As a good Zionist Mizrahi working class kid from a broken Zionist Mizrahi working class family, I was never introduced to the possibility of deep political skepticism, or rebellion, in my formative years.
The immigration trauma suffered by my Moroccan-born mother was never treated or addressed, as has been the case for the vast majority of Moroccan Jews in white-supremacist Israel. My father’s complicated upbringing in late stages British Mandate Palestine and young Israel, was, too, only ever mentioned in passing and in jest.
To this day I think there is a dignity and grace in working class people’s tendency to bear the burden of life with quiet, wordless reflection, as opposed to the bourgeois’ mindless chatter, and the feigned grooviness of the upper classes.
My fascination with language spelled trouble for me from an early age.
Absolute conformity with all ideologies and narratives of the Jewish state was expected and easily given where I grew up. We were Zionist Mizrahi Jews; our heroes were brave white Zionist soldiers, intellectuals, bohemians, scientists and survivors of horrors we could not even fathom. As indoctrinated and expected, we looked upon life with a mix of death-enticing paranoia and death-defying valor, both equally fabricated by Zionist propaganda.
Side note: when this is all over, and the psychological mechanisms that sustained Zionism inside Israel are revealed, the world is going to be in genuine awe of Israel’s brainwashing prowess.
Doubting Zionism, in short, was not part of my upbringing. Its cruelty, denialisms and contradictions, though, could never fully escape the consciousness, spoken or tacit, of a household led by two psychologically strained yet cultured, curious, and intelligent Zionist Mizrahi working class parents.
My father, for instance, would watch with tangible sadness images of Palestinians families whose homes had just been bulldozed to the ground by the IDF, playing on our technological wonder of the first Lebanon war, the color TV.
My soul never forgot the grandmoms and children wailing next to the ruins of their home. I honestly want you to take a second to imagine your childhood home with all its memories, all its loving moments, all its protection and comforting familiarity, forcefully erased from existence in front of your eyes, and you’ll get Palestine.
Gaza these days is nothing new, just more of the same on a monstrous scale.
I was taught only Jewish suffering was worthy of recognition simply because a legitimately sad Arab was never introduced to me. And in the cases I was exposed to the suffering of Palestinians, for instance families next to their bulldozed homes, it was always, always juxtaposed and interlaced with their supposed, incorrigible, terrorist actions, thoughts and emotions.
I was supposed to gloat at their just suffering, just as an Arab kid was to see it as a warning.
It took me many years to realize what Zionism really is. It is what Zionism does. Learn what Zionism did, and you’ll know what it is.
Zionism, I’d contend at my current, thoroughly disillusioned state, is not a theory, but a practice. And maybe it is a good rule of thumb for all cultures and all political systems, if not all people: judge them by what they do, not what they say.
The US, for instance, just vetoed a ceasefire in Gaza, legally forbade much of the criticism of Israel, stifled speech on US campuses for Israel and sent Israel more ammunition after Israel killed more than 15,000 civilians in Gaza while claiming to care about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and to having done more about it than any country in the world.
Doesn’t this short paragraph tell as good a story as any of what the US is?
But if Zionism is the subject, and given it is indeed a practice, then I don’t know another practice whose performers demand to be judged not based on what they do, but rather on what they say they believe, and what the people to whom they do what they do supposedly believe about them, or what they believe others believe about them or about the people to whom they do what they do. I have never seen any other group of people granted that bizarre demand, too.
On the propaganda, or discourse front, Israel’s main success has been this ability to keep the discussion always about nebulous things as supposed, perceived or suspected character and beliefs, instead of concrete things, say well documented actions.
What Israel is doing is all that should be discussed when talking about Israel. But we are conditioned and pressured to never have that conversation.
The dehumanization (and mass killing, and ethnic cleansing, and oppression) of the Palestinians has been the real political purpose and consequence of this habit. Misrepresenting the discussion about Israel to actually be about the image or nature of Jews underpins, really, the destruction the Palestinian people.
And that is because making the discussion about Israel’s actions impossible by painting it as a defamation of Jews translates, politically, into a taboo around the humanity of Palestinians, who are always at the receiving end of Israel’s actions.
But this has gone too far, or rather far enough. In a world flooded with anendless array of dead children’s images and videos from Gaza, it is impossible to suppress the discussion about what Israel is doing, and what it has been doing.
And, having tied both the discussion about Israel’s actions to the image of Jews, and Israel’s fate to a continued success in dehumanizing Palestinians, the Zionist project has reached a point of guaranteed failures on multiple fronts. First, despite all efforts to the contrary, Israel’s actions will be heavily discussed. Second, the Palestinians will be rehumanized. Third, the image of Jews will be tainted but not in an antisemitic way, but simply because of the atrocities we so stupidly, unnecessarily, committed in our Zionist phase.
Zionism is what Zionism does. And what it has been doing, mainly, is constantly pushing to displace Palestinians from both their land and the global conscience.
My fellow Israelis think it is a sign of strength, rather than national suicide, to be able to dominate another people like that, for so long.
Yet the heavier Israel’s investment in Palestinians’ dehumanization, the harder Israel falls out of grace with humanity and with life itself. We can all see it clearly now.
Zionism is a disaster for Jews. And I want to explain to you why.
One dire consequence of Zionism has been its dreadful influence of Jewish freedom of thought and joy of experience. Yes, Jewish joy. I can say this because I am a Mizrahi (or Sephardic) Jew.
Before Zionism, saying you’re a Jew could mean almost anything. Jews lived in every corner of the earth, immersed themselves in myriad cultures and spoke a multitude of languages. From Yemen to Siberia and from Lisbon to Kabul, Jewish communities existed and had tremendous differences between them. They dressed differently and they prayed differently. They had varying political views and they could be a million things.
Although Jewish communities could be, and many times were, severely intolerant of dissent, there was not one way to be Jewish, and being Jewish never meant just one thing. In this sense, the pre-Zionism Jewish Golah had been a blessing: it made Jewish thought complex and varied. The art, literature, and philosophy, developed uniquely by each Jewish community, make a true historical marvel.
Thanks to Zionism, all this immense, multilayered richness of Jewish life and consciousness has been diminished to a single talking point.
These Zionist days, Jewish identity revolves around but one issue. If you support everything Israel, and in particular its latest wild military undertaking, you’re a good Jew. If you have polite reservations, especially if you’re rich, you’re a tolerable Jew. And if you oppose anything Israel, especially its latest military onslaught, then you’re a bad, bad Jew, A self-hating Jew.
Verbally, literally, the Zionist state has overtaken, swallowed and become the Jewish self. Which is never a good thing for a political establishment, or a self.
A Jewish identity, today, cannot nourish an individual’s mind and soul. It doesn’t fill you with comfort. It barks orders, demands and chastisements at you. It doesn’t uplift, but smothers you.
And when we remember that Israel, with tragic shortsightedness, chose to be about the delegitimization and dehumanization of Palestinians, the price of the Zionist monomania gets a lot clearer. Because it is always a bad idea to be about one thing, but it is a millionfold worse to be about one thing which is, actually, the violent denial of dignity and humanity of other people.
Was abandoning the histories of a thousand Jewish communities worth tossing into the a trash can for merciless nationalistic zeal?
A conflict endlessly expanding
Isolated as they are, the Palestinians have never been truly alone. They have friends and sympathizers. Muslim populations are on their side, much of the woke are on their side, and so are human rights-minded people and organizations, as well as formally-colonized populations.
By systematically pursuing its project of dehumanizing and subjugating the Palestinians, Zionism continually invites more and more people to be its enemies. This may play beautifully into a victim-aggressor mentality, but is utter madness in every respect nonetheless.
The Palestinians, then Arabs, then Muslims, then human rights groups, then liberals, then whoever suffers from and opposes colonialism and imperialism: there is not a soul on earth, so it seems, Zionism gives up on making an enemy of.
The funny bit? It is all made in the name of security and normalcy. Creating a national home for Jews in their historic land while denying another group the same, alongside freedom and human rights, is just the recipe for Jews being accepted as equal on the world stage, we are told.
I, for the life of me, cannot fathom why I’m supposed to be at war with Indonesian and Malaysian people, and with Egyptians and native peoples from around the world, alongside the UN, human rights groups and most of the world’s media (to name but a few arch-enemies). My thick skull just won’t let me process why I need to be in eternal war for my own good and safety.
I, personally, don’t have a quarrel with a single group of people on this planet, nor will I agree to preemptively or vengefully kill masses of people from any group under no circumstances.
The process in which Israel oppresses the Palestinians without offering any form of relief or alternative vision, all the while making an enemy (or a hater) of much of the rest of the world, should be scarier to a lot more Jews than it currently is.
A closed loop of fear and hate
The Zionist model does not allow for course correction. Spoiled by too much American support, Zionism lives in a fantasy world in which it can do whatever it wants to anyone, forever, with impunity.
Whereas other groups, upon being confronted by great violence or resistance, were forced to update their vision, Zionism never had to internalize a strategic defeat. Every time it hit a wall, America supplied it with a bigger bulldozer, thus relieving Israel of a duty all life-loving entities must uphold, namely to reconsider its actions based on the environment’s reaction to them.
Unchecked, Zionism’s victim-aggressor mentality has become an exclusive peephole through which to look at everything. Every challenge is hatred that must be overcome forcefully. Every reservation testifies to hidden antisemitism. Every Palestinian child is a potential terrorist. Every peace activist is a secret Nazi. Every disaster is proof that we must use more force. Every success is the success of our force. My God, how depressing it is.
Because it is so binary, so rigid and so disconnected from authentic emotions, Zionism forces its believers to choose force over peace, fantasy over reality, and an unending quest for total, cathartic vindication, over simply living.
One fact to consider, before moving on: in 1967, when it was 18 years old, Israel took it upon itself to become an apartheid state by occupying hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Where does such a young country, fresh from a historic trauma, find the audacity for such an undertaking?
By the 1970′, Israel’s reign in the occupied territories was already a world-class military dictatorship. How could it be justified? How did they think it was going to work? I honestly have no idea. I just know that the brazenness, the total disregard for human suffering, had to be justified and explained in a vision that was deeply rooted already.
Sometimes I think that Israel’s leaders over the years knew full well that what they do will cause shock and pain to Israelis, too. Consciously or unconsciously, they may have gambled that the rigid Zionist model will always guide Israelis towards clinging more desperately to preset conclusions like the need for more force or the incorrigible barbaric nature of Arabs.
Looking at Israeli society today, I cannot say they miscalculated by much.
Israel was never as hellbent on death, destruction and revenge as it is today, more than two months into the Gaza carnage.
A totalitarian, all-consuming approach, on the part of any practice is a serious warning sign. : Zionism places demands on Jews in at least two major ways: first it requires their perpetual, eternally renewed trust, no matter the number or severity of blatant absurdities and contradictions they may face in a lifetime of providing this service.
The second kind of blind trust Zionism demands of Jews, which is connected but not identical to the first, is in having no contingency plan for failure.
Zionism, I hope we can all agree, is not a constant of human existence. Looking at Zionism with intellectual and historical integrity, especially from a Jewish point of view, it would be more suitably described as an experiment, or even a gamble.
Even if we embrace most formal Zionist narratives, the fact remains that it was never assured eternal success. And while a softer Zionism may not have been in desperate need of guaranteed eternal success, a Zionism that adheres unwaveringly to an occupation of another ethnic group, in defiance of the views and sensitivities of billions of people, based solely on the support of one country, ever increasingly is.
Paradoxically and understandably at the same time, the more assurances and guarantees of continued success Zionism needs and gets from that one country, the more dire and desperate its situation becomes, as the grotesqueness of this process gets more and more visible to more and more people.
Having no contingency for failure, while pushing such a hardline counter-humanitarian, counter-egalitarian line, with so little international support, cannot purport to accomplish the safer, more respectable place among the nation that Zionism set out to achieve for Jews, according to its own formal narrative.
What happens if the Zionist calculus, namely that Israel can survive on American backing alone in the face of growing international opposition, fails? What if Zionist lobby groups find no success in their quixotic mission to portray opposition to Zionism as antisemitism, in an age where the occupation is there for the whole world to see and document and watch again and research further?
If I were a Jewish leader, such questions would keep me up at night. If current Zionist leadership in Israel and the US had an eighth of the historical consciousness they claim to possess, they would realize Jews must have friends (as indeed everybody does, including America).
If Zionist leaders truly cared about the fate of Jews in the long run, they would not seek to censor criticism of the occupation, or an apartheid, but would put all their weight behind forcing Israel’s hand in stopping it instead. They would understand that Jews, more so than many other ethnic groups, and because of their history, must never be perceived as the oppressor, aggressor and censor.
We Jews should be the ones calling for unity and love among the nations. But Zionism took that from us. Now we are for more war and more international Darwinism, the likes of which nearly made us extinct. This rich idiocy, in particular, I will never get over.
A self undoing big bang
It may seem like I’m backtracking on a former claim regarding the occupation of 1967, but the Zionist revolution has been tainted from the very beginning, and its original sin is what will cause its eventual demise.
That original sin is the dehumanization, or complete dismissal of, Arab Palestinians, as per the Zionist plan.
I am not backtracking on, or retracting my former claim that Israel’s insistence on adhering to its military occupation in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem will ultimately lead it to terrible failure. I am saying that even though the Zionist plan was flawed and deeply racist from the very beginning, and even though the pain of the Nakba was never going away, and even though Arabs would have found it incredibly difficult to accept a Jewish state in Palestine, maybe, just maybe, without the 1967 occupation and all the tragedy that ensued since it took place, there may have been a way to amend things.
Maybe, just maybe, Jews and Palestinians could heal from their respective formidable wounds. Maybe it is just a dream, but it is a beautiful one, though now lost forever.
Israel did not have to occupy the people it did occupy in June of 1967. And it did not have to enact a military dictatorship over them. And it did not have to keep the military occupation going for so many years. And it did not have to build settlements and shape its image, home and abroad, as an occupier of lesser human beings (surely you don’t think the concept of “human animals” was imagined post October 7th?).
Israel did not have to do all those things. But in reality, it felt it had to do all those things, and was entitled to do all those things, because of the deeply twisted and flawed logic of Zionism at its core.
In reality, the minute European Jews convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel in summer 1897, the fate of Gaza’s children in the winter of 2023 was doomed. And it is so, and has been so, for the very cruel existential fact that once a system is started as racist and exclusive, it is almost impossible to make it otherwise.
When Israel went into the 1967 war, it had 70 years of formally established Jewish priority, or Jewish supremacy, behind it. The leaders of Israel during the Six Day War of that year, in other words, have been shaped entirely by a culture that saw it not only as legitimate, but as justified and righteous, to create a political reality in which only Jews are considered full citizens or full human beings in the eyes of the law, the social norms and the general culture.
Seeing the occupation of 1967 in this light makes it easier to understand why it was both a choice and inevitable.
In my mind I keep going back to that First Zionist Congress of 1897. In my mind, I am looking for people who shout “Are you insane? What about the native population? It’s going to be a disaster! A bloodbath!”. In my mind, I am shouting similar things myself.
How blind were they to even imagine it made sense to just land a nation state of people, all of whom were born in other continents, on top of an existing political, cultural, religious structure. My guess is, knowing it was obviously not empty, but unable to relinquish a redeeming fantasy, they decided to just act as if it was empty.
And if it’s not empty, it certainly can be made empty. Like much of Gaza these days.
Palestinians are, and forever will be, the foremost victims of Zionism. But for too long we have neglected to look at the terrible price Jews have been paying for it in terms of their humanity, their morality, their freedom and creativity and, tragicomically, their sense of place and belonging among our brothers and sisters of all races and places, including, yes, Palestine.