Labels are meant to elucidate, clarify and explain but I suspect that the ‘Zionist’ label is not as helpful as I originally thought.
Merriam-Webster defines ‘Zionism’ as
an international movement originally for the establishment of a Jewish national or religious community in Palestine and later for the support of modern Israel.
And a ‘Zionist’ is someone who is
a supporter of Zionism; a person who believes in the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel.
In the context of Uri Avnery’s recent hospitalization, I expressed sadness that this Israeli peace activist may be on his death bed because I believe Israel needs more voices like his. A friend countered that Uri Avnery is a Zionist and so everything he says is suspect.
Avnery, 94, has written opinion pieces on a regular basis for Haaretz. He is a former Knesset member and a founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement who worked as editor-in-chief of the Haolam Hazeh weekly. He has been an advocate for the past 70 years for the creation of a Palestinian state.
An activist friend of mine informs me that —
The definition of a Zionist among Palestinian solidarity activists is any person who believes that it is legitimate that there be a country for Jews in historic Palestine. Dorothy Naor, a prominent Israeli-American (native of San Francisco) Palestinian solidarity activist who has lived in Israel for more than 50 years and knows Uri Avnery personally, says that Avnery is definitely a Zionist.
I believe that definition — “any person who believes that it is legitimate that there be a country for Jews in historic Palestine” — is counter-productive and undermines the goal (as I understand it) of securing for Palestinians the human rights and the most basic right of self-determination that justice and international law demands.
Using that broad definition —
Former President Jimmy Carter, author of Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, and We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land — A Plan That Will Work is a Zionist.
Jeff Halper, author of An Israeli in Palestine–Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel and the founder of ICAHD, is a Zionist.
This broad definition of who qualifies as a Zionist must absorb every Israeli living in the State of Israel today because their mere presence affirms the legitimacy of the State of Israel.
In fact, some Palestinians I know in Gaza would be considered Zionists by this awkward definition because, although they detest the way in which the State of Israel was founded 70 years ago and they recognize the ongoing trauma of the Nakba, they have come to terms with the legitimacy of the State of Israel and wish to work towards a One State solution where every person in the Holy Land can live in peace with equal rights for all.
For that matter, I’m a Zionist!
I believe the injustices perpretrated on the indigenous people of Palestine was a historic wrong that needs to be rectified, and justice needs to be secured for the millions of Palestinian refugees in the occupied Palestinian Territories as well as in the diaspora. I also believe that Americans are uniquely responsible for the ongoing Nakba because of our disgusting “special relationship” with Israel.
I’m a Zionist because I also recognize that the State of Israel exists, it will and should continue to exist, that securing justice for Palestinians in the 21st Century doesn’t require eliminating the State of Israel, and this isn’t a zero-sum game where one must suffer for the other to thrive. Both Palestinians and Israelis deserve our empathy and love in this very difficult time.
I also fear for the future of the State of Israel, not because I think Iran or its Arab neighbors pose an existential threat to Israel’s security. I believe the government and powers in the State of Israel are behaving in ways that cast a shadow on the country’s own viability in the future.
So when I use the term “Zionist” in social media or elsewhere, please consider that my definition is drawn more narrowly than perhaps many other Palestine solidarity activists draw it.
A “Zionist” is someone who supports the occupation, supports the Israeli apartheid regime, and someone who believes that Israel’s future requires the subjugation and humiliation of millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, in Jordan and elsewhere in the diaspora.
I can’t wait until the first Palestinian-American Congresswoman visits her family in the West Bank. Israel’s security establishment (COGAT) is going to be apoplectic.