I'm exactly the sort of person that HAMAS, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, and probably a sizable fraction of the rest of the Islamic world wants to see disemboweled and then sent to roast in eternal damnation. No, I am not a Jew, but I am glad the American people and their government support Israel. In short, I am a Zionist.
Before I get into the meat of my argument, I think it's only fair that everyone knows where I'm coming from. I am a geeky WASP in his mid-20s who comes from the Southeastern part of the USA. I usually vote Democrat. I am nominally an Episcopalian, but I think Christ is about as real as the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. I'm educated and I've had plenty of exposure to life outside of the USA. UNIX has taken me to Israel and while there I came to appreciate the scope of that embattled nation's problems. Lest the whole of K5 jump on me for spouting a one-sided view, I'd also like to add that I've lived and worked in Amman, Jordan and am consequently well aware of the Palestinian narrative. I may not be entirely objective but I hope to at least provide more fodder for debate.
II. The Argument:
I find it a little bit sad and a little bit alarming that nobody has pointed out what how much trouble theboz would be in if he'd published this article today in Kabul. Unfortunately, what we have here is a basic failure to understand what life is like in the Middle East.
To put it mildly, theboz would be in hot water for what he wrote. Here's why... Presently in the portion of the Islamic world that actively supports the Taliban, just about the worst thing you can accuse someone of is being like a Zionist, which is precisely what theboz has done to the Taliban. When Iranians (Iran is anti-Taliban) want to vent fury at the Taliban for its slaughter of Afghan Shiites or destruction of ancient Buddhas, they blast the Talibs by comparing them to the "Zionist Regime." The underlying threat of this comparison is that many Iranians hope that the Taliban disappears from the face of the earth just as ardently as they hope for Israel's eradication. The Talibs then retort by proclaiming that the Ayatollahs themselves act like Zionists or that President Khatami is a Zionist agent, depending on which party angered them that day. If the boz had bumbled into this tempest with his clumsy attempt to cleave Israel from the USA by comparing Israel to the Taliban, he'd stand a fairly good chance of ending up in front of a Talib firing squad. And if, in a final moment of defiance, he dared to shout (albeit wrongly) that the Talibs were executing him the same way that Israel executes Palestinian "activists," he'd win himself a couple of sliced hamstrings and a nice, quiet hypothermic death on an anonymous mountain.
That neither Afghanistan nor Iran are Arab countries should also be noted; in fact, neither has ever clashed directly with Israel. In Arab countries, Zionists are held in even lower regard. Instead of being held as the abstract bogeymen as they are in Iran and Pakistan and Malaysia, Zionists (and indeed all Jews) are publicly blamed for pretty much everything that goes wrong in the Arab world. Zionist conspiracies explain Arab poverty, illiteracy, bigotry, violence, dependence on oil, AIDS and so forth. Col. Qaddafi blames Zionists for Libya's drug problems; in Saudi, Pokemon was banned because it "promotes Zionism".
In Jordan and Egypt, who both have peace treaties with Israel, it's bad too. One day at work in a very secular section of Amman, it was explained to me that all copies of NT were pirated because Microsoft is a "Zionist conspirator." I made the mistake of chortling at this claim and was promptly handed a list of Jews who held leadership positions at Microsoft; Steve Ballmer and is the only name I remember. Another time there was a rumor that Linus Torvalds was Jewish, which prompted a frantic purge of Linux from office machines out of fear we'd lose contracts because of it. (Someday I'm going to post a nice little K5 story about geekdom in Jordan).
Anyone with experience in the Arab world also knows that there are other dimensions to anti-Zionist rhetoric as well. For instance, Saudi dissidents struggling for democracy and freedom of speech attack their bazillion idiotic princes for being pro-Zionist; this gives them immense rhetorical leverage and some degree of physical protection (arresting anti-Zionists is unpopular). Meanwhile, Palestinians outraged by the Arafat's corruption use ostensibly anti-Israel demonstrations to launch attacks on the Palestinian Authority. There's also British journalist Robert Fisk, who attacks Zionism but also uses Zionism as a foil to criticize any number of parties in the Middle East.
The salient point of the above paragraphs is that in many eyes Zionists are the incarnation of pure evil. If someone finds it grievously insulting to be compared to a Zionist, then it is highly probable that (s)he will have as few qualms about Zionists being killed as a 1940s American would over Nazis or Japanese. The sad truth is that there are many Muslims out there who want Israelis (and their supporters) to die. Examples of downright genocidal anti-Israel incitement abound. Here are a few from the Arabic translation service of the pro-Israel think-tank Memri.org:
The bottom line is that the Arab world isn't ready for primetime; in many aspects it's woefully retarded. Now, before anyone sees this as an opportunity to start a round of classic NY Times/CNN-style Muslim-bashing the problem isn't that Muslims don't have a grasp of human rights, it's that in many circles the definition of "human" does not include supporters of Israel. The generally pro-Palestinian Christian Science Monitor's incisive article, "No Condolences: A Suicide Bomber's World," about a young Palestinian graduate who wants to become either a human rights activist or a suicide bomber illustrates this point nicely.
All of this murderous anti-Israel (and consequently anti-American) incitement begs the question, why? The standard Arab/Muslim reply is that Zionists did and continue to do horrible things to the Palestinians, other Arabs, and other Muslims as a whole. Anyone who is serious about understanding the Middle East should familiarize themselves with the Palestinian narrative. Some good sources are:
Any historian worth his salt can see that the pro-Palestinian narrative is recklessly subjective, with the most egregious problems being: (1.) lying by omission (e.g. Failing to mention that Jerusalem is a holy city to Jews when explaining the Muslim struggle for the city and holy sites, describing the 1967 Israeli-Arab war as purely an act of Israeli aggression without mentioning Egyptian and Syrian plans for attack and troop buildup in weeks and days preceding the war, bemoaning Israeli assassinations of Palestinian leaders without ever mentioning their roles in terrorist attacks and hate crimes), and (2.) simple slander (e.g. "Zionism is Racism," "The Holocaust wasn't so bad," "Zionists want to exterminate Palestinians," "Israel is a neo-imperialist/neo-colonialist project designed to undermine the Islamic world").
If you're looking for a concrete example of the weaknesses of the pro-Palestinian narrative, look no further than last week's farcical UN Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. Even the European Left, normally a staunch critic of Israel, found itself mortified by Arab and Muslim behavior at the conference. See, for instance, Linda Grant's article in the Guardian Unlimited or the
Irish Times's burial of "this dismal charade". For me, Arab anti-Semitism (sic), even if it purely arose as a reaction to being (to paraphrase Said) poor, powerless, desperate, and oppressed, indicates a very real force of darkness.
Although informed readers know how to take flawed histories with a grain of salt, there are countless millions whose only exposure to history is the Palestinian narrative. As scary as it may seem, the vast majority of the Islamic world is much more ignorant of Israeli (and American) history than Americans are of the outside world. (Now, don't get me wrong, most of these ignoramuses are perfectly nice people, I know, I've been there and met hundreds of them, and anyone who's really lived there can back me up on this.) But the real problem is that those who know better are reluctant to speak out, namely out of fear of economic, social, and political persecution. For instance, although quite a few Arabs were outraged that their kinsmen cheered the 1 June 2001 Tel Aviv "suicide operation" that killed "20 Zionist settlers" (in reality just a bunch of high schoolers, mainly girls, waiting in line to go dancing), precious few dared speak out against it and those who did had to be careful to couch criticism of HAMAS in heavy anti-Israel rhetoric.
Another thing that becomes apparent to anyone who is familiar with the anti-Israel discourse is that much of the ammunition is provided by liberal Israelis as well as by American and European Jews. Plenty of pro-Arab sites point to Joel Beinin's work on the Middle East as objective; for instance, see his (and Lisa Hajjar's) Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.Pro-Palestinian sites also frequently cite Israeli journalist and social critic Israel Shamir for his outspoken views of Israeli society and policies. Noam Chomsky anyone? It is this Israeli and Jewish soul-searching that brings me back to the subject of my own Zionism.
Israeli and broader Jewish introspection as well as their tolerance of dissent earned my profound respect for Zionism. Here's a nice A-Z list of short articles explaining what I mean by "Zionism." In short, Zionism is what enabled Israel to become a secular democracy and possess the means for peaceful change. I suppose I am a Zionist in the secular tradition of Theodore Herzl, because I want Jews to be able to live as a normal people, neither exiled nor persecuted nor privileged. I want them to have self-determination in their own land, period. The "able to live" part means that Israel must maintain its independence from a Muslim world that is still centuries away from achieving the kind of freedom and tolerance enjoyed in the West. Although the argument that Israel itself has retarded the development of human rights in the Middle East is valid to a certain extent, the region has more serious problems (poor land, poor educational values, poor standard of living, and no tradition of democracy) to overcome than simply a belligerent Jewish presence in the Levant. Meanwhile, the "nor privileged" part means that Israel must atone for its past and present crimes by taking concrete steps to ensure that Palestinians live in peace and freedom, which also means paying for the resettlement of Palestinian refugees. Honest (and I daresay primarily secular) Zionists are necessarily not racist nor are intolerant of other religions, and are therefore capable of implementing these changes.
But like any ideology Zionism can be misinterpreted. Hence the murder, torture, and oppression conducted in Zionism's name. And hence the hateful anti-Zionist reaction among victims of Israeli oppression .Yes, Israel is currently headed by the butcher Ariel Sharon and yes, Israel has a long history of committing atrocities against the Palestinians, as well as creating a discriminatory society, but it is not is a theocracy in any way comparable to the Taliban and it is the inherently tolerant message of mainstream Zionism that will keep from sliding into that abyss.
My experience of working alongside Israeli Jews and Arabs in Tel Aviv shaped my views on Zionism more than anything else. Though plenty of Israeli Jews uttered derogatory remarks against the Arabs and Muslims they never even came close to mirroring the commonplace Arab vilification of Jews. Indeed, Israelis commonly referred to Zionist principles when defending the rights of Palestinians. Shouts of "death to the Arabs" are in principle as un-Zionistic as shouts of "death to the Jews" are un-Islamic or un-American. In Israel the people who justified Baruch Goldstein's 1994 massacre of Muslim worshippers in Hebron constituted a fringe, and I found that mainstream Zionist criticism of Jewish terrorism was loud, unequivocal, and sustained. Meanwhile, I met Israeli Arabs who believed that Zionist principles gave them the right to speak out against and ultimately change bigoted Israeli policies without fear of retribution. It's funny how people who construct vibrant, secular democracies seem to be capable of rational decisions and meaningful dialogue. Dismissing them as genocidal racists gets you nowhere.
As for the task of placing the present violence into the broader historical framework, all I can say is that Israel is a victim as much as it is the aggressor. The Palestinian death toll may be higher, but unlike the Israelis they purposefully target innocents. And, for what it's worth, I can see only one realistic solution to this mess: the Israelis grant the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza full, sustainable self-determination and the Palestinians make it crystal clear that they no longer wish to destroy pre-1967 Israel. Of course there will be sizable groups who will resist, namely extremist Jewish settlers (who will have to leave much of the aforementioned territories) and the Palestinian refugee diaspora that is demanding its (never to be fulfilled) "right to return."