The Zionism debate: When colonialism is embedded in liberalism

A response to Larry Derfner’s defense of liberal Zionism

By Abir Kopty

A piece posted earlier today by Larry Derfner, written in response to Joseph Dana, contains typical Zionist arguments, which normally do not prompt me to respond, except that this time, he called them “liberal Zionist” arguments. Honestly, I don’t know what is liberal about them.

What Larry fails to see is that there is no such thing as extremist and liberal Zionism, or hard-core and light Zionism. Zionism is not about what you choose to think. Zionists are part of a colonialist ideology and movement that operates through institutions. Make no mistake, it’s not a vague term. It’s an ideology that has committed crimes against Palestinians and continues to inherently give Jews elite privileges over Palestinians, whether inside Israel, or in the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – and Gaza. Even in exile.

No matter how hard you try to lend it a degree of liberalism, what matters is the implementation of this ideology on the ground.

The reason people like Larry find themselves obliged to defend Zionism is that he and many others view it as “the right to exist” on this land. Larry assumes that if Israel stopped being a Jewish state, this “will bring on the exodus of the Jews.” Anything uttered against Zionism feeds right into this paradigm – a threat to Jewish existence. It takes a lot of courage and effort to disconnect the two concepts.

On the right of return, Larry was honest in expressing the attitude of Zionism as practiced in concrete ways: neither on a practical ground nor on moral ground would he agree to the right of return. (The moral ground here being related to the Zionist narrative of what happened during the Nakba in 1948.)

I won’t argue with Larry’s narrative on why the Palestinian right of return should be denied, because I’m not in favor of turning the argument into one between competing narratives. I would rather argue on the moral ground.

While Larry admits in his piece that the Palestinians are the native people of this land, he defies universal values in his position on the right of native people to return to their homes.

Larry is actually telling us that because they “started the war,” Palestinians deserve to live for the rest of their lives in exile. Amazing hypothesis! Let us assume that is true. Shall we go through history and examine the many cases of nations who were at war, but were allowed back to their homes when it ended?

In addition, I would like to ask Larry directly: what will you do if a given country decides today that the land of “Israel” belongs to its nation, and brings its people to occupy and ethnically cleanse those who have lived here for 60 years. Would you, your friends and colleagues stay home?

I respect the honesty of Larry. He puts it very clearly and straightforwardly. The “Jewish majority has to stay solid.”  I will maintain the same honestly and reject his generous offer to allow for only a limited number of refugees to return.

Zionism has created a constant obsession with demographic calculations, when it’s better to be obsessed with creating a moral ground that is good for all. Unfortunately, morals and Zionism do not go together.

Abit Kopty is a political and feminist activist and blogger. Her blog, where this piece was initially posted, can be viewed here. Follow her on Twitter at @abirkopty.

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