Israel

Will Zionism survive the war?

Author: Editors Desk, Opinion by Yuval Noah Harari Source: The Washington Post
May 14, 2024 at 06:26
A woman stands with an Israeli flag during a two-minute siren in memory of victims of the Holocaust, in Jerusalem, May 6. (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)
A woman stands with an Israeli flag during a two-minute siren in memory of victims of the Holocaust, in Jerusalem, May 6. (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

Yuval Noah Harari is the author of “Sapiens,” “Homo Deus” and “Unstoppable Us” and a professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

As Israel marks its 76th anniversary this week under the shadow of the Oct. 7 massacre and the Israel-Gaza war, the country’s underlying Zionist ideology is being called into question. Various groups distort and weaponize the term “Zionism,” depicting it as a malignant form of tribalism or even racism. To understand current developments in Israel, as well as the country’s tumultuous history, it is necessary to clarify what Zionism has really meant over its 150 years of existence.

Born in the late 19th century, modern Zionism is a national movement similar to the ones that arose during the same period among Greeks, Poles and many other peoples. The key idea of Zionism is that Jews constitute a nation, and as such they have not just individual human rights but also a national right to self-determination. Nothing in this Zionist idea implies that Jews are superior to others, whether they are Greeks or Poles — or Palestinians. Nor does the idea that Jews constitute a nation necessarily deny the existence of a Palestinian nation with a right to self-determination, or the human rights of individual Palestinians.

The equation of Zionism with racism — an allegation that persists long after a 1991 United Nations’ resolution revoked a previous resolution to that effect — is therefore not only false, but is itself tainted with racism. Proscribing Zionism implies that Jews can have no legitimate national aspirations, unlike all other peoples. When one of the leaders of the recent protests at Columbia University claimed that “Zionists don’t deserve to live,” he was, in effect, arguing that Jews who harbor national aspirations should be systematically killed. When other protesters chanted slogans such as “We don’t want no Zionists here,” perhaps they thought they were expressing hostility toward racism, but they were in fact calling for the harassment and expulsion of any Jews who possess national sentiments.

Of course, some Zionists — like adherents of all other national movements — can be racists or bigots. Relations between nations are often fraught with tensions, hatreds and even atrocities, particularly when they have conflicting territorial demands. Almost every national movement in history has included hard-liners making maximalist demands and moderates willing to compromise. Zionism is no exception.

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