I’m studying for exams and trying to finish a major paper all in the next few weeks. So instead of posting something original I’ll just post this letter I wrote to the editor of my school paper, and add a comment or two.
This past week was Palestine Awareness Week, when members of Students for Justice in Palestine worked to present facts and viewpoints that run counter to the traditional negative portrayals of Palestinians. As part of the effort, the organization created posters presenting facts about the Israel-Palestine conflict that would surprise most Americans, like facts illustrating the enormous disparities in military strength between the Israeli army and the Palestinian people, and between the magnitude of the crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians and those committed by the Palestinians against Israelis.
Unfortunately, some individual or group, presumably unhappy with this factual presentation, has seen fit to sabotage these signs. Although I have never heard of a pro-Palestinian group sabotaging signs put up by Zionist groups, I have more than once encountered vandalism against pro-Palestinian groups, presumably by Zionist individuals. I suggest that this reflects on the fact that Zionists are insecure in their own political position.
Zionism, born during the heyday of colonialism as a colonial movement, has not successfully adjusted to this postcolonial world. The self-serving nationalist myths that used to pass as truths have been systematically debunked, in most cases by Israeli historians, and are no longer taken seriously in respectable circles. The old racialist caricatures of Israelis and Arabs are too embarrassing, too evocative of the historical racism in this country, for educated Americans to entertain. And though Zionists have spent enormous sums of money on advertising and image management, they have not identified a successful message. Just a couple of years ago, Israel was rated the world’s worst brand by the National Brands Index.
If you read the Zionist press, as I often do, you’ll find that discussions about communication are dominated by concern that the Zionist message is not succeeding among young people, and proposals for how better to “sell” Zionism and Israel to the targeted audiences. This is in stark contrast to discussions in the human rights community, which is concerned about how to break through the media and cultural barriers that prevent the Palestinian side of the story from reaching a mass audience. No wonder, then, that when Palestinian groups take steps to communicate its message, Zionists feel like they have to undermine it through acts of destruction.
This letter got me a request to meet with the director of Hillel, which I shall do on Tuesday.
Originally conceived as an opinion piece, it would have noted, as Edward Said noted in “The Question of Palestine”, that in many respects Zionism is a great success – it’s created a state with a strong economy, powerful military, solid educational sector and arts scene, and at least for Jewish citizens a democracy.
And then there are the reasons it’s a failure, even on its own terms. As Eqbal Ahmad has argued, Israel has created a situation where its survival is premised on the perpetual military and political weakness of the Arab states. As a result, Zionists have failed in their goal of creating a secure safe haven for the Jewish people. It’s also a failure in that its desperate clinging to the program of colonization and conquest is causing serious moral deterioration among Israelis, and very bad publicity outside Israel. In the final calculation, Israel may be a net debit for the Jewish people.
This post was written by Uri on December 1, 2008