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Non-Zionism: an Under-Recognised Non-Position

August 30, 2009 – 4:47 pm59 Comments

non-zionismBy Anthony Frosh

In the current political discourse of the Jewish Diaspora, we often see the Zionist camp pitted against the anti-Zionist camp.  This dyad is of course a gross reduction of the diversity of opinion on (and relationship with) Israel to be found within our community.

For starters, amongst the Zionists there is an enormous range of opinion and attitude.  For example, there are those whose rule of thumb is to support the policies of the democratically elected Israeli government (regardless of which party is in power), and there are those who are willing to be critical of the government, whether their criticism comes from the right or (more often than not) from the left.  There may well be diversity of political opinion amongst the anti-Zionist camp as well, although I am less aware of it. (Editor’s note: Perhaps someone out there would like to write an article on this).

However, there is one position (or non-position, as it may better be described) that is rarely acknowledged.  And this is what I like to call the non-Zionist position.

There is a huge difference between anti-Zionism and non-Zionism.  Allow me to illustrate with a description of some genuine non-Zionist Jews that I know.  They celebrate the Shabbat, they celebrate the festivals, and they participate in Jewish life-cycle events, but they do not concern themselves with Israel or Middle-East politics.  Typically, they do not have any interest in geo-politics.  They frequently have not even visited Israel, and do not send their children to youth movements or Israel programs.   However, their reasons for not visiting Israel have nothing to do with a boycott; rather, it is simply disinterest.  In fact, it is disinterest that most characterizes their relationship with Israel, or lack thereof.   They don’t kvell over Israel’s successes, but they also do not feel shame, nor defensiveness, about Israel’s perceived failures.

Most importantly, while they might be disinterested in Israel, they are probably even more disinterested in Palestinians, complaints by anti-Israel NGOs, and the whole boycott Israel movement.  Theirs is a Jewish identity that predates modern Zionism, and hence also has nothing to do with anti-Zionism.  Despite the fact I myself fairly strongly identify with Israel and Zionism, I have no problem at all with the true non-Zionist position.  I cannot say the same for the anti-Zionist position.

For whatever reason (and this is somewhat of a side-point), almost all the genuine non-Zionists I know are not of Ashkenazic background.  This could be due to random chance or some other selection bias, but I suspect that there is something that makes Jews of Ashkenazi background more likely to take on a Zionist or anti-Zionist position.  Perhaps it is because the Occidental diaspora was typically a more foreign and hostile land to the Jewish people than the Oriental diaspora, at least prior to the development of Arab nationalism and later Islamic fundamentalism well into the 20th century.  This reality, as well as the fact that the nation-state idea grew out of Europe, is why modern Zionism developed initially out of the European capitals, and not Iraq, Persia, Morocco, Egypt, or Syria etc.

Acknowledging that not all Australian Jews fall into Zionist or anti-Zionist camps would better represent the true diversity of the community. In addition, it suggests that not all Jewish organizations need to take a position on Zionism.

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