A.B. Yehoshua
November 26, 2010 - 1:00am

Recently there has been exaggerated, misleading and perhaps even harmful use of the concept of "Zionism." The problem is prevalent both in Israel and outside the country; in the nationalist camp, the religious camp and the Labor movement; among liberals and ultra-nationalists; among Diaspora Jews as well as non-Jews; and mainly among Arabs.

Therefore, to improve the public discourse about our genuine and important problems and to do the utmost to limit the demonization of Israel, which is gradually spreading all over the world, specifically concerning this concept, I will try to formulate the concept of Zionism as objectively and logically as possible and to use it with maximum precision. And let's not turn the concept into a kind of sauce that you pour over every dish, whether to improve its flavor or, alternatively, to make it disgusting.

First of all, Zionism is not an ideology. Ideology, according to the Hebrew Encyclopedia, is defined follows: a consolidated and systematic combination of ideas, understandings, principles and commandments expressing the unique worldview of a sect, party or social class.

According to this quite clear definition, Zionism cannot and should not be considered an ideology. As Zionism is a common platform for various and even contradictory social and political ideologies, it therefore cannot in itself be considered an independent ideology.

Zionism hoped for one thing and promised one thing: to establish a state for the Jews. It kept its promise mainly, disastrously, through anti-Semitism. Zionism aspired only to establish a political framework - what would happen in the country and what its character would be, what sort of regime it would have and where its borders would be drawn, what its social values would be, how it would treat its national minorities. From the start, all of these issues and others were subject to dozens of interpretations and political and social viewpoints among the Jews who arrived in Palestine, and of course to developments and changes that take place in every human society.

After the Jewish state, namely the State of Israel, was actually established, the only way in which the meaning of Zionism was expressed was through the principle of the Law of Return. In other words, aside from the fact that the State of Israel is controlled and run by every citizen with an Israeli ID card, through its legislature, it is still open to any Jew who wants to become a citizen.

Such a law of return exists today in several other countries, including Hungary and Germany. Hopefully a similar law of return will also soon be instituted in the Palestinian state to be established alongside us. And just as that will not be a racist law in the Palestinian state, by the same token the law is not racist in Israel either. When the nations of the world decided in 1947 on the establishment of a Jewish state, they did not tear off part of Palestine for only the 600,000 Jews living there at the time, they did so with the assumption that this state had to provide refuge for any Jew who so desired.

An Israeli, a Jew, a Palestinian or anyone else who defines himself as a-Zionist is a citizen who is opposed to the Law of Return. This opposition, like any other political viewpoint, is legitimate. An anti-Zionist, on the other hand, is someone who wants to overturn the State of Israel after the fact - and with the exception of extremist sects among the ultra-Orthodox or among radical Jewish circles in the Diaspora, not many Jews hold this view.

All of the important and fundamental debates taking place in Israel - annexation or non-annexation of the territories; the relationship between the country's Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority; the relationship between religion and the state; the nature and values of economic policy and the social welfare system; and even the interpretation of historical events - are the sort of debates and controversies that existed and still exist in many countries. These are debates that continuously address the dynamic and changing identity of every nation and country.

Just as these discussions do not require other nations to throw additional concepts into the mix, these debates among us do not have to include the concept of Zionism - which unjustly and to its detriment has become another weapon in the battle between the sides, making it difficult to explain the controversies and their importance.

Zionism is not a concept that is supposed to replace patriotism or pioneering. Patriotism is patriotism, and pioneering is pioneering. An officer who extends his military service, or someone who settles in the Negev, is no more of a Zionist than a grocer in Tel Aviv, but they are perhaps more pioneering or more patriotic, depending on the meanings allotted to these concepts.

The concept of Zionism is dear to us, and therefore it is important that it find expression only in its rightful place: in the difference between us and the Jews of the Diaspora or the exile. The exaggerated and superfluous use of the term also blurs the ethical debate between Jews who have decided to be responsible, for good or for ill, for every aspect of their lives within a defined territory and under self government, and those who live enmeshed in other nations and practice their Jewish identity partially, through study, religious texts and limited communal activities.


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