Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Palestinians, Jews and Zionists

Christopher Fonseca, the trade unionist, deserves a public commendation for having made history of sorts in our State. Exactly a week ago, he organized a public meeting in solidarity with the Palestinian people at the Institute Menezes Braganza. This public meeting was perhaps the first ever public meeting in Goa on the Palestinian issue and for this alone he deserves credit. However, Comrade Fonseca didn’t just organize a meeting; he organized a meeting which had the hall overflowing with people. For the Palestinian issue to merit such attention in Goa was truly a commendable feat. For all of this, thank you Comrade!

Despite being a by-and-large politically vibrant place, why is it that till date Goa has failed to respond to the Palestinian issue? The answer could perhaps lie in the Indian framework within which we are imbricated. Ever noticed how the Palestinian issue does not figure as much as it does (and should) in the Indian electronic media? At times you would imagine that the Palestinian crisis doesn’t even exist! This happens for good reason. A friend in a prominent national network tells me that they traveled to Israel only when transported there by the Israeli State (guess whose side of the story they presented?) Another friend, in a rival national network cynically pointed out, that ignoring the Palestinian crisis and representing an Israeli point of view made eminent sense. “This way we can do the same thing to Pakistan no?” She’d hit the nail on the head. In many ways India would like to see herself as a subcontinental Israel, since it allows us similar options for belligerence against our neighbours.

This is not the time however for a comparison between Hindutva and Zionism; that should be left for another column. We ought to evaluate now, a statement made at this historic meeting.

Speaking at the meeting Sheik Hassan displayed to the world, the ignorance of the Goan people regarding the politics of the Middle East. Sheik Hassan sought to take the origins of the conflict way back into Biblical times. It was the Jews, he said, who killed the Prophet Jesus Christ. Now the same people are killing the Palestinians. What else can you expect from the Jews? There ought to have been gasps of horror, followed by shocked silence in the hall. Instead the audience sat on, as placid as a calm lake. Clearly both speaker and audience were mired in the same pool of ignorance. What Sheik Hassan spoke at the meeting was clear and distinct anti-Semitism, Jew-hatred. And before we proceed to defend the rights of the Palestinians against the barbaric depredations of the Israeli state, it is imperative that we clear our confused vision, to see what the real issue is, and cleanse ourselves of this pointless Jew hating.

To begin with, the Jews did not kill Christ. If we want to blame a Jewish cast, then we need to possibly blame the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council that included the High Priest before who Christ was first presented. Even within the Sanhedrin though, there was division as to the question of Christ’s ‘guilt’, so we don’t have a clear-cut culpability of the Sanhedrin. You have only to read the Gospels (though the Gospels themselves are not historical documents telling us an objective political truth) to know that the power of life and death rested not in the hands of the Jewish leadership, but in the hands of the representative of Rome, at that time Pontius Pilate. It was Pontius Pilate who sentenced Christ to death, and dramatically evaded responsibility by washing his hands off the blood of Christ. It is the ensuing act by members of the Sanhedrin that is used to pin the guilt of Christ’s death onto the Jews, the scene where the crowd cries out, ‘His blood be on our heads and on the heads of our children’. In time, this scene was blown out of proportion, especially in the course of the European Middle Ages when it was used to justify acts of routine violence against the Jews. It was not a crazed mob that screamed out these words, but a small coterie that went before Pilate. Surely one does not blame an entire community (even then spread out across the world) for the words of a small and insecure elite?

Sheik Hassan picked on the worst kind of rhetoric he could find to rouse the audience to anger, obfuscated the issue, and for this should be roundly condemned. The problem of Palestine did not begin with the Jews of biblical times, it began much closer in time to us. Secondly, it is not the Jews who are to blame, but the Zionists. As I will seek to elaborate at another point of time, Zionists are primarily Jews, but they are in the thrall of a logic that can extend across religions, including even, Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

Zionism is an ideology that seeks to establish a separate state for the Jewish people, and in the course of its evolution, settled on Palestine as the appropriate location. Zionism, emerged in the context of the racist nationalisms that marked the close the Austro-Hapsburg Empire, when various groups banded themselves into racist categories and demanded their own nation-states. Zionism should be seen in this context, as another kind of racist nationalism, quite divorced from the religious tenets of Judaism. In fact, some of the most bitter opponents of the Israeli state and Zionism are segments of the Orthodox Jewish population. It was God they hold, that dispersed the Jewish peoples from Israel, and it is only the Messiah who will establish the Kingdom of Israel again. To attempt to establish an Israeli State therefore, is to go against the wishes of God. These same groups, point to a shared history, and of peaceful coexistence between Christians, Muslims and Jews prior to the arrival of the Zionists in Palestine. This is a fact; it was only after the arrival of aggressive Zionists, who sough to displace the local Arabs (both Christians and Muslims) that Palestine collapsed into the mess that it has now become. Interestingly, like the key thinkers of Hindutva, most of the founders of Zionism, were not practicing or believing Jews.

However, it is not just religious Jews who oppose the State of Israel, there are other ‘secular’ Jewish voices as well, that oppose the racists and inhuman actions of the Zionist State of Israel. These Jewish voices exist both within the State of Israel, for example the Shministim, the Israeli high school graduates (as young as 18 years of age) who been subjected to repeated jail terms for their principled refusal to serve in the Israeli defence force because of the ongoing Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, the organization ‘Not In Our Name’ and a number of others.

Sheik Hassan’s statements are regrettable, and he would do well to apologize and retract this statement. Unfortunately, his position is one that is shared by a number of Muslims, a position that they would do well to reconsider, since it works to only place them within this absolutely uncritical category of global Muslim. This position leads us nowhere, only to problematic rhetorical positions that eventually paint us into a corner.

Israel is not a Jewish project, it is a Zionist project, all Jews are not Zionist, and not all Zionists Jewish.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 4 Feb 2009)


Anonymous said...

Just a caution - in your note you say that "it is not just religious Jews who oppose the State of Israel", and then you go on to list a number of bodies such as the Shministim. My understanding is that they do not oppose the state per se, but rather refuse to serve in the army primarily because it is an occupying power in the West Bank. Opposing the State and opposing its policies and actions are two very different things.

Anonymous said...


Very thoughtful post - encouraging words in these difficult times.

From a secular non-Zionist Jew in New York who cares deeply about the Palestinians (but also glad to see anti-Semitism kept in check)

Jon (from IHP)