Israel and the violent illusion of sovereignty

From settler-colonialism to ethnic cleansing, apartheid and genocide …

“It is no exaggeration to say that the Intifada questions the future of Judaism with force and obstinacy. The tragedy of the Holocaust is well documented and indelibly etched into our consciousness: we know who we were, but do we know who we have become? Contemporary Jewish theology helps us confront our suffering; it has little to say about a today where we are in a position of strength. This theology, stretched between Holocaust and emancipation, puts into eloquent words the victims of Treblinka and Auschwitz, but ignores Sabra and Chatila. It pays tribute to the Warsaw ghetto uprising, but gives no place to the Intifada of those ghettoised by Israeli power. Jewish theologians are committed to ensuring that the torture and murder of Jewish children be remembered and mourned in Jewish ritual and spirituality. It remains to take into account the possibility that Jews, in turn, tortured and killed Palestinian children. Holocaust theology recounts the greatness and suffering of the history of the Jewish people, but it fails to recognise the contemporary history of the Palestinian people as an integral part of ours. This theology accounts for who we were, but it does not help us to understand who we have become. […]

“Years after the liberation of the camps, Elie Wiesel wrote: “If hatred was a solution, the survivors should have set the world on fire when they left the camps.” Given Israel’s nuclear capabilities and its sense of isolation and anger, may the option of destruction that Wiesel evokes remain a chimera and not become a project. Is it abusive to say that a theology which does not take into account the radical difference between the Warsaw ghetto and Tel Aviv, between Hitler and Arafat, is a theology which amounts to legitimising what Wiesel warned against?”

A text by Marc H. Ellis, American academic, teacher of history and Jewish studies. This 1989 text was written at the time of the first Intifada.

“Zionism has transformed, over the years, into an open ally of our sworn enemy: anti-Semitism. Zionism has, in fact, always drawn its substance from the abuses against the Jewish population and from reaction as a whole. During the forty years of Zionism’s existence, the following rule has always been in force: the darker it is in the world, the brighter the abode of Zionism; the worse things are for the Jews, the better they are for Zionism. What can Jewish Palestine be, in the best case scenario? The microstate of a tiny Hebrew tribe within the Jewish people. When Zionists address non-Jews, they are staunch democrats and represent the social relations of Palestine, present and future, as a paragon of freedom and progress. But if a Jewish state were created in Palestine, its mental climate would be the eternal fear of an external enemy (the Arabs), a perpetual struggle for every square centimetre of land, for every crumb of work against an internal enemy (the Arabs) and a relentless struggle to eradicate the language and culture of non-Hebraised Palestinian Jews. Is this a climate in which to cultivate freedom, democracy and progress? Is this not rather the climate where reaction and chauvinism usually flourish?”

An extract from an article by Henryk Erlich who, born in Russia in 1882, elected to the Petrograd Soviet in 1917, settled in Warsaw in 1918 and became one of the main leaders of the Bund, a revolutionary Jewish workers’ organisation which advocated cultural autonomy for Jews in the various countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

“The choice that [Theodor] Herzl made, and that his successors endorsed, was that of colonialism. […] In colonialism, the native is there temporarily and then no longer at all. You will not find in Altneuland [The Old New Land, a utopian novel published in German by Theodor Herzl] the slightest concern about what will happen to the indigenous population of Palestine. In the more classic cases of colonialism, the invisibility of the native meant that, although he was still there, he was no more than an exploited and marginalised human being benefiting little or nothing from fundamental rights. In Herzl’s utopia, the native, except for a tiny minority, has gone. S/he is invisible because s/he is no longer there; the native was made to disappear as if by magic, as Herzl imagined in his diary. More precisely, he wrote that the Arabs of Palestine should be expelled discreetly, with “discretion and circumspection” (in public, he was wise enough to assert his desire to promote the interests of the “indigenous population”). Colonialism merged with romantic nationalism results in the elimination of the indigenous population not only in a futuristic utopia but in a concrete policy of ethnic cleansing on the ground, as was the case in 1948.”

An extract from a text by one of those who have been called in Israel the “new historians”. Ilan Pappé left Israel in 2007 and settled in Britain, where he directs the European Center for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.

“We are the cursed remains of Europe. We are the Jews that Europe failed to eliminate. We are the place where the Nazi nightmare is still alive, carried in the minds of the survivors, of those raised in their shadow, and in the minds of all those whose brains have been washed by the endless logorrhoea that sanctified the Holocaust and put Auschwitz in God’s empty place. […]

“We are the last front line of military colonialism that Europe shamefully abandoned for generations. We are a thorn left by Europe on the edge of the Orient; and the United States then turned its acceptance into an entrance exam for the club of enlightened states of the new world order. […]

“We are the site of experimentation with a unique universal principle for which Europe failed to set limits on – the universality of evil: each individual can be led to take part in this terrible combination of xenophobia, oppression, humiliation, racial discrimination, detention camps, and ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods and cities. Each person risks being complicit in an evil regime that produces and propagates evil; it can happen to every people, to every individual of every nation, including those who have been its victims. […]

“We are living proof of the success of Nazism – there are still Jews in Europe but there is no longer Judaism – because “true” Judaism – this is how we declare it – is only that which was created by us or which we have validated. […]

“We are a screen on which is projected – a little late but in an accelerated manner compared to Europe and without having learned anything from its experience – the story of the decline of the democratic welfare state towards the crime of exploitation of foreign labor, to those places where nation-state capitalism approaches the obscenity of slavery. […]

“The expression “Jewish sovereignty” nowadays means a violent Jewish nationalism whose discursive, political and military practices nourish the absolute core of the logic of sovereignty. Jewish sovereignty crushes any Israeli subject or citizen who demands non-Jewish sovereignty, and any Jew who demands a non-sovereigntist Judaism. […] Jewish military power became the image of sovereignty itself and took its place. […]

“Instead of being a terrible and temporary violation of normal civilian life, the state of war has become the permanent and continuous framework of civil existence “between wars”, that is to say those which are officially declared: the daily fight against terrorism, obligatory military service – required step between secondary school and university, the annual military service of reservists, the posts open for the distribution of gas masks, the expertise of the army of the rear, Job like announcements made by the rear officers to the families – all as evidence of daily routine.”

From a text by Ariella Aisha Azoulay (daughter of a Jewish father from Algeria and a Jewish mother from Palestine, and a university professor in the United States) and Adi Ophir (also a professor in the United States, and who was incarcerated for refusing military service in Israel), written in Hebrew in 1997, on the occasion of the centenary of the first World Zionist Congress in 1897.

[All the above quotations are taken from a collection of writings published in France: Antisionisme, une histoire juive [Anti-Zionism, a Jewish story], edited by Béatrice Orès, Michèle Sibony and Sonia Fayman and published by éditions Syllepse. They appear here in translation from a post published with lundi matin, #399, 16/10/2023]

For further reading, see also a recent article by the Israeli Raz Segal, an associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University and the endowed professor in the study of modern genocide: “Case of Genocide: Israel has been explicit about what it’s carrying out in Gaza. Why isn’t the world listening?”, Jewish Currents, 13/10/2023.

This entry was posted in Commentary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.