Reader Post: Punk and Zionism
First things first: an introduction. I’m a half-Irish and half-Israeli (or Hebrew, if you prefer) American from New Jersey. I grew up working class, autistic, LGBT, a militant believer in egalitarianism, and acutely aware of my minority status in the West (even to the point of near paranoia, but that’s a story for another time). All of these factors combined resulted in a strong left wing outlook, and eventually led to my affiliation with the anarcho-punk subculture in the United States.
Given my credentials, one might think I’m the last person who would ever align themselves with a movement that has been routinely maligned for the past 30+ years as a “right wing” movement. Not exactly. What may come as a surprise to many people is that Zionism is, in essence, a progressive left wing cause. The association of Zionism with right wing/conservative politics came decades later, after the State of Israel was reborn.
In the 1960’s, the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) began making inroads with the Western progressive left and non-Jewish colored groups living in Europe and North America. They presented themselves as an “indigenous people of color” embroiled in an “anti-colonial” struggle against Jewish “white European invaders”. And, as most of you are no doubt already aware, this narrative is complete BS, but it has since then become the accepted norm among progressives and non-Jewish minority groups. To this day, many progressives are incredulous at best when told that Israel is a beleaguered state built by a returning aboriginal people who share a deep racial and cultural kinship with their Arab brethren (as opposed to being white European newcomers who converted to Judaism at various times and derived their self-conception as the direct descendants of the indigenous Israelite nation from a book of religious fiction and not history). And that’s to say nothing of the large percentage of Israelis who are of Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Lemba, Arab, Druze, and South/East Asian stock.
The United States, whose relationship with Israel at the time was lukewarm at best, immediately took notice of Israel’s successive military victories against her numerous Arab predators, and began to see potential in Israel as a nifty little ally and satellite state in the oil-rich Middle East. This relationship blossomed into an enduring alliance, and as it did, reinforced the growing perception of Israel as a lackey for American/Western imperialism (or more disturbingly, the other way around.
Even more controversial is Israel’s relationship with the apartheid regime of South Africa. Although Israel had always been a harsh critic of South Africa’s racist policies, Israel was desperate for allies and begrudgingly accepted their aid. After the Six Day War, the apartheid regime had become Israel’s only friend on the African continent, and her enemies have never let her live it down, despite South Africa’s equally thriving relations with the United States, Britain, China, Japan, and much of the Arab world. The burgeoning support from hardline evangelical Christians whose support for Israel rests on end of days prophecies and anti-Muslim sentiment certainly doesn’t help either.
Despite my background, I grew up knowing very little about the conflict and the implications it had for diaspora Israelis/Jews all over the world. My family rarely talked about it, and usually avoided the subject. We celebrated the usual Jewish holidays, and I was aware of what had happened to my grandparents in Iraq and Syria, but that’s about it. Although racism had always been a major issue in my life (as I assume it has been for most Jews living in the West), it usually didn’t have anything to do with the events in the Middle East.
Until relatively recently, that is. Fast forward to 2011. This is when I began to notice the anti-Israel animus rapidly taking shape among many of my (now former) friends. I was immediately struck by the aggressive and often antisemitic language they used when discussing Israel. The accusations leveled at her ran the usual gamut from ethnic cleansing to apartheid, genocide, open air prisons, organ harvesting, and of course, conspiracy theories pertaining to the alleged Zionist lobby and its control over the US government (gee, now where have we heard that before?)
What was even more disturbing was their recommended “solutions” to the conflict. Boycotts were suggested, as you might have expected, but unfortunately it didn’t stop there. One fellow in particular implied that the natural outcome of the conflict would be “round 2” in reference to HaShoah. Needless to say, I was stunned, and I cut ties with this so-called “anti-racist” immediately. And he, of course, insinuated that I was being oversensitive and playing up the antisemitism card to silence criticism of Israel.
In another instance, several acquaintances expressed glee at the prospect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons to “even the score” (note: these blokes are all self-professed anti-war and anti-nuclear proliferation activists), despite Iran’s repeated proclamations that the “Zionist entity must be destroyed” and the fact that any nuclear attack on Israel would also affect the Palestinians they purported to care so much about.
This led me to do some more research on the conflict. I began by consulting the usual left wing sites that I had relied upon for just about everything else up to that point. Their opinions were mostly the same as those of my friends, albeit with some significant variations in details, causing me to seriously doubt their credibility on this issue. Eventually, I stumbled upon a site called Engage, an anti-racist blog focused on combating antisemitism in the UK, run by anti-racist scholar David Hirsh. I followed it for a while and explored its archives, which only seemed to confirm what I already knew deep down: that much of what my friends and political idols were saying about Israel amounted to little more than false propaganda, and that much of it was rooted in antisemitic prejudice (conscious or otherwise).
I began to evaluate the Israeli and Palestinian narratives side by side, and tried to sort out what was true and what was not. The results: aside from some rather unfortunate gaffes on Israel’s part vis a vis Yehudah+Shomron/West Bank, the Israeli narrative was consistently much closer to the truth than the Palestinian one. I did some more research on the history of antisemitism as well, particularly the persecution of Jews in Europe, and immediately noticed the parallels.
With all of that in mind, I became vocal in my opposition to both BDS and the systematic incitement against my people, refuting the lies whenever and wherever I could. Needless to say, many of my former friends weren’t exactly thrilled, and with the exception of a few people (most of whom either lived far away or didn’t really bother with the scene anymore), began to distance themselves from me. For the first time in many years, I was completely, utterly alone. In the following months, I had fallen into a deep depression. Excluding some personal details about things that I’ve done in that time span that I’m not particularly proud of, I had hit rock bottom and it wasn’t until early 2012 that I finally began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. After sorting out the aforementioned problems, I gradually began to climb out of the rut I had fallen into. I had been reinvigorated with a newfound passion and determination to fight for justice, and for the rights of my people to the self-determination and dignity that has eluded us for far too long. This fire within my soul has only just begun to burn, and nothing will put it out. For all the accusations of selling out that have been thrown in my direction, I can say with utmost confidence that I am not the one whose morals have been compromised. The far left has more in common with the far right than either would care to admit. They can follow whatever their political gurus have to say without questioning it, but that doesn’t mean I have to.