Zionist Realism:
Is There No Alternative?

A reader of the blog recently expressed concerns around the use of or allusions to antisemitic tropes in recent posts (1, 2) on the current crisis in Palestine-Israel. I appreciate the tension within these posts and, though I feel my previous posts have been clear, I want to try and be clearer still, if only to assuage concerns and exercise more care in articulating my position on all this.

Nothing I have written is intended to be antisemitic, nor does it advocate antisemitism as a response to Palestinian oppression. The point consistently explored across my two recent posts is that addressing the issue of Palestine-Israel as an issue of capitalism is not only a way to avoid antisemitic tropes, but is also essential for articulating the broader stakes of this crisis and the wider impact that any effective responses to it could have. The antisemitic response (which we have seen made by a minority) is surely to address this crisis from the opposite side — placing capitalism in a broader Jewish framework, which is so deeply wrong and only helps obfuscate the networks of oppression we are all captured within.

But this is precisely what a lot of Jewish liberals do in the UK, who see critiques of capitalism applied to Jewish contexts and say, “Those are just tropes”. And this is understandable, of course — to an extent. Talk about capitalist greed in the context of a Jewish state should be a red flag for anyone. But that is precisely why we must separate capitalism from any notions of Jewishness, and indeed highlight how the state of Israel is not protecting the rights of its citizens, who occupy a special category, but instead oppresses people inside and outside of its borders according to an all-too-familiar liberal-capitalist playbook. This is very easily done when we consider that these liberal principles are shared more broadly by non-Jewish conservatives and reactionaries. As was Fred Moten’s point, previously quoted:

I believe that the nation-state of Israel is itself an artefact of antisemitism. If we thought about Israel and Zionism not just as a form of racism that results in the displacement of Palestinians, but if we also think about them as artefacts of the historic displacement of Jews from Europe, in the same way that we might think of, let’s say, Sierra Leone or Liberia as artefacts of racist displacement… [T]he reason I’m saying this is just to make sure that you know that there’s a possible argument against the formulation that criticism of Israel is antisemitic, when we know that Donald Trump is a stark supporter, and people like Pat Robinson in the United States are stark supporters, that ought to help us to the fact that you can be deeply antisemitic and still support the state of Israel. These things go together. They’re not antithetical to one another.

Though it seems paradoxical, it is nonetheless observable. Liberal Zionists far more firmly equate Jewishness and capitalism than the vast majority of those who are in open solidarity with Palestine, and who imagine another world and another way of organising ourselves as a species. There are alternatives to those models of organisation handed down to us by the liberal architects of our current system. Though it may be a difficult pill to swallow, the fact that security for the Jewish people supposedly depends on a military-industrial project, arms trading, land ownership, and the reification of national sovereignty is a liberal lie. Of course, these things do provide comfort. That the Jewish people know they have a home in Israel is, I’m sure, a precious thing and source of relief after generations of oppression and displacement. But that doesn’t mean the model chosen to provide such comfort is a just one. As Moten said, we do not have to “so presumptuously imagine that the Earth can be reduced to something so paltry and so viciously understood as what we usually call ‘home’.”

Let’s take another example: the idea of the family. Though we all have ideal visions of what a family is and the form that it takes, who amongst us has actually experienced or is in possession of that ideal? I imagine very few of us. Still, we strive for it, and in striving for it we strive for a better world and a home for ourselves within that world. But maybe the problem isn’t with our inability to achieve this ideal but the ideal itself. When we consider the broader network of bourgeois institutions that the family is a part of, we find that it is, like the state and the factory, set up in a very particular way to maintain certain mechanisms for the intergenerational transference of wealth and power. (Again, though I recognise this understanding of “control” may sound like a Jewish trope, this is nonetheless undeniably true of capitalism and patriarchy in general.) As such, it is not an ideal for all, but for a select few who have the means to properly embody it. Those of us without such means are left on the outside, disenfranchised and dejected that we cannot match these expectations and that there’s little we can do about it because there is no alternative.

But, again, there are alternatives. This is why the previous post was titled “Zionist Realism”. Other Israels were and are possible, as are other Palestines. But when the current government in Israel violently imposes upon the region its “right to exist [in a very specific form]”, it refuses to consider any alternative that is not beholden to a violent settler-colonial and fundamentally liberal model. Israel is far from alone in this regard. It has simply followed suit, embracing the model laid out for it by the rest of the world’s liberal nations. But that is precisely why it functions so well as an example to the rest of us. Though Israel is seen and held up as having a unique approach to statecraft in the twenty-first century, it is not unique in the slightest. It simply demonstrates an intensification of the norms we are all used to around the world. Though it is the Jewish state, it is otherwise one node within the wider liberal-capitalist matrix. What is useful about its intensified nature, however, is that it also exacerbates the cracks and flaws in our broader system. Israel is not unique — it acts like any liberal nation would (and, indeed, does) act. And so a rejection of Israel on principle is not antisemitic but fundamentally anti-capitalist.

The broader issue, however, is that many Jewish conservatives, particularly in the UK media, attempt to undermine this position, precisely by affirming antisemitic tropes. They essentialise Jewishness, tying it explicitly to neoliberal capitalism and its understandings of self and sovereignty. Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, for instance, is particularly unabashed in his false equivalences between liberal politics and the Jewish faith, as is Luke Akehurst on the right of the Labour Party. Tellingly, any criticism of their political ilk is dressed-up as an antisemitic dog-whistle. The immediate assumption is that “you lot” means “Jews” rather than “liberals”. I don’t know whether this occlusion of politics under the guise of faith is intentional or not, but it speaks volumes that this is how they view themselves. And this sort of conflation is, in itself, a backbone within liberal ideology, as previously discussed. As previously discussed, liberalism defines itself a priori as “reasonable” and “sensible”, based on “common sense” notions of home and belonging, but in practice these understandings of what is “common” only extend to their ideological peers.

This is abhorrent — all the more so for the ways it hides under a veil of innocuousness. That so many British liberals hold up their Jewishness as a shield against anti-capitalist critique feels more antisemitic than an acknowledgement of the Jewish people’s broader political history, which obviously extends far beyond Israel’s occupation of Palestine. This has been a central point of contention within British politics for years now, with attacks on the Labour Party so often conflating the left’s anti-capitalism with hostility towards Jewish identity as such, but only anti-Semites would conflate the two. They can and should be divorced from one another.

This is why I previously said that Israel needs its claim over Jewishness to function, but the Jewish people do not need Israel. Though it may feel nice to have a home, that very feeling, that very desire, is informed by so much more than a history of persecution. The reality is that this sense of home is part and parcel of liberal-capitalist geopolitics, and it has wrought misery upon Jewish and non-Jewish lives alike for centuries.

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