Monday, June 29, 2009

The myth of Zionist imperialism

Op-Ed By ELI KAVON, from The Jerusalem Post:The myth of imperial Zionists

Yehuda Alkalai is one of Jewish history's remarkable figures. Fifty years before Theodor Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress in 1897, Alkalai was agitating for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Alkalai, a rabbi who served the community in the capital of Serbia, was influenced by the events occurring around him. The Damascus Blood Libel in 1840 - the Muslim authorities framed, arrested and tortured the leaders of the Syrian Jewish community for ritually murdering a priest - convinced him that Jews needed a haven from anti-Semitism.

Yehudah Alkalai.

Yehudah Alkalai.

But there was another factor in Alkalai's Zionist quest that cannot be ignored: The Serbs were staging a national rebellion against their overlords, the Ottoman Empire. This fight against Islamic imperialism inspired him to ask why Jews were not engaged in a battle for their own national independence.

Delegates at the UN and professors on university campuses worldwide brand the State of Israel the creation of a racist and colonialist European imperialism. This libel of the Jewish state betrays an ignorance of the history of the Jews and the story of the Zionist movement. From the beginning, the Zionist movement has been a foe of imperialism. Rebellions of national independence against the Ottoman and Russian empires influenced precursors of the Zionist movement, such as Alkalai and Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer. Moses Hess, a socialist, looked toward Garibaldi's Italy as his inspiration for a Jewish homeland in Israel.

Herzl's concept of a Jewish state was based on the 19th-century liberal European nation-state. Even Vladimir Jabotinksy, an admirer of Mussolini's fascist regime, always stressed the influence of democracy on his political ideology. No major Zionist leader or thinker ever claimed that Zionism's goals were the imperialist domination of any other people. The accusation made by enemies of Israel that the Jewish state is an imperialist outpost of the West in the Middle East is a lie.

If the Zionist founders of the State of Israel were, indeed, imperialists, what empire did they represent? The pioneers who founded the modern State of Israel were young men and women who were fleeing pogroms and poverty in the Russian Pale of Settlement. It is true that Zionist founders such as Herzl looked toward imperial powers such as Britain and the Ottomans to back the building of a Jewish state. It is true that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 committed British imperialists to the creation of a Jewish home in Palestine. In the end, however, the British Empire betrayed the Jews of Europe to curry favor with the Arab world. It shut the gates of Jewish immigration to Palestine, abandoning the Jews to their fate in Nazi-occupied Europe.

THOSE WHO claim the Zionists have always been imperialists are actually racists. They deny the fact that although Jews lived in Europe and resembled the white-skinned Europeans with whom they lived, the Christians of Europe never believed Jews could ever be true Germans or Frenchmen. For more than a millennium, Christians and Muslims persecuted Jews, branding them inferiors and social outcasts, not caring what the color of Jewish skin was. We forget that racism is not only an issue of color. The Nazi regime destroyed 6 million Jews based on vile and false theories of Aryan racial superiority.

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