In an effort to live out some bad karma, I occasionally read the comments section of Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, or Haaertz articles posted on Facebook. For all its faults, Comment Land serves as a useful proxy for the folk wisdom of current events – the one-on-one dialogue of personal arguments far from the purported nuance of elite` Thought Leaders.
In this sluggish and nasty realm the anti-Israeli argument goes something like this: Zionism and Zionists are fundamentally colonial and have stolen land in the British Mandate Palestine; therefore, Israel’s claim to said land is illegitimate and it should somehow be returned to indigenous Palestinians that, although never a nation-state [although many in Comment Land are ignorant of this fact and think that there was a formal “Palestine” that got turned into Israel], are still a cultural identity that should have had a formal state in what is now Israel.
The moderates in this camp will concede that Israel has a right to exist along with a Palestinian state but that a homeland is still owed to the Palestinians by the Israelis, the radicals say “Palestine from the river to the sea!” None of this contends with the fact that the “Palestinians” could have had a homeland on multiple occasions and started all the wars that they lost, but I digress.
There is so much ignorance in the Zionism = Colonialism argument that it is almost impossible to unpack all of it, but because it is elemental to the ongoing Arab-Israeli peace problem address it we must to achieve a lasting peace.
The first problem with the Zionism = Colonialism narrative is that it assumes that there is no connection between the land that is Israel today and contemporary (say, from the 1880s to present day) Jews. This would stun anyone that has ever been at any Jewish prayer service. Even not understanding a word of Hebrew you would hear “Yis-rah-ale” and “Jer-ru-sa-li’yim” chanted again and again. There is ample archaeological evidence for humans identifying themselves as Jews lived in what is now Israel since almost the dawn of recorded history. This includes Judea and Samaria (“The West Bank”), whose moniker itself should be revealing.
Israel is foundational to Judaism, but the anti-Israeli narrative (if it even acknowledges that people called Jews have lived in Israel historically) rests on inventing a statute of limitations at which point Jews no longer get to become Israelis after the Diaspora: by this logic, Diaspora Jews are not Israelis or Judeans, they are “Europeans.” This ignores the reason that Ashkenazi Jews became Zionists and ultimately Israelis: the European majority considered them Jews and not Europeans. The major Aliyahs of modern Israeli history are not Colonial swashbuckling but refugees fleeing horrific discrimination, pogroms and the Holocaust, often with just two suitcases or less. Call their migration Colonialism all you want, they called it survival.
Finally, despite the fact that (for just one example) the Incans were conquerors of local peoples before they themselves were Conquistadored by the Spanish, Colonialism is seen as something that Whites do to Others. Again, the supposed whiteness of Jews disqualifies their ability to live in their historic Homeland that also has non-white people in it. Yet most Jews were expelled from other lands because of their Jewishness. Jews’ expulsion from the Arab world was not a catastrophe in 1948 because Zionism worked as intended and they went to Israel. The same holds true for Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s and French Jews today. As a result, as anyone that has ever been to Israel will attest, Jews are multi-racial. That’s not to say that discrimination towards Mizrahi Jews in Israel was not and is not problematic, but Israel and Judaism is not a monolithic “white” region, religion or culture.
The Zionism = Colonialism slander underlies the Palestinian/Arab strategy towards Jews. It is the same strategy used in Afghanistan against the Russians and Americans, and used in Iraq against the Americans: Blow stuff up, weaponize young children as suicide bombers or terrorist stabbers, keep committing violence and make staying so horrible that eventually the occupiers leave. The problem is, as far as so-called “the occupiers” are concerned, they are home! It doesn’t matter how many freshman College essays labeling Israelis as Colonialists get an A-, or how often Arab TV fulminates about them being “European.” For Jewish Israelis Israel is Israel and they will not be boycotted or terrorized into thinking otherwise. Trying to do so is a foolhardy strategy for anyone that actually wants to achieve peace, as the Palestinians prove with each rejected peace offer.