Scarlet 'A' Is for 'Anti-Semitism'

Ideological Puritans Brand Critics of Israel

Puritan Ways: Branding heretics and witchhunts were hallmarks of 17th century America. Some Zionists are going down a similar path today.
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Puritan Ways: Branding heretics and witchhunts were hallmarks of 17th century America. Some Zionists are going down a similar path today.

By Eva Illouz

Published November 14, 2012.
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Zionism was created to stop the anomaly of Jewish existence which had been the object of centuries of persecutions in Christian countries (far more than in Islamic countries). Zionism, which was a European nationalist movement, claimed that Jews needed a national homeland in order to “normalize” their existence. In Zionist thought, national sovereignty was not only territorial but also a practice vis-à-vis oneself, in one’s “rapport a soi” as Foucault would have it.

Zionism commanded the new Jew to banish fear and weakness in order to make Jews into political subjects and the collective destiny of the Jews the outcome of an affirmative political will. In becoming an Israeli Jew some 20 years ago, I became the affirmative political subject envisioned by Zionism. The fear of anti-Semitism does not dictate my positions, not because I am not aware of its widespread presence, and not because I am not appalled by it and by all forms of racism, but rather because fear does not shape my emotional and political vocabulary.

As Zionism has intended to do, it ‘normalized me,’ that is, it has enabled me to become similar to my non-Jewish friends, to think of myself as a majority, and thus to care about the minorities who live in my midst. It is from this position of security and sovereignty vis-a-vis my own self that I question the inequality entailed by definitions of citizenship based in and on religion in vigor in Israel. There is thus a flagrant contradiction in being Zionist and in denying in Zionism its normalizing intent.

French (and other) Jews often experience another contradiction: they (rightly and justly) demand a universalist citizenship from France (even the rights to cultural minorities are ultimately and always embedded in universalist demands), yet they accept from Israel that it treats Arabs as third-rate citizens. That cannot be. This is using different standards. A Jew who fights for equality in Europe (for his own or for other groups) must demand it from Israel as well. One Arab judge in the Israeli Supreme Court cannot compensate for the fact that Israeli Arabs — 20% of Israeli population — are excluded from active participation to most military, cultural, and political institutions of Israel; for the fact that the occupation has blunted the moral sensibility of Israelis; and for the fact that Israeli politicians are spectacularly devoid of moral compass.

It is true that Arab citizenship threatens the Jewish character of the country, but this fact should be agonized over by the people who gave birth to the biblical prophets, and not simply accepted as an ineluctable, and therefore tolerable fact. It is true our political institutions are better than those of undemocratic and bloody regimes in the region. But is that the standard by which we want to be judged?


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