Ariadna Theokopoulos: Downfall of Zionism

By Ariadna Theokopoulos
Special to

We had become used to muted differences and polite disagreements over one Israeli policy or another presented as proof of a vibrant debate in the Zionist discourse, pictured as a far from monolithic ideological group.

Seen from without, however, the taxonomy of Zionism encompassed one family, “divided” into one genus that had one species. The species had multiple subspecies, difficult to distinguish from one another and often morphing from one into another. There are the Avnerites who fear Israel’s potential loss of “soul” (after 1967, that is, not before):

“In the Faust legend, Mephistopheles pays for the soul of the learned doctor with every imaginable kind of pleasure. Something like that happened to us in June, 1967. The chain of events directed by a superior being, a temptation deliberately put in front of us in order to test us. What looked like a gift from God was actually a temptation from Satan, an attempt to buy our soul. Did he succeed? Did Israel lose its soul? I hope not.”

There are the followers of Israeli historian Benny Morris, who broke the taboo and acknowledged Israel’s genocidal campaigns against the native Palestinian population from 1948 onward, but rationalized its “necessity.”

There are Zionists who decry all of Israel’s crimes yet admit to having a soft spot for the concept of a “Jewish state” and think it is still possible for it to be a democracy with justice for all.

Whatever their squabbles, alignment along basic principles (Israel’s “right to exist,” Israel’s “security needs,” denial or downplaying of the impact of the Jewish lobby on the US foreign policy) had always been as irresistible for all Zionists as the magnet pull on iron filings.

There might have existed sincere doubts about Zionism, long dormant and deeply buried in the Zionist Jews’ consciousness, invisible to the naked eye and certainly to the outside observer, but as Ortega y Gasset taught us, for the depth to become visible it must first become surface. And now it has.

Judging from interviews, articles, rebuttals and re-rebuttals in this venue and others, Zionism’s solid ideological front has been fissured, and many Zionists’ ability to hold the contradictory concepts of “Israeli democracy” and “Jewish state” tightly wrapped together has been seriously impaired.

There are disillusioned Zionists who pine for the days of yore, the golden pioneer days of the early “idealistic” kibbutzim. They yearn for the glory that was Israel (once the unquestioned representative of eternal victims of superior morality) and the power that was Israel (before the recent ignominious failure of the mighty IDF in Lebanon).

“Zionist” has always been a badge worn with defiant pride (successfully marketed outside the genus as well; see “Christian Zionists”), as “anti-Zionist” was a warning label to Israel’s critics prior to being condemned without the possibility of parole as “anti-Semites.”

Yet now some Zionists reject the Zionist identification and wave their IDs (“Member since…”) of sympathy with the Palestinian plight and past criticism of Israel. The acrimony that occasionally erupts into a veritable ideological sectarian violence is violating the old primordial rule of engagement—“Pas devant les Goyim”—which held that any public criticism of Israel (let alone of its cornerstone—Zionism) would open the field to anti-Semites dressed in Israel critic clothing.

Avram Burg, an Israeli politician with strong Zionist credentials and lineage, now former Israeli citizen recently self-diasporized in Europe, went so far as to urge Israeli Jews to cast aside their Israeli passports and leave Israel because Zionism is irretrievably morally bankrupt—a “scaffolding” that has long outlived its usefulness and betrayed “the dream. The elites are leaving, he warned Israeli Jews, and “without an elite there is no nation.” If only the Israeli hoi polloi would have enough Groucho Marx sense to know that they should not wish to be citizens of a state that wants them (and only them).

An admirer and supporter of pragmatic Barak and of beleaguered but essentially good Olmert, as he sees them, Burg says he now has an identity conflict between his Jewishness, his Israeliness and his Zionism, the last of which is responsible for his psychological discomfort.

As a former Speaker of Knesset and head of the Jewish Agency, Burg commands far more attention when he writes or is being interviewed than some shlemiel being contrary and provocative on his own blog. The outrage he provoked among the hold-the-fort Zionists is illustrated by Leibler’s hysterical call for punishment in the Jerusalem Post: “Today in Israel the greatest threat facing us does not emanate from our vicious Palestinian enemies. It is from within. Surely it is time for Israelis to express their outrage to their government and call on them to end their impotence and indolence, and in the name of democracy itself, legislate red lines, which if crossed, constitute crimes against the security of society.”

Self-rehabilitated Zionist Jews are even rehabbing Diaspora, described by South African Tony Karon, a recovering Zionist, as the best milieu for Jews:

“Ironically, despite the dark predictions of the Zionist ideology of my youth, as many as 750,000 Israelis have left to live in the Diaspora. A Jew’s place is in the world. It’s only anti-Semites, and die-hard Zionists, who insist otherwise.”

This is a momentous change, and if being a diaspora Jew is preferable to being an Israeli Jew or a Zionist Jew, who is to tell what the future may hold? Maybe even a further mind-boggling transformation from a diaspora Jew “in the world” to a citizen of one’s own country who happens to be a Jew?

Perhaps the change has been brought about by the pressure of external factors like the humiliating failure of Israel’s war on Lebanon, the increased international media exposure of Palestinian suffering, ratcheted up by the Wall, all of which as Burg noted, contradicts the “Light Unto Nations” Jewish/Israeli self-image, or maybe the stigma placed on Israel’s academia by the British academia-initiated boycott. Perhaps the polls of European public opinion that overwhelmingly depicted Israel as “the greatest threat to world peace” jolted them.

Perhaps it was a collective subconscious revelation brought about by Sharon unconsummated death. Who better personifies Israel and Zionism than Sharon? Unbridled greed, brutality and violence, arrogance, racism, and single-minded tenacity in grabbing all of Palestine’s land (and then some) and emptying it of its native inhabitants. Israel, like Sharon is clinically dead and its death, like his, remains unacknowledged.
“We are already dead,” Burg said. “We haven’t received the news yet, but we are dead. It doesn’t work anymore. It doesn’t work.”

If this is the final limbo, the breath holding before the letting go, it is easy to see the extraordinary “life”-support measures that keep Sharon in his undead state as a metaphor for Bush’s recent pledge to dramatically increase Israel’s “aid” by $10 billion. If this administration and the US Congress are cognizant of Israel’s multiple organ failure they do a good job of pretending no such awareness exists.

Perhaps the fragmentation of the Zionist ideological front and the scramble to disavow one’s essential support of Israel is due to the flight of Burg’s “elites” and the increased numbers of newcomers of suspect Jewishness: the “New Jews” and the openly porcophagous non-Jews from the former Soviet Union; the “QuickJews” like the Peruvian Indians quickly converted on the side of the mountain path by settlement fodder-recruiting rabbis; or the undesirably pigmented Ethiopians. These newcomers have been steadily eroding the Jewishness of the State for Jews Only. Ironically, the “demographic bomb” fearfully believed by Zionists to reside in Palestinian women’ wombs turns out to be an IED mass produced by Israel’s “absorption” policies.

It has been observed before that that the downfall of Zionism was contained in its very success. Like a gluttonous python that swallowed a large herbivore very fast, Israel has given itself a case of lethal indigestion.

Now that the throng of Zionist ideological ‘conversos’ is growing, how do we sort them out? Should we check their testimonials, IDS and CVs to certify sincere conversion to universal, traditionally accepted morality?

I propose letting bygones be bygones and administering a simple questionnaire aimed at assessing present restoration of clear vision and moral health.

If a person’s answer to any one of the questions below is “Yes” then the candidate’s moral health and capacity for unbiased thinking warrants continuing quarantine.

1. Do you believe that Israel has an inherent “right to exist”?
2. Could the establishment of a Palestinian state (or two or three) next to Israel ever lead to peace and to the solution of the “Palestinian problem”?
3. Should the Palestinians’ right of return (and any other human rights of the Palestinians) be “balanced” against Israel’ “security needs”?
4. Is Israel a democracy and is it possible to have democracy in a “Jewish state”?
5. Would there have been (and is there now) a chance for peace for all and justice for the Palestinian people if only Israel had withdrawn (or would do so now) from the Palestinian lands it occupied in 1967?
6. Was Zionism at any point in its history a luminous dream pursued by “idealists” capable of compassion and justice?
7. Is Israel a “tiny nation surrounded by enemies” who wishes to live in peace but is meekly doing the US bidding, valiantly defending the Western world’s vital interests in the ME?

More questions easily spring to mind but seven deadly sins of moral turpitude and blind tribal allegiance should suffice for a reliable test.

– Ariadna Theokopoulos is a regular contributor to

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