Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Overcoming Zionism

Book Review by Beccy Reese, May 2007

Joel Kovel, Pluto Press, £15.99

Kovel's book is not the first of recent times to argue that the current situation of Bantustans, security walls and Jewish-only roads has no possibility of laying the basis for an autonomous Palestine.

He argues that Zionism has created an Israeli state that is prone to racism, a lack of democracy and ecological disaster. The only hope for a peaceful outcome is to create a single democratic state in the whole of what is currently Palestine, Israel and its occupied territories.

In the first section a concise overview shows how Zionism emerged and took on a direction that focused on taking hold of a land whose native population would pose a constant problem for the establishment of a state with a democratic and Jewish character.

The idea that creating a national identity for Jews would solve anti-Semitism drove Zionism to the conclusion that it had to manufacture "a land without a people for a people without a land". This led to the ethnic cleansing so clearly described in Ilan Pappé's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, and the terrorist endeavours of groups like the Stern Gang, who wiped out a good proportion of the British high command in the 1946 King David Hotel bombing.

Most of this is not particularly new ground, having been covered in many excellent critiques of Zionism. A closer examination of how the Jewish state behaves is given in the second part and more eye-opening section of the book.

The balance sheet of what Israel has achieved sits firmly in the negative. Kovel starts by picking apart the often repeated idea that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. While accepting that many states which proclaim to be democratic are a pale reflection of true democracy, the lack of a constitution and the fact that there isn't full equality for all Israeli citizens mean that there is a legitimate questioning of Israeli democratic claims.

Zionists also claim that they have made the desert bloom, while in fact Israel's ecological record is disastrous. Nearly all of Israel's rivers are polluted to lethal levels while asthma rates among children stood at 17 percent in 2002, and a quadrupling of nitrous oxide emissions has been observed since 1980.

Overall the arguments put across are compelling and some of the insights are indeed shocking. In some places there is a tendency for the author to move away from historical and factual analysis towards a more psychological approach, making the book a more complex read at times.

The conclusions are that a society that rests on expropriation and occupation on racist grounds does not benefit either the occupiers or the occupied. To go beyond this is to overcome the ideology and myths of Zionism and imagine what a single secular state would look like.

In arguing to struggle for such a state Kovel is keenly aware of the role that Israel plays within a wider capitalist sphere in terms of its relation to the US, and that there is an invisible hand shaping history that needs to be dislocated.

This detailed description of what a single secular state could look like is fascinatingly useful.

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