Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Nick Cohen pretty much sums up how I feel. No matter how ambivalent I might be about what Jewish identity is, I would never deny I was Jewish to somebody using it as a way to undermine my argument.
The confusion comes when the word ‘Zionist’ is used in the same way. ‘Zionist’, ‘Jew’ and ‘Israeli’ are frequently conflated. Here is an example from the Palestine Chronicle in which somebody expresses their worry about the influence of Israel in Westminster by counting Jews in the Houses of Parliament. There are many other examples. When Israel goes to war, Jews get hit out at across the world. In the eyes of the hitters, they are legitimate proxy targets.
For a growing number on the British Left, there can no more be shades of Zionism than shades of apartheid. To them, Zionism is absolutely different from the nationalism they respect in Palestinians. Rather it is regarded as the most virulent racism. In fact, there are many shades of Zionism, ranging from a yearning not to live as a precarious minority, to an untenable religious claim to the land from the river and the sea, and many other views in between. Many Zionists are trying to work out a way to live in a state for Jews and its people – as ratified in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
So while it is good, as Nick Cohen urges, to advocate for Israel on grounds other than the enhanced credibility of not being Jewish, it is important, when called a ‘Zionist’ to remember to challenge:”What do you mean by Zionist“?
But it is also important for campaigners – particularly those hostile to Israel in the way that Nick Cohen describes – to understand that a sense of one’s own Jewishness, or a sense that one is perceived as Jewish, in combination with hostility to Jews, is likely to engender some form of Zionism.