Against the conflation of Judaism and Zionism

Something from an email I wrote today that I thought I might put on here too, as its something thats been frustrating me a lot lately:

I think it’s important to remember that popular conflation of Zionism and Judaism is only a recent occurance – prior to the Shoah, Zionism was a minority movement amongst Jews, and Jewish opposition to Zionism has never ceased, on the contrary, it has been growing across the world in the last 5-10 years.

I am currently writing a book, looking at Jewish radicals from 1800 to present, and the research for it has thrown up some interesting parallels. In the late 1800’s/early 1900’s, in London’s East End, there were literally tens of thousands of Jewish anarchists, socialists and communists (in fact, for a long time, there were more Jewish radical leftists than non-Jewish in the UK). Jewish trade unions flourished, and explicitly revolutionary newspapers written solely in Yiddish had print runs of upwards of 50,000. Nobody, however, suggested that you could not be Jewish and a capitalist, nobody suggested radical leftism was a prerequisite for Judaism.

I think those that seek to conflate Zionism and Judaism could learn a lot from that lesson – just because a political theory is dominant within a cultural/ethnic group at any given moment, it does not mean that it always has been or always will be, and it most certainly does not mean one has to subscribe to the political philosophy in order to be a part of the cultural/ethnic group.

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3 Responses to Against the conflation of Judaism and Zionism

  1. Darren says:

    What do you think of Bill Goldberg, the professional wrestler?

  2. Asher says:

    What about him? I remember vaguely seeing him “wrestling” back when I was a little kid. And I assume (and Wiki confirms) that he’s Jewish….

  3. massklo says:

    I agree with you that it’s historically innacurate to conflate jews and zionists, or judaism and zionism. This conflation has been used by antisemites, and it has been used by conservative Israeli politicians to garner support and to ward of criticism. (But this is not to conflate the antisemites and conservative Israeli politicians.)

    I agree that exploring the history of non-zionist jewish left social movements is an important project. And I found your link to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to be quite informative regarding the large number of jews who joined the armed anti-fascist resistance of the Spanich Civil War.

    But I think that the discovery of these movements should be careful how they explain these movements, and how these histories can be used.

    While I do not profess to be well-read in the area, I do think that the relationship between zionist and non-zionist jews is not simple at all. I think zionism is often seen today by the Left as a racial nationalist movement, and that a one-dimensional focus on these elements obscures the broadly antisemitic environment of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Reading just some of Theodor Herzel’s “The Jewish State” reveals how central a factor the social environment of antisemitic Europe was in supporting the zionist movement. As well, how zionist organizations in Germany were some of the few organizations defending and giving social support to jews during the 20s and 30s.

    I think a history of the relationship between zionist movements and non-zionist Left movements has the difficult task of exploring this. And while a history of non-zionist jewish leftism is an important history, I think it can also fall into a trap. The trap is to draw the line between jews and zionists so thick that not only does it obscure the intimate places of overlap, but also supports some of the current antisemitc rhetoric that wants to eliminate jewish history from Israeli history.

    Some antisemites, as well as Leftists who want to avoid the issue of antisemitism, are trying to draw a deep and strict line between the two (jews and zionists; or, judaism and zionism; or jews and Israel; or the Holocaust and Israel; or Europe and the Middle East; or diaspora and Israel; etc.). The example most prominent amongst antisemites would be Ahmadinejad, who claims that zionists are not even jews. By doing this does a variety of things, aside from falsify reality and history and demonize Israelis. He seeks to isolate Israeli jews. He seeks to destroy the lines of solidarity people feel towards the victim group of genocide. etc etc. And I hope that we are conscious and cautious of the ways in which our efforts potentially support the efforts who want to destroy us.

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