‘Zionist’: the worst insult in the world
Among the Western chattering classes, ‘the Zionist’ has replaced 'the Jew' as the cause of the world's ills.
Speaking to the Jewish Chronicle newspaper recently, UK Labour Party leader Ed Miliband reportedly claimed to be a Zionist. The article in the JC read: ‘Ed Miliband: “I’m a Zionist and oppose boycotts of Israel”.’
However, Miliband’s self-identification as a Zionist lasted less than 24 hours. He has since clarified that he was responding in the affirmative to the question ‘Are you a Zionist?’ with the answer ‘Yes, I am a supporter of Israel’. He would not actually describe himself as a Zionist, though, he now says.
It seems Miliband is prepared to proclaim his support for Israel as a Jewish state. He supports the idea of that state as a homeland for the Jews. Yet the ideology that is associated with the creation of the state and with the larger project of creating a permanent Jewish homeland – Zionism – is something he is reluctant to sign up to.
The reason for Miliband’s reluctance is pretty obvious: Zionism is no longer simply a term denoting a particular ideology. A Zionist is no longer just someone who supports the creation of a Jewish homeland. Rather, Zionism has become a term of abuse, the worst term of abuse there is in modern, right-thinking circles; the word Zionism is now used to denote something deeply sinister, something beyond the pale of bien pensant civilisation. A Zionist is now imagined as an evil shadowy figure, eating babies while playing puppetmaster of world politics.
It is no longer publicly acceptable to call yourself a Zionist. This wasn’t always the case. In the postwar era, it was often claimed that the further left-wing you were within the Labour Party, the more of a Zionist you were (1). Former Labour minister Tony Benn, who you are likely to see at demonstrations denouncing Israel and/or Zionism these days, used to write for the Labour Zionist magazine, Jewish Vanguard.
Since then, however, the view of Zionism has changed. Zionism is now likened to Nazism. It is apparently a genocidal, fascistic ideology. Zionism is described as European-style colonialism, the ideology of a ‘colonial-settler state’. Zionism is no longer viewed as one nationalism among many, but rather, in the words of John Pilger, as an ‘expansionist, lawless and racist ideology’. Zionism is viewed as peculiarly evil and particularly racist; so much so, in fact, that many Western nation states (which are obviously so morally upstanding…) are called upon to put pressure on the state of Israel to clean up its act.
Everything that is disagreeable and connected to Israel is alleged to be an outgrowth of the perniciously evil ideology of Zionism. Anti-Arab racism among Israeli football-club ultras is viewed as part of Zionist ideology. The recent opposition to African migrants in Tel Aviv was viewed as the result of racist Zionists wishing to retain Israel’s Jewish character, despite the fact that many modern European, distinctly non-Zionist states also have unfounded fears and loathing of migrants.
In the same way that, to European anti-Semites in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ‘the Jew’ came to symbolise something more than simply a Jewish person, so a ‘Zionist’ is no longer simply a person who believes in Zionism – he’s an evil menace to the world, to peace, to Western values. Just as ‘the Jew’ became a demonic abstraction upon which the simple-minded could blame the ills of the world, so ‘the Zionist’ plays a similar role today.
To call oneself a Zionist now is to invite a torrent of abuse. While Ed Miliband supports Israel, he realised quickly that calling oneself a Zionist is akin to calling oneself a racist or an enemy of civilisation. The Zionist is now the imagined source of every problem in the Middle East, and a great many of the problems around the world.