It is tempting
to celebrate the creation of Israel as a great triumph, perhaps
the greatest in Jewish history. Indeed, the history of Israel
has often been read as the heroic saga of a people marked for
extinction, who emerged from Nazi death camps - from Auschwitz,
Belzec and Treblinka - to establish their own state in 1948, a
Jewish haven and a democracy that has prospered even as it has
defended itself valiantly against unceasing Arab threats and aggression.
Without taking away anything from the sufferings of European Jews,
I will insist that this way of thinking about Israel - apart from
its mythologizing - has merit only as a partisan narrative. It
seeks to insulate Israel against the charge of a devastating colonization
by falsifying history, by camouflaging the imperialist dynamics
that brought it into existence, and denying the perilous future
with which it now confronts the Jews, the West and the Islamic
When we examine
the consequences that have flowed from the creation of Israel,
when we contemplate the greater horrors that may yet flow from
the logic of Zionism, Israel's triumphs appear in a different
We are forced to examine these triumphs with growing dread and
incredulity. Israel's early triumphs, though real from a narrow
Zionist standpoint, have slowly mutated by a fateful process into
ever-widening circles of conflict that now threaten to escalate
into major wars between the West and Islam. Although this conflict
has its source in colonial ambitions, the dialectics of this conflict
have slowly endowed it with the force and rhetoric of a civilizational
war: and perhaps worse, a religious war.
This is the
tragedy of Israel. It is not a fortuitous tragedy. Driven by history,
chance and cunning, the Zionists wedged themselves between two
historical adversaries, the West and Islam, and by harnessing
the strength of the first against the second, it has produced
the conditions of a conflict that has grown deeper over time.
Zionist project to create a
Jewish state in Palestine possessed the
unique power to convert two
historical antagonists, Jews and Gentiles,
into allies united in a common imperialist
enterprise against the Islamic world.
describes the emergence of Israel as a triumph over Europe's centuries-old
anti-Semitism, in particular over its 20th-century manifestation,
the demonic, industrial plan of the Nazis to stamp out the existence
of the Jewish people. But this is a tendentious reading of Zionist
history: it obscures the historic offer Zionism made to the West
- the offer to rid the West of its Jews, to lead them out of Christendom
into Islamic Palestine.
In offering to 'cleanse' the West of the 'hated Jews,' the Zionists
were working with the anti-Semites, not against them. Theodore
Herzl, the founding father of Zionism, had a clear understanding
of this complementarity between Zionism and anti-Semitism; and
he was convinced that Zionism would prevail only if anti-Semitic
Europe could be persuaded to work for its success. It is true
that Jews and anti-Semites have been historical adversaries, that
Jews have been the victims of Europe's religious vendetta since
Rome first embraced Christianity.
However, Zionism would enter into a new relationship with anti-Semitism
that would work to the advantage of Jews. The insertion of the
Zionist idea in the Western discourse would work a profound change
in the relationship between Western Jews and Gentiles. In order
to succeed, the Zionists would have to create a new adversary,
common to the West and the Jews. In choosing to locate their colonial-settler
state in Palestine - and not in Uganda or Argentina - the Zionists
had also chosen an adversary that would deepen their partnership
with the West. The Islamic world was a great deal more likely
to energize the West's imperialist ambitions and evangelical zeal
than Africa or Latin America.
the product of a partnership that seems unlikely at first blush,
between Western Jews and the Western world. It is the powerful
alchemy of the Zionist idea that created this partnership. The
Zionist project to create a Jewish state in Palestine possessed
the unique power to convert two historical antagonists, Jews and
Gentiles, into allies united in a common imperialist enterprise
against the Islamic world.
The Zionists harnessed the negative energies of the Western world
- its imperialism, its anti-Semitism, its Crusading nostalgia,
its anti-Islamic bigotry, and its deep racism - and focused them
on a new imperialist project, the creation of a Western surrogate
state in the Islamic heartland.
wounded and humiliated Islamic
world, more resentful and determined
after every defeat, has been driven to
embrace increasingly radical ideas
and methods to recover its dignity
and power - and to attain this
recovery on the strength of
Islamic ideas. This destabilizing
dialectic has now brought the West
itself into a direct confrontation
against the Islamic world. We are now
staring into the precipice. Yet do we
possess the will to pull back from it?
To the West's
imperialist ambitions, this new colonial project offered a variety
of strategic advantages. Israel would be located in the heart
of the Islamic world; it would sit astride the junction of Asia,
Africa and Europe; it would guard Europe's gateway to the Indian
Ocean; and it could monitor developments in the Persian Gulf with
its vast reserves of oil.
For the West as well as Europe's Jews, this was a creative moment:
indeed, it was a historical opportunity. For European Jews, it
was a stroke of brilliance. Zionism was going to leverage Western
power in their cause. As the Zionist plan would unfold, inflicting
pain on the Islamic world, evoking Islamic anger against the West
and Jews, the complementarities between the two would deepen.
In time, new complementarities would be discovered - or created
- between the two antagonist strains of Western history. In the
United States, the Zionist movement would give encouragement to
evangelical Protestants - who looked upon the birth of Israel
as the fulfillment of end-time prophecies - and convert them into
fanatic partisans of Zionism. In addition, Western civilization,
which had hitherto traced its central ideas and institutions to
Rome and Athens, would be repackaged as a Judeo-Christian civilization.
This reframing not only underscores the Jewish roots of the Western
world, it also makes a point of emphasizing that Islam is the
outsider, the adversary.
its success solely to this unlikely partnership. On their own,
the Zionists could not have gone anywhere. They could not have
created Israel by bribing or coercing the Ottomans into granting
them a charter to colonize Palestine. Despite his offers of loans,
investments, technology and diplomatic expertise, Theodore Herzl
was repeatedly rebuffed by the Ottoman Sultan.
It is even less likely that the Zionists could at any time have
mobilized a Jewish army in Europe to invade and occupy Palestine,
against Ottoman and Arab opposition to the creation of a Jewish
state on Islamic lands. The Zionist partnership with the West
was indispensable for the creation of a Jewish state.
This partnership was also fateful. It produced a powerful new
dialectic, which has encouraged Israel, both as the political
center of the Jewish Diaspora and the chief outpost of the West
in the heart of the Islamic world, to become more daring in its
designs against the Islamic world and beyond. In turn, a wounded
and humiliated Islamic world, more resentful and determined after
every defeat, has been driven to embrace increasingly radical
ideas and methods to recover its dignity and power - and to attain
this recovery on the strength of Islamic ideas.
This destabilizing dialectic has now brought the West itself into
a direct confrontation against the Islamic world. We are now staring
into the precipice. Yet do we possess the will to pull back from
here for other articles by M. Shahid Alam:
Not All Terrorists Are Muslim
Israel, The U.S. And The New Orientalism
The Muslims America Loves
Real Men Go To Tehran
Did Thomas Friedman Flunk History
Shahid Alam, professor of economics at a university in Boston,
is also a regular contributor to CounterPunch.org. Some of
his CounterPunch essays are now available
in the book, Is There An Islamic Problem? (Kuala Lumpur: The
Other Press, 2004). He is also the author of Challenging the
New Orientalism: Dissenting Essays on America's 'War
Against Islam' (IPI Publications: 2006 forthcoming).He may
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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