Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Finkelstein on Anti-Zionism vs. Anti-Semitism

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Finkelstein on Anti-Zionism vs. Anti-Semitism

Article excerpt

Dr. Norman Finkelstein addressed the question of whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism in a Feb. 16 talk sponsored by the Princeton Committee on Palestine. Finkelstein has been studying this issue since his time as a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton, where his dissertation focused on the theory of Zionism. He explained that Zionism developed at the end of the 19th century to address two concerns: the physical survival of Jews, and the spiritual survival of Judaism in an increasingly secular world and amid growing assimilation. Physical survival became more urgent beginning in the 1930s.

Finkelstein described the two basic types of nationalism. In civic (also called liberal or political) nationalism, as in post-Revolutionary France and the United States, one's nationality is based on citizenship and entails choice. He quoted historian Eric Hobsbawm's definition: "Americans are those who wish to be." In ethnic nationalism, which includes Zionism, a nation is an exclusive, organic whole of people of common descent, wherever they may live. In this version, the nation one belongs to is determined at birth. Even if citizens, German Jews were and Palestinian Israelis are foreign bodies, aliens in someone else's nation. Finkelstein noted that Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, a chemist, wrote that Europe has a saturation level of 10-15 percent for Jews, beyond which it is not able to absorb them. Therefore, Jews needed a state of their own in their ancestral homeland.

However, at the birth of Zionism, more than 90 percent of the population of Palestine was non-Jewish. The only option for Zionist Jews, then, was transfer of the indigenous population, i.e., ethnic cleansing. For decades this was denied. The consensus view was that Palestine was empty-much, Finkelstein noted, as pioneers in America considered the new world a virgin land. Then in his 1987 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, Israeli historian Benny Morris identified transfer as "inevitable and inbuilt into Zionism," which led to Palestinian resistance in self-defense. In his next book, Righteous Victims (1999), Morris wrote that the entirely rational fear of territorial displacement and dispossession were the chief motivating factors in Arab opposition to Zionism, both in 1948 and after 1967. Finkelstein characterized the Palestinian stance as anti-ethnic cleansing rather than anti-Semitism. As in American attitudes toward their own indigenous population, for Israelis and their American supporters the overall final good justifies cruel acts; thus they find "Palestinians psychotic because they refuse to recognize that their ethnic cleansing was morally just. …

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