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  • Anonymous '25

The Manifesto of an Anti-Zionist Jew

I am not a Zionist. I do not think Jews need a Jewish state. Yet I am still proudly and unabashedly Jewish.


As a child, I grew up in the Jewish establishment. I went to Jewish day school. I did youth leadership programs. I even went to Jewish summer camp. Zionism and support for Israel were shoved into my brain. I entered college a vocal liberal Zionist, always claiming that I disagreed with certain Israeli policies but believed in the fundamental right of the State of Israel to exist, and that anything to the contrary was antisemitic. 


One day, I learned from a friend about the Nakba. The Nakba refers to, in Palestinian memory, when 700,000 Palestinians living in what was formerly Palestine were made refugees during the Israeli War of Independence. Scholarship on the exact causes of the Nakba is mixed, but many academics, including Israeli historian Benny Morris, agree that the Zionist forces were directly or indirectly responsible. In all my years of Jewish education, of participating in programs that supposedly taught me about the conflict, I had never heard of the dark side of Israel’s independence. The Nakba, the catastrophe, an event that was so central to the identity of half the people involved in this conflict, was something that I had never considered because I couldn’t. At that moment, I decided I never wanted to be caught off guard by “new” information about this conflict again.


So I took classes. I went to office hours. I read academic sources ranging from Zionist historians to far-left critical theorists. Read books. Listened to podcasts. And did everything I could to fully understand the conflict from as many sides as possible. And eventually, through my research, I came to a new understanding of the conflict and the world at large. 


Actually reading early Zionists, like Leon Pinsker, Theodor Herzl, and David Ben-Gurion, made me realize the entanglement of Zionism with settler colonialism. Whether it was an appeal for European support in their mission or the lack of norms against settler colonialism at the time, when you read these texts you see an explicit desire and reference to colonizing land. European Jews, though they may have had ancient roots in the land, initially migrated to Palestine, eventually displacing a population that had lived there continuously. So in my view, yes, of course Jews have a connection to the land, but Israel is also settler-colonial because of the colonial mentality of the founders and the support the movement received from Great Britain. Both Israel’s settler-colonial character and the Jewish connection to the land can be true at once. I cannot adhere to an ideology that depended on colonization for its success.   


However, my main critique of Zionism comes from my study of nationalism. Through my work, I grew to believe that ethno-nationalism inevitably leads to violence. Through the study of Eastern Europe, Central Europe, and the Balkans, I found many examples where nationalist sought to prioritize those who ‘fit the nation,’ leading to inequality, oppression, and at its worst the ethnic cleansing and genocide of those who did not fit that mold. Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, even referenced methods of ethnic cleansing as a viable form of nation-state building. 


Though I do acknowledge that Zionism was an understandable response to antisemitism, it draws from this 20th-century European nationalist discourse. The predominant form of Zionism that we see today and saw historically, ignoring other strands of the ideology that were marginalized, is the desire for the Jews to create a Jewish-majority state. To maintain this Jewish majority and keep its Jewish identity, the state had to and continues to deprioritize, oppress, and prevent from returning the Palestinian “minority” living in the land. The Nakba is an extension of this logic—if the Palestinians living in the land that would become Israel were not expelled, the state could not have created a Jewish majority. 


Over time, Israel has taken measures that result from its need to maintain a Jewish identity, increasingly descending into nationalist Jewish supremacy. Firstly, Israel has maintained a 57-year occupation over the West Bank, in which they create settlements and over which they have military control. Palestinians living in the West Bank have no truly independent government in which to vote, and they live under what the leading human rights organization in Israel, B’Tselem, has called apartheid. If these citizens were allowed to vote in the government that determines their fate, the Jewish identity of Israel would be threatened because of 7 million new non-Jewish voters. This apartheid system allows Israel to keep a significant portion of land that it considers to be included in its nationalist vision for a state, without providing those citizens with self-determination. Some might argue that the Palestinian Authority provides some semblance of political expression to Palestinians; however, the Palestinian Authority is completely subservient to Israeli control, which has made them a virtual agent of Israeli apartheid. Secondly, Palestinians who were expelled from Israel proper do not have the right to return to Israel, whereas Israeli Jews have a right of return to Israel from anywhere in the world. The rejection of this right of return is based on an existential fear of millions of individuals returning and eliminating the Jewish majority, and thereby the Jewish identity of the state. Thirdly, Israel has begun to suppress Palestinian memory and identity that it deems undermines its legitimacy as a Jewish state as it descends further into nationalist fervor. Actions by the Knesset that repress Palestinians include imposing undue disclosure requirements on civil society groups, defunding organizations that discuss the Nakba, banning individuals from entering the country who support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), and the so-called “Nation-State Law,” which declared Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people, ignoring the word “democratic” altogether.


But why not a two-state solution? Could this resolve the dilemma Israel is facing regarding this contradiction? On its face, the two-state solution could theoretically solve many of the problems that I have outlined above. However, in my view, a two-state solution is akin to declaring that separation is the only way forward, that our world can’t be multiethnic and multicultural, that members of each nation can only be a citizen in its own little box of land and nowhere else. In effect, a two-state solution defers to the logic of partition and ethno-nationalism that has caused so much injustice and suffering. It denies at least part of this land, to which both groups have such a strong connection, to either Jews or Palestinians, and it keeps animosity alive between the people that could result in future violence (see, e.g., India and Pakistan). Furthermore, because of this ethno-nationalist logic of belonging, it is unlikely that Palestinians expelled from Israel would be able to return to their homeland. Some might say that this is unimportant, but the UN has explicitly guaranteed their right to return, and many fled with the assumption of being able to return. Secondly, Israeli settlements, bypass roads, and economic integration between the West Bank and Israel proper have made a separate contiguous and viable Palestinian state impossible. The only territory left for the state is one segmented from itself and with an economy completely dependent on that of Israel. Since, in my view, a just solution must provide for a right of return for both people and two politically and economically viable states, we must think outside the two-state paradigm for answers.


So you may be asking yourself now, does this author believe Israel should exist? My response to you is: What does that mean? Do I believe that Jews should be allowed to live in Israel? Of course. They have nowhere else to go, they have a connection to the land, and this is their home. Rather, I think Israel needs to fundamentally reshape how it exists in the world.


Binationalism is the only path forward. We must create a secular form of government in which each citizen has an equal vote and protections under the law. By giving Palestinians the right to express their political will non-violently, we take away the incentive to turn to violence out of desperation. It is the only way to create true equality between the nations and to create long-lasting security for both peoples while still enabling self-determination for Jews and Palestinians.


So no, I am not some uninformed self-hating Jew who doesn’t care about Jewish safety. I simply maintain an ideological opposition to nationalism and a desire to create a truly just solution. 


I want to conclude with a discussion of the concrete impacts Israel has had on Jews around the world. I believe that Israel has kept us as perpetual outsiders of the countries in which we live. Furthermore, what the state claims to do in the name of Jews makes it worse for us in the diaspora, making our pariah status impossible to end.   


 I, of course, abhor Hamas’ brutality on October 7th, and don’t think it can ever be justified. But many on this campus need to realize that justification and explanation are not the same thing. The attack is explained by years of violence, of attempting to ignore the political future of the Palestinians—even propping up Hamas to do so—and proceed with its nationalist aims of settlement in the West Bank. It seems that Hamas hates the Jewish people because of Israel’s claim to Jewishness. They were initially elected because of their position as an alternative to the corruption and inefficiency of the Palestinian Authority, and maintained support because they provide social services to the citizens of Gaza in one of the poorest strips of land on the globe, blockaded by Israel since 2007. They also promise a more emotional appeal to the Palestinian people; when one’s brother is killed by an Israeli bomb, Hamas promises revenge. Hamas is directly at fault, but the broader context reveals that violence against Jews in Israel could likely have been prevented if Israel stopped attempting to manage the problem through violence and came to the table with a reasonable offer for the political future of the Palestinians.¹


We must stop this war before a devastating humanitarian crisis ensues. We must stop this war executed by a far-right government that has no intention of creating peace. We must stop this war that has already caused the deaths of far too many civilians. We must stop this war that will radicalize a new generation, leading to a future where something worse than Hamas emerges. It is time for a ceasefire. It is time to rethink if Zionism can exist without the oppression of Palestinians. It is time to create a long-lasting solution to this 75-year conflict.

 

[1] Some may argue that Israel has come to the table to negotiate. However, the Oslo Accords ended up legitimizing occupation and the status quo without giving Palestinians full rights and allowing settlements to continue. Since the Oslo Accords, I would argue, Israel has not proposed a reasonable offer to the Palestinians, only increasing settlements. 


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