The myths of Zionism
The Myths of Zionism by John Rose, Pluto Press, London and Michigan, IL. 232pp
By Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
This Jewish British intellectual who teaches in London postulates in this book that "Zionism is held together by a series of myths (and a) package of false notions which undermine its claims on the Jewish religion and Jewish history, its rational as a response to Europe's anti-Semitism, and above all its justification for its aggressive and very dangerous political posturing in the land of Palestine" (from the Introduction). . I will first give a flavor of the material presented in different chapters (whether one agrees with it or not) and then give my impressions on this text at the end.
Chapter 1 addresses the biblical and quasi-biblical claims to the land of Palestine from both a philosophical and archeological angles. Religious philosophers like Martin Buber and Yeshayahu Leibowitz have argued passionately against the dominant political Zionism of people like Ben Gurion. They argued against the quasi-Biblical rhetoric used to justify the creation of what amounts to another nationalistic state on someone else's land. They and others like them were disturbed by the language used ranging from claiming the land to be "reclaimed" by Zionists was "barren" or "abused". In this chapter, we learn how ancient Israelites (including David and Solomon) were far less of a historical significant on the landscape and certainly adapting to the far more dominant Canaanitic cultures and religions. These culture of these early Israelites had little resemblance to the Judaism described by those who penned the bible later or to the Judaism practiced in Roman times, let alone to the complex brands of Judaism and Zionism of today. Perhaps what the Israeli archeologist Herzog wrote in Haaretz magazine in 1999 sums it up: "This is what archeologists learned from their excavations in the land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign, and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is the fact that the united monarchy of David & Solomon which is described in the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom" (Haaretz, 29 October; Rose page 22-23). We learn that the first distinct Israel to emerge was actually well afar this period and was distinctly pagan, its chief God Jehovah/Yahweh had a consort Goddess Aherah (a known Canaanitic fertility Goddess).
In chapter 2 we learn about the magnificent philosophy of Philo of Alexandria, who some 2000 years ago articulated the humanistic vision that Jews are attached to the homelands in which they live and that their spiritual connection to Jerusalem does not mean recognizing that Holy Land as their homeland. We learn about many views of what constitutes one's identity when one is devout to a particular religion that originated somewhere but he/she is a citizen of another place and time. It is interesting to ponder why very few Christians consider the Holy Land of Jesus their homeland while now many Zionists consider that same Holy Land their homeland. We also learn about the distinctive Jewish traditions in different parts of the world, most of them had little affinity or interest in the mythical Zionist "Israel". A good example of this and an anomaly that shatters Zionist mythology is the Samaritan Jews (the closest to ancient Samaria) who live in the Nablus area and who ran candidates in the elections in the Palestinian legislative council. He discusses the ferocious rivalry between Judah, Galilee, and Samaria and how the Galilee tradition became especially tolerant and integrative of different traditions.
In chapter 3 we are challenged to answer such questions as why did Jewish peasantry disappear for nearly 1000 years, and why is it that by the beginning of the 19th century nearly half the Jewish populations lived in Poland/Lithuania? The author argues that Jewish survival and prosperity was dependent on a marriage of group affinity with development of Jewish economic role as a merchant class. This was especially enhanced as Jews played a significant mediating role between two great centers of world development for 1000 years: the Christian West and the Muslim South and East. Perhaps this explains the centrality of the Khazar kingdom and the large conversions to Judaism in this period of rivalry between Hellenistic Europe and the Muslim Middle East. But more relevant and nuanced history of an economic struggle that pitted certain economic interests against other especially intensifying after the crusades and even more so after the removal of Islamic rule in Spain (a rule that was characterized by pluralistic and prosperous society that included the Jewish merchant and intellectual community). What is striking is the nuanced histories (plural) of Jews presented briefly here contrasted with the more reductionist Zionist selective historiography of a people without a land eternally persecuted by gentiles simply for being Jewish.
Chapter 4 reviews some of the new revelations and suppressed history of Jews in the Islamic and Arabic world. The symbiosis between Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Arab world is especially revealing.
We learn the history of Palestine and its people who are dismissed with the Zionist cliché of "a land without a people for a people without a land" (Chapter 5). We read details of the thriving farming communities that was so well adapted to the terrain and who farmed the area for millennia. But we learn new details about the merchant Palestinian families that made cities like Nablus a center for developing, making, and trading products ranging from soap to food to textbooks. This was the land of Milk and Honey and part of the "Fertile Crescent" (the place where agriculture first developed and animals first domesticated). It is the area where we got our first alphabet and our first trade routes and merchant ships. But politics was also evolving and Jerusalem had its first mayor some 130 years ago. This gentleman (Yusuf Diya) was later elected to the Ottoman parliament.
Chapter 6 addresses the other side of this mythology: "a people without a land". In that chapter we learn much suppressed history of Jews in the Arabic speaking world (yes they were Jewish and Arab at the same time) and in Europe. The history of Jewish life in Europe is at least partially studied and distorted to serve Zionist agendas but the Jewish history in the Arab world is more meticulously suppressed.
Chapters 7-9 expose the myth of Zionism as a Jewish national liberation struggle and as part and parcel of a people struggle to self-determination. The evidence presented argues that it was the reverse. Evidence is given that Zionist colonization of Palestine actually served first British imperialism after WWI and then US hegemony and suppression of people's rights to self-determination. Even more disturbing is that Zionism and anti-Semitism promoted each other. The myth of Zionists as weak and fighting for survival in a hostile land is easily demolished now by declassified British and Zionist papers and correspondence. The author touches on a crucial bit of history in trying to explain why war planners in Paris and London were convinced by Zionists that support for Zionist aspirations serves their war efforts in 1917. His startling conclusion is that it was due to an "obsession with Jews anti-Semitic at its core, which the Jewish-Zionist leaders had no desire whatsoever to challenge" (p. 127). The reality is that they were not only uninterested in challenging the anti-Semitic views but in many ways encouraged and promoted them to help Zionism. Ben Gurion himself was very clear on this (Brenner 1983:149; quoted on page 145)
Chapter 9 is similar to Naseer Aruri's "Dishonest Broker" in dealing with US role in prolonging the conflict. The author suggests that people read Chomsky and similar books on the subject. But this chapter delves into the new realities since publication of Chomsky's book including the rise of the neoconservatives in the Bush administration and their devastating role that has taken US foreign policy to new depths of depravity in support of colonialism and racism.
We learn in Chapter 10 how Zionism doomed the well-established Jewish Arab Communities throughout the Arab world. We also learn how Israel sabotaged the overtures for peace to keep the state of conflict going when ever there were any signs f a possible resolution (e.g Operation Susannah and the Lavon Affair). It is troubling to note the success of Zionism in disconnecting Arab from Jew and hence making Arab Jews an example of contradictions after it was a common self identity for hundreds of years. One shudders at the demolition of genuine identities to create the manufactured identity of Zionists. This is done at the expense of victimizing the Palestinians and attempting to denigrate and obliterate Arab culture and civilization. The inevitable conclusions are stunning in their implications. Jews of places like Iraq, Yemen, and Spain (for hundreds of years also living under the banners of Islamic civilization) were not "in exile" but natives of those areas like those who followed other religions. That the removal of the mythologies and Zionism itself is a necessary precondition for peace and reconciliation.
I do have some criticism which does not detract from my high recommendation for this book. In some places the book seems incomplete and in others a bit disjointed. This is perhaps because Zionism as an enterprize is so vast and so complex an issue to deconstruct in one book. In some places it the book seems to write for theose already with some significant knowledge of teh subject and in other places it seemed tailored for teh uninitiated. These are concernes from which many books trying to cover the complex issues of Zionism have to navigate: they have to balance between the need to delve into details and develop the argument carefully and the need to create a manageable and readable book. Doing so is not a very easy task and this book does it fairly well considering teh subject matter. But ultimately, a book's success is determined by collective readership and in accomplishing its stated aims. I believe this book will do that.
Much more remains to be learned about how Zionists meticulously manufacture a new version of history and attempted to erase those areas of history that are deemed incompatible with the acquisition of the land of Palestine and transforming it to a Jewish state. Much more remains to be learned about the suppression of the Islamic-Jewish history. The facts are clearer as books like this and Marc Ellis's "Out of the Ashes" get published. But it is important to get these books out to decision makers to read and reflect. There are Jews who cling dearly to the mythologies of Zionism that by design and necessity entails hatred of Arabs and Arab culture. There are also Jews like Marc Ellis, John Rose, Meron Benvenisti, Ilan Pappe, Jeff Halper and many others whose logic and humanity prevail. Zionism is indeed facing a reexamination and its future looks more shaky than ever. Perhaps it is indeed time to think of a post-Zionist discourse.