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In the name of all Jews

Zionists see Israel’s fight in Gaza as an existential battle for Jewish existence

Middle EastWar ZonesHuman Rights

Teenagers with the United Kibbutz Movement in 1951. Photo from PikiWiki/Wikimedia Commons.

So a few days ago Israel resumed its high-tech blood-and-soil slaughter of Gazans with full US backing—and this time it’s being a lot more explicit about its intent to thin out the population and to push Palestinians out of Gaza and into Egypt and other third-party countries. It’s a grim situation, already close to a thousand have been killed, maybe more, since the renewed bombardment. Something like 1.8 million people have been displaced—that’s 80 percent of the population—before this latest assault began.

I gotta be honest, I’m having a hard time looking at the Twitter feed and watching the slaughter again. I don’t think my Paleolithic hunter-gatherer brain evolved to handle this kind of computer-aided split reality: half of me is teleported to a massacre happening in almost real-time on the other side of the globe—seeing buried bodies, parents carrying their dead children, limbs sticking out the rubble. The other half of me is sitting at home, playing with my daughter, drinking a beer, looking at the mountains, and worrying if the sheep wool insulation I ordered for our attic will be warm enough this winter. Half of my nervous system is on fire, half of it living my mundane life. Internet-induced schizophrenia, bouts of depression, paralysis, anger. I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. And the fucked up thing about it is that I can’t be solipsistic about it, either. Israel is doing this even if I don’t pay attention. And it’s carrying out this slaughter in my name, in the name of all Jews—with the full diplomatic and military support of the United States.

That’s the thing about Israel and Zionism in general: it sucks every Jew into this slaughter, no matter what we think about it. It doesn’t matter if you’re supportive, ambivalent, or hostile—it’s a totalizing nationalist ideology that claims to act in your name. Actually, it doesn’t just claim to act in your name, it demands it.

It might sound like I’m describing a cult or something. But actually Zionism was pretty normal by 19th or early-20th century European standards. It’s just nationalism—Jewish nationalism. It came out of Europe and the Russian Empire and gained popularity as one solution to the ‘Jewish Question’ that was being debated there at the time: are Jews a religious group? A race? Should Jews assimilate and become part of the societies in which they live—to become Russian or German? Why does antisemitism exist?

Jewish nationalism offered an answer: Jews are a race. And because they believed that the only natural and healthy way to organize society is for every race to have its own state, the Jews also needed a state of their own, where they can live and flourish and control their fate—like the English, the French, the Italians, the Germans. Without this Jewish state, Jews in Europe and all over the world would be doomed. They’ll remain hated minorities and experience violence. Even worse: their race will continue to degrade spiritually and culturally, and will eventually disappear altogether.

World Zionist Congress, Geneva, 1939. Photo from Wikmedia Commons.

To Zionists, a Jewish state became the only path to survival of the Jewish race. This wasn’t unique to Zionism. Nationalism and ideas about Darwinian struggles between races was a popular notion in Europe at the time—and it led to some pretty shitty results, Nazi Germany being the best example. One thing that made Jewish nationalism stand out was that it wasn’t about defending land that Jews currently occupied from inferior races. It was about transporting millions of Jews from Europe to a place called Palestine—and once there, purging the land of the locals and restoring what Zionists believed is their rightful ancient Jewish home.

Here’s how Vladimir Jabotinsky—a journalist originally from Odessa who played a big role in setting up the militant right-wing flank of Zionism that ultimately produced Israel’s Likud—wrote about about European Jews and the Land of Israel. The two were one:

…the true kernel of our national uniqueness is the pure product of the Land of Israel. We did not exist before we came to the Land of Israel. The Hebrew people was created from the fragments of other peoples on the soil of the Land of Israel. We grew up in the Land of Israel; on it we became citizens; we strengthened the belief in one God; we breathed in the winds of the land, and in our struggles for independence and sovereignty, its air enwrapped us and the grain that its land produced sustained us. In the Land of Israel the ideas of our prophets were developed and in the Land of Israel the “Song of Songs” was first heard. Everything Hebrew in our midst was given to us by the Land of Israel. Anything else in us is not Hebrew. Israel and the Land of Israel are one. There we were born as a people and there we developed.

Zionism had all sorts of rifts and fissures. But at its core, the movement believed in the same goal and sought to speak collectively for all Jews. It wasn’t about individuals. It was about the race.

So that’s been the main obsession of the movement ever since: the creation and protection of a Jewish state in Palestine. The existence of this state is linked to the survival of the Jewish people. Get rid of one and the other will follow. A Jewish state—a government of Jews, by Jews, for Jews—is the base on which all Zionism rests.

Ideologies impose structure on the way people see the world. They condition reactions and assumptions and interpretations. That’s why Zionist Jews are so freaked out right now. For them October 7 was a shock. The surprise Hamas attack, the killing of innocents, the hostages dragged back to Gaza, the powerlessness of the Israeli military—to them this had nothing to do with the violence that the Zionist quest for land foisted on Palestinians, it was a reminder of the atavistic horror that always plagued Jewish people: Jews are hated just for being Jewish. Existence is never guaranteed.

And as they looked around after the attack, they saw more sympathy for Palestinian suffering than they ever have before: pro-Palestinian protests and marches, college kids on Instagram and TikTok posting about Israel’s occupation and apartheid. All over the world, people were criticizing Israel. In their minds, they saw this as people going after the Jews. This only reaffirmed their fears and deepened their convictions: the ancient hatred is still there. Israel is our only refuge, the only thing that can protect us.

Survival of the Jews. That’s what they believe Israel is fighting for in Gaza. They think they’re warding off a mortal enemy, an enemy that seeks to destroy the Jewishness of Israel. And so nothing is off limits to them—no number of babies or children killed is too high, no destruction is too great. There are no innocents in a war of survival between competing races. The innocent baby of today will grow into a fierce enemy who will want to exterminate them tomorrow. It’s a zero-sum world. They really do believe it. The survival of the race is at stake.

That’s why various Israeli officials and Zionist influencers and historians have been out in force defending Israel’s systematic destruction of Gaza by calling out Western hypocrisy. They point to the fact that during the Second World War the Allies knowingly inflicted horrific destruction on Germany’s civilian targets for the sake of victory over Nazism. They were fine with incinerating Dresden—turning a city filled with refugees and children into an outdoor furnace with hurricane force winds that sucked people out basements and shot them into the fire—for the sake of ensuring the survival of a liberal Western democratic order. And yet now these same societies that did this are being squeamish and chastizing Israel about bombing Gaza? Israel is fighting a war of survival, just like the Allies were back then against pure evil incarnate—“Nazi Hamas.”

A lot of people have scoffed at this line of thinking. It was ridiculous to compare Hamas’s Gaza—a poor penned-in strip of land under brutal military occupation populated in large part by Palestinian refugees who had already been pushed off their land by Israel—to Nazi Germany, an industrialized European power with a very clearly defined mission to conquer Europe, eradicate Jews and other untermenschen, and turn most of the former Russian Empire into a slave colony with plantations and Black Sea beach resorts for purebred Germans. It’s a joke. Gaza is the victim, a ghetto for the displaced since 1948 and controlled by Israel since 1967.

Like a lot of people, I thought this Nazi analogy was just a rhetorical strategy deployed to confuse Western audiences. But now I don’t think it was. In the current Zionist worldview, the Palestinian fight for liberation is an attack on the Jewish people. They really think it’s genocidal.

This logic is also why Zionist Jews interpret even the most moderate outside support for Palestinian rights or Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation as genocidal intent against the Jews. In the grips of their nationalist ideology, they see any possible threat to the Jewish-majority state as a threat to the race, to the whole people, to all the Jews in the diaspora. The state is linked with the race—an attack on one is an attack on us all.

This genocidal fear extends to other Jews, as well. A lot of Jews have been critical of Zionism and increasingly uncomfortable with Israel’s need to violently maintain an ethnostate. Zionists have long hated anti-Zionist Jews. But after October 7 this hate has reached unseen levels. There have been calls for what amounts to an ad hoc excommunication of Jews from the ‘Community of Jews’ for even most mild criticism of Israel’s conduct in Gaza. It might sound crazy to outsiders but it’s true. That’s because Zionists see Israel’s fight in Gaza as an existential battle for Jewish existence. And if you don’t support this fight, you’re against the Jews. That makes you irredeemable and not a Jew, even if you are legally Jewish by Israel’s maternal bloodline obsessed rabbinical court. These calls have been coming not from some ultra-orthodox settler extremists but from respectable leaders of Israeli and American-Jewish organizations. These people have been absolutely going crazy. They’ve been condemning us Jews who criticize Israel to the lowest pits of hell.

That’s what I mean when I say Zionists want to act in the name of all Jews. They try to take away your Jewish status if you go against them.

To be continued…

Yasha Levine is a Soviet-American investigative journalist.

This article originally appeared on Yasha Levine’s Substack page.


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