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by tobybee

a wise friend once wrote (to paraphrase broadly) about how he is in a process of decolonising himself from zionism. since reading that i’ve found it a really useful frame through which to think about my own relationship to zionism. it’s clear that i was once a zionist and that i am no longer. but that means one thing at the level of politics, ethics and identity, and another at an affective level.

i am very comfortable saying that i think that zionism is bad for palestinians, bad for israelis, and bad for jews (amongst other groups of people). it is important to me that i identify as a non-zionist (or an anti-zionist, or a post-zionist, depending on my mood): all of them indicate a relationship to zionism. that is, i think it’s important that i maintain a political and jewish identity that includes and articulates a statement about zionism. partly, this is because israel claims to act in my name, and even though i might disavow that claim, the claim still exists. and while (obviously) silence is not consent, there is something morally ambiguous, i think, to let that state claim exist out there in the world and not actively refute it. so perhaps my continued public articulation of my relationship serves to buttress that claim in some way (that is, i would only need to refute something because there is a claim being made that i fear on some level has some legitimacy). but i feel it’s important, for me personally in any case, that i deny it.

partly, it’s because while i maintain an affirmative identity position – that of diasporist – through which to name an alternative vision, it’s also important for me to name that reactive, negative position. i am anti-nationalist in general, but there’s also something importantly specific about a jew being anti-zionist (which is also why it annoys me when non-jews say that they’re specifically anti-zionist: if you’re a non-jew and oppose jewish nationalism, but not other nationalisms, then you should probably check yourself for antisemitism).

and partly, because it is still something i’m working through, an identity that had a powerful presence in my life for most of my history.

i’m in sydney this weekend, and so i went to the gaza solidarity rally held there today. it was profoundly moving at times: to see so many people, to hear the names read out of those palestinians who were murdered, to hear descriptions of what was done, to listen to people from various other different groups – indigenous, jewish, christian, union – make claims for solidarity and connection.

and there was much chanting, of course. one of the key chants that came up, and comes up at so many of these rallies, is ‘from the river to the sea, palestine will be free’. every time i hear it i shudder. it’s the one i don’t, i can’t, join in on.

and i stood there today trying to think about why (as i do whenever that chant comes up). i don’t know that i have it figured out. i think it might be that it’s reminiscent to me of israeli claims for control, or for the existence of the state of israel from the river to the sea. and those claims are always already genocidal, i feel. when it’s turned around, there’s something that sticks in my back, that makes me worried that it doesn’t lose its genocidal impulse from a mere reversal. i think that’s the closest i’ve come to understanding why. but that feeling in my back remains, and i’m not sure that my analysis of what the chant contains is at all fair.

so i come back to this idea of decolonising my mind and my soul from zionism.

i recognise also that at an affective level, those tears that well up when i hear spoken plainly what israel does are mostly brought by a sadness and anger for palestinians, but (if i am honest) are tears also for my former self (i fear how i would have responded to these latest attacks had i witnessed them 10 years ago). at an affective and deeply embarrassing level, zionism’s hold still has some purchase.

and so the project of decolonising myself from zionism continues. it’s hard to undo most of a lifetime of feeling.