Jews, Judaism And Jewishness: The People, The Religion, The Ideology
24 December 2010
By Gilad Atzmon
defines itself as the ‘Jewish state' we are entitled
to consider what the word ‘Jewish' stands for.
I tend to differentiate between three distinct (yet
occasionally confusing) categories.
1. Jews - the people
2. Judaism - the religion
3. Jewishness - the ideology
During my study of Zionism, Jewish politics,
'identity politics' and culture, I have managed to
avoid embroiling myself in the complexity involved
with the first category -- I do not deal with Jews as
a race or an ethnicity. I also
generally avoid dealing with Judaism (the religion).
In fact, I am the first to admit that the only Jewish
collective to support the Palestinians, are groups
that exist within the Torah Jews. That such groups
support Palestinian self-determination and autonomy is
proof enough that aspects of religious Judaism can be
interpreted as emphasising ethical precepts.
However -- I am very critical of what I view as
'Jewish ideology, and I am also critical of what I
consider to be 'Jewish identity politics.'
'Jewish ideology' is basically an amalgam
of racially orientated exclusive arguments. It is
fuelled by assumptions about 'ethno'-centric
supremacy, and ideas such as ‘choseness'.
Being a tribal setting then, Jewish ideology defies
equality. It also opposes universalism. The followers
of that ideology tend to believe that they are
somewhat different and even better (chosen)
than non Jews. And much Jewish political activity is a
formulation, and expression of a tribal exclusive club
that demands a ‘Jews only' entry card.
It is important to note that Jewish ideology and
Zionism are not entirely the same -- In fact,
Zionism should be seen as just one manifestation
of Jewish ideology. Though Israel is the fruit
of the Zionist project -- it is vital to realise
that Zionism does not drive Israeli politics or
ideology. In fact, Zionism is largely a Diaspora
While early Zionism presented itself as a promise
to ‘resolve the Galut ' (Diaspora)
by ‘transforming' the Diaspora Jew into an ‘authentic
civilised' human being -- it is important to remember
that the last few generations of Israelis have been
born in Zion (Palestine) and are,
therefore, not entirely shaped by Zionist ideologies.
From a Zionist perspective, the modern Israeli is
then, a ‘post-revolutionary' subject. And indeed, I
myself, amongst millions of other Israelis, joined the
Israeli army because we were Jews -- not
because we were Zionists.
Israelis do, however, follow what
I define as Jewish ideology -- They practise and
perform a number of different measures that are there
to maintain Jewish exclusivity on the land. When
94% of Israeli Jews supported IDF's murderous tactics
against Gazans at the time of Operation Cast Lead, it
wasn't Zionism that motivated them. It was the total
lack of empathy with other human beings. It
was blindness towards others. It was supremacy
and chauvinism; or, in other words, it was the ugliest
homicidal manifestation of their choseness.
Almost every aspect of Israeli politics, whether it
is the ‘unilateral disengagement' or the loyalty oath,
can be grasped as an attempt to project and protect
Jewish exclusivity on the land (instead of trying to
resolve the Galut)
You may note that I neither refer to Jews as a
racial or ethnic group; nor am I directing my critique
towards Judaism, the religion. And whilst Jews can
indeed succumb to what I define as 'Jewish ideology',
(and many of them do) it is valuable to bear in
mind they can also be its most virulent enemies:
Obvious examples are Jesus, Spinoza and Marx, and one
can also include Israelis such as Israel Shahak,
Gideon Levy and others. It is also pertinent to
mention that some early Zionists such as Nordau and
Borochov were also strong opponents of Jewish ideology
and culture -- For them, Zionism was a necessary
attempt to amend Jews. They believed that once
dwelling on ‘their promised land,' what had hitherto
been perceived as 'Jewish tendencies', (such as
'non-productive inclinations'), would disappear.
It should be obvious that I am in total support of
the universal and ethical ideas that are coupled with
the ODS (One Democratic State) and SOIC (State of its
Citizens). I would also be the first to endorse and
explore any form of reconciliation between the
indigenous people of the land (Palestinians) and the
new comers (Israelis).
Yet, I believe that for any possible and
intelligible discussion to take place --we surely
must be able to freely explore the true nature of the
ideology that drives the Jewish state, and Jewish
politics around the world.
We must find a way to admit to ourselves that the
Jewish ideological, political and cultural discourse
is a tribal discourse: it is foreign to universalism
and ideas of true equality. Also, we need to realise
that the Israeli notion of ‘shalom' (peace)
is interpreted by Israelis as ‘security for Jews'
instead of reconciliation.
Unless we are brave enough to confront these
issues, and discuss them freely, the pro- Palestinian
movement is trapped in a futile discourse on the verge