, some time this century.

      A leap of faith? To be sure, but we Jews have always been rather good
      at that.

      ยท John Rose is the author of The Myths of Zionism

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