- The history of Israel has often been read as the saga
of a people marked for extinction, who emerged from nazi death camps
from Auschwitz, Belcec and Treblinka to establish their own country
in 1948. Without taking away anything from the suffering of European Jews,
I will insist that this way of thinking about Israel apart from its
mythologizing has merit only as a partisan narrative. It seeks to
insulate Israel against the charge of a devastating colonization by falsifying
history, by camouflaging the imperialist dynamics that brought it into
existence, and denying the perilous future with which it now confronts
the Jews, the West and the Islamic world.
- When we examine the consequences that have flowed from
the creation of Israel, when we contemplate the greater horrors that may
yet flow from the logic of Zionism, Israel's triumphs appear in a different
light. We are forced to examine these triumphs with growing dread and incredulity.
Israel's early triumphs, though real from a narrow Zionist standpoint,
have slowly mutated by a fateful process into ever-widening circles of
conflict that now threaten to escalate into major wars between the West
and Islam. Although this conflict has its source in colonial ambitions,
the dialectics of this conflict have slowly endowed it with the force and
rhetoric of a civilizational war: and perhaps worse, a religious war.
- This is the tragedy of Israel. It is not a fortuitous
tragedy. Driven by history, chance and cunning, the Zionists wedged themselves
between two historical adversaries, the West and Islam, and by harnessing
the strength of the first against the second, it has produced the conditions
of a conflict that has grown deeper over time.
- Zionist historiography describes the emergence of Israel
as a triumph over Europe's centuries-old anti-Semitism, in particular over
its twentieth-century manifestation, the demonic, industrial plan of the
Nazis to stamp out the existence of the Jewish people. But this is a tendentious
reading of Zionist history: it obscures the historic offer Zionism made
to the West the offer to rid the West of its Jews, to lead them out
of Christendom into Islamic Palestine. In offering to 'cleanse' the West
of the 'hated Jews', the Zionists were working with the anti-Semites, not
- Theodore Herzl, the founding father of Zionism, had a
clear understanding of this complementarity between Zionism and anti-Semitism;
and he was convinced that Zionism would prevail only if anti-Semitic Europe
could be persuaded to work for its success. It is true that Jews and anti-Semites
have been historical adversaries, that Jews have been the victims of Europe's
religious vendetta since Rome first embraced Christianity. However, Zionism
would enter into a new relationship with anti-Semitism that would work
to the advantage of Jews. The insertion of the Zionist idea in the Western
discourse would work a profound change in the relationship between Western
Jews and Gentiles.
- In order to succeed, the Zionists would have to create
a new adversary, common to the West and the Jews. In choosing to locate
their colonial-settler state in Palestine and not in Uganda or Argentina
the Zionists had also chosen an adversary that would deepen their
partnership with the West. The Islamic world was a great deal more likely
to energize the West's imperialist ambitions and evangelical zeal than
Africa or Latin America.
- Israel was the product of a partnership that seems unlikely
at first blush, between Western Jews and the Western world. It is the powerful
alchemy of the Zionist idea that created this partnership. The Zionist
project to create a Jewish entity in Palestine possessed the unique power
to convert two historical antagonists, Jews and Gentiles, into allies united
in a common imperialist enterprise against the Islamic world. The Zionists
harnessed the negative energies of the Western world its imperialism,
its anti-Semitism, its crusading nostalgia, its anti-Islamic bigotry, and
its deep racism and focused them on a new imperialist project, the
creation of a Western surrogate state in the Islamic heartland.
- To the West's imperialist ambitions, this new colonial
project offered a variety of strategic advantages. Israel would be located
in the heart of the Islamic world; it would sit astride the junction of
Asia, Africa and Europe; it would guard Europe's gateway to the Indian
Ocean; and it could monitor developments in the Persian Gulf with its vast
reserves of oil.
- For the West as well as Europe's Jews, this was a creative
moment: indeed, it was an historical opportunity. For European Jews, it
was a stroke of brilliance. Zionism was going to leverage Western power
in their cause.
- As the Zionist plan would unfold, inflicting pain on
the Islamic world, evoking Islamic anger against the West and Jews, the
complementarities would be discovered or created between the
two antagonist strains of Western history. In the United States the Zionist
movement would give encouragement to evangelical Protestants who
looked upon the birth of Israel as the fulfilment of end-times prophecies
and convert them into fanatic partisans of Zionism. In addition,
Western civilization, which had hitherto traced its central ideas and institutions
to Rome and Athens, would be repackaged as a Judeo-Christian civilization.
This reframing not only underscores the Jewish roots of the Western world,
it also makes a point of emphasizing that Islam is the outsider, the adversary.
- Zionism owes its success solely to this unlikely partnership.
On their own, the Zionists could not have gone anywhere. They could not
have created Israel by bribing or coercing the Ottomans into granting them
a charter to colonize Palestine. Despite his offers of loans, investments,
technology and diplomatic expertise, Theodore Herzl was repeatedly rebuffed
by the Ottoman sultan. It is even less likely that the Zionists could at
any time have mobilized a Jewish army in Europe to invade and occupy Palestine,
against Ottoman and Arab opposition to the creation of a Jewish entity
on Islamic lands.
- The Zionist partnership with the West was indispensable
for the creation of a Jewish entity. This partnership was also fateful.
It produced a powerful new dialectic, which has encouraged Israel, both
as the political centre of the Jewish Diaspora and the chief outpost of
the West in the heart of the Islamic world, to become more daring in its
designs against the Islamic world and beyond.
- In turn, a wounded and humiliated Islamic world, more
resentful and determined after every defeat, has been driven to embrace
increasingly radical ideas and methos to recover its dignity and power
and to attain this recovery on the strength of Islamic ideas.
- This destabilizing dialectic has now brought the West
itself into a direct confrontation against the Islamic world. We are now
staring into the precipice. Yet do we possess the will to pull back from
- M Shahid Alam is a professor of economics at a university
in Boston and author of Challenging the New Orientalism: Dissenting Essays
on America's 'War Against Islam'.