Zionism a 'Terrible Enemy' of Jewish People
BYLINE: Yakov M Rabkin
All Jews are Zionists. All Zionists are Jews. All Jews support Israel. These cliches are not only wrong; they are dangerous.
What is Zionism?
Zionism is a product of European history. Among the many tendencies within Zionism, the one that has triumphed formulated four objectives:
l to transform the transnational and extraterritorial Jewish identity centred on the Torah into a national identity, like ones then common in Europe;
l to develop a new national language based on biblical and rabbinical Hebrew;
l to transfer the Jews from their countries of origin to Palestine; and
l 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 objectives.
Both Zionists and their opponents agree that Zionism and the state of Israel constitute a break with Jewish history, a break that began with the emancipation and the secularisation of European Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Secularisation, which affected many Jews in Europe, was not the only factor in the emergence of Zionism. Another was resentment by some conservative circles of the entry of Jews into European society, which coalesced into the secular ideology of racial or scientific antisemitism.
It emerged in Europe alongside racial theories that "proved" the superiority of the white Nordic race. Unlike Christian anti-Judaism, which aims at salvation through conversion, modern antisemitism considers Jews to be a race or a people intrinsically alien to Europe, its population and its civilisation.
Traditionally, Jews are distinguished by their adherence to religious practices and moral values. In contrast, antisemitic ideology attributes to Jews inborn negative characteristics. During World War 2 the Nazis applied this "scientific" approach on a mass scale, murdering several million Jewish civilians from a dozen European countries.
The Zionist ideology also assumes that Jews from different countries belong to the same ethnic group going back to the Biblical Hebrews.
This is the founding myth of the Zionist movement and of the state of Israel, established by Zionists in 1948. However, this founding Zionist myth has come under attack with the recent publication of Professor Shlomo Sand of Tel-Aviv University (The Invention of the Jewish People). He argues that the Jewish people, as an ethnic concept, was simply "invented" for the needs of Zionism in the late 19th century: to form a nationalist movement one needs to have a nation.
While Zionists replicated the antisemites' view of the Jews as a distinct people or race, most Jews rejected Zionism from the very beginning when they saw that Zionists played into the hands of their worst enemies, the antisemites: the latter wanted to be rid of Jews while the former wanted to gather them to Palestine.
The founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, considered antisemites "friends and allies" of his movement.
Zionism has been a break with traditional Judaism and its cult of humility and accommodation. It has been an attempt to transform the pious Jew relying on divine providence into a secular Hebrew relying on his own power.
"Our claim to this land could be put in a nutshell: God does not exist, and he gave us this land."
This is how an Israeli colleague wittily summarised the origins of the Zionist movement.
Zionism turned prayers and messianic expectations into calls for political and military action, ignoring the fact that 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. …