In my real life away from the web I sometimes take on projects to do with the making of stage scenery and costumes for amateur productions or fancy dress parties. It’s not difficult to persuade an audience that they are in a medieval castle or aboard a pirate ship; one simply has to identify the specific elements which most people associate with the subject at hand and incorporate them into one’s design scheme. Details are not important and in fact often detract; the essential thing is to create an instant atmosphere, a defining overall first impression. After that, the audience’s imagination can be relied upon to do the rest of the work.
Reading Khaled Diab’s CiF article of July 2nd it crossed my mind that he might be rather good at making stage scenery. Rather deftly he creates an atmosphere of ‘Zionism equals colonialism’ without allowing any details and facts deemed unnecessary from his point of view to detract from the overall impression he is trying to make. Let’s examine how he does it from the beginning.
“The Zionist vision of a “return” to the promised land has been both a dream come true and a nightmare.”
The use of parenthesis around the word return is obviously designed to cast doubts in the reader’s mind as to whether the Jews actually have an historic basis for their claim to Israel, but in addition Diab does something else here too. He discards 2,000 years of Jewish connection with and yearning to return to Israel; the daily prayers, the words of the Pesach Seder ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ said annually by every Jew in the world for thousands of years, the fact that all the Jewish holidays are intertwined with the seasonal changes in Israel and events in its history, the references to Jerusalem and the Temple at every Jewish wedding ceremony for millennia. Instead, Diab tries to connect Jews returning to Israel with Zionism alone because whilst Western Leftist conventional wisdoms may balk at the criticism of religion or ethnic traditions, they have no such niceties when it comes to Zionism; after all, they’re “not anti-Jewish, just anti-Zionist”. But the fact that for 2,000 years Diaspora Jews, whether they happened to be situated in Alaska or the Sahara, still celebrated the flowering of the almond trees in Israel on a specific day in the month of Shvat cannot be dismissed as a product of Zionism.
“However, unlike in Palestine where Jews represented a tiny minority of the population, “
Diab gives us no date for this supposed fact, and of course fails to mention that population statistics for the region prior to 1948 are notoriously unreliable due to numerous factors. However, it is generally accepted that in 1947 Jews made up some 33% of the total population – hardly a ‘tiny minority’ – and who knows how many more would have lived there (and how many lives could have been saved) had the British not limited Jewish immigration before, during and after the war years due to Arab pressure. Neither, of course, does Diab raise the issue of Arab immigration to Palestine during the Mandate years, despite the findings of the Hope–Simpson commission in 1930 which spoke of “uncontrolled illegal immigration from Egypt, Transjordan and Syria” or the fact that an estimated further 18,000 non-Jews immigrated between 1930 and 1939. Not by chance is the British Governor of Sinai from 1922 to 1936 quoted as saying “… it is very difficult to make a case out for the misery of the Arabs if at the same time their compatriots from adjoining states could not be kept from going in to share that misery.” Neither does Diab make clear the fact that within the areas allocated to the Jews under the Partition plan, they were the majority, just as Arabs were the majority in the areas allocated to them, and therefore had Partition been accepted by the Palestinians, they would have by now been celebrating 62 years of autonomy.
Throughout his whole piece, Diab deliberately ignores the rather glaring fact that if the will to return to their homeland was a constant motif for Jews throughout 2,000 years of life in the Diaspora, both the Eastern European pogroms of the 19th century and the events of the Holocaust, including the world’s somewhat lackadaisical reaction to the disaster which befell the Jewish people, made that will a clear necessity. Instead Diab chooses to put it down to nostalgia and romance so as not to suggest that there may have been concrete reasons for the urgent need for a Jewish homeland.
“I imagine that the draw is partly nostalgic, the kind of romanticising of an idyllic past that so many of us humans are prone to.”
Next, having established in the mind of the reader that it is Zionism which is responsible for these whimsical notions of a Jewish connection to Israel, Diab introduces the real point of his article; the equation of Zionism to colonialism.
“efforts to “return home” can bear a striking resemblance to colonialism, with the once-oppressed playing the role of oppressors.”
This, of course, is something which Diab knows full well that his post-colonial liberal Left readership will lap up. The trouble is that neither he nor his readers seem to ask themselves how Israel can possibly fit into the definition of colonialism which includes “the building and maintaining of colonies in one territory by people based elsewhere”. Jewish people immigrating to Mandate Palestine or to the fledgling Israeli state were not ‘based elsewhere’. They had in fact for the most part been most clearly rejected by their former countries of residence, whether in Europe or the Arab world. Unlike for instance the British in India, they did not come for a certain period of time in order to take advantage of profits to be made, whilst sending their children to be educated back in the motherland. Neither were they dedicated to the expansion of any empire or intent upon forcing the local population to adopt their world view, religion or way of life. The majority came because they had no alternative; the new State of Israel was the only country which really wanted them.
Diab signs off with a thinly veiled call for a one-state ‘solution’.
“And it is the contemporary remnants of this colonial legacy that need to be dismantled if a more just future is to be created.”
It is always interesting that proponents of the erroneous concept of Zionism as colonialism seem to be capable of idealising the situation in Mandate and pre-Mandate Palestine to such a degree that they turn a blind eye to the colonialist nature both of the British who, together with the French, carved up the region to serve their own interests, and of the Ottoman Empire which preceded the Mandate. By the same token, how convenient it is for them to ignore the fact that the contemporary Islamist calls for the re-establishment of the Caliphate (including those of the Hamas charter) are in fact a call in favour of the same model of colonialism which Western liberals claim to reject when facilitated by Europeans. Of course these are usually the same people who whilst deploring and condemning Israeli and Jewish nationalism find nothing objectionable about Palestinian nationalism and willingly chant ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ on a rainy Manchester street, or, like Diab, knowingly push for a ‘solution’ which will create more problems and conflicts than already exist.
Khaled Diab and the commissioners of his articles at the Guardian are setting the stage for a tragedy the likes of which has yet to be seen by crafting the background scenery which is designed to persuade their audience that the Jewish State is a colonialist project which deserves to be dismantled whilst they watch from the wings. What they have yet to grasp is that Israel is only the prologue in this drama.