Sunday, February 15, 2009

Visiting Israel: On “Israelism”, “Judaism” and “Zionism”

For a while I was planning on posting something about a topic in which, it seems, there exists a huge amount of confusion: the differences and relationships between Israelism, Judaism and Zionism. Understanding the difference is key to forming any constructive opinion – be it pro-Israeli or not - about the conflict in the middle-east; also, it may just be useful to know.

So here is a quick rundown:

An Israeli is any person whose permanent place of residence is the state of Israel – regardless of whether he physically resides within the so-called “1948 line” (the border as defined by the UN resolution regarding the establishment of Israel), the “1967 line” (the 1967 six-day war ceasefire border) or beyond. A citizen of Israel will physically live in any place that the Israeli government considers as belongs to Israel. In other words, being Israeli refers to the physical residency status of an individual.

A Jewish person is a person who was either born Jewish (according to the religion’s rules; in general, you are Jewish as long as you’re born to a Jewish mother) or became Jewish through a religious process called “Giur” (Hebrew: גיור). In other words, being Jewish refers to the religion followed by an individual.

A Zionist is a person who believes and/or promotes the idea that there is only one acceptable physical location for Jewish people to reside, which is what is right now called “Israel” plus a few hundreds square km. The most “extreme” Zionism, visible in Israel’s political landscape, claims that Israel has historical rights over all the area that is right now “Israel” plus all the areas that Israel left in the summer of 2005 in the so-called “Gaza Strip disengagement plan”. In other words, being a Zionist refers to an ideology carried by an individual.

Contrary to an alarmingly common belief, Zionism does not aim to conquer the world and does not control the world economy. It does not aim to control other groups, states or continents. True, lunatics exist everywhere (you need to have lunatics around in order to be able to define “normal”); however, Zionism, as it is practiced and followed by most, does not aim at waging any kind of war.

Now here is where people all over the world start to lose track: the aforementioned three traits (Israelism, Judaism and Zionism) are independent of each other.

  • There are many Israelis who are not Jewish (normally immigrants from other countries);
  • There are many Israelis who are not Zionists (this includes pretty much all Arab-Israelis who live in Jaffa, Lod, Haifa and many other communities, as well as some esoteric extreme-left individuals – both Jewish and non-Jewish);
  • There are many Jewish people who are not Israeli. As a matter of fact, most Jewish people in the world are not Israeli; the entire Jewish population worldwide measures about 18 million people, while only 6 million of them currently live in Israel);
  • There are many Jewish people who are not Zionists; other than extreme-left individuals, this group includes a few streams of extremely strong Jews that believe Jewish people must not occupy any land prior to the Messiah’s arrival. The most prominent group of these is called “Neturei Karta” (see;
  • Although rare, there exist Zionist people who are neither Israeli nor Jewish (this primarily includes certain groups of Christian people who are, obviously, not Jewish but still see the Jewish people as “God’s chosen people”).

While the aforementioned three traits are independent, one correlation can safely be concluded (statistically speaking): The closer you follow Judaism, the closer you follow Zionism (with the exception of the rather-esoteric Neturei Karta group mentioned above). The other direction of this correlation is incorrect!

The typical Israeli, statistically speaking, is a “secular Jewish” (follows Judaism up to a certain degree – usually very “lightweight”) and a “moderate” Zionist (believes in the Jewish people’s right on the land, but is willing to negotiate a (very) small part of it for certain objectives).

The state of Israel has been established sixty years ago, after a devastating period during which one third of the worldwide Jewish population, about 6,000,000 people, has been destroyed (namely: the Holocaust). As Israel didn’t exist back then, and Zionism wasn’t practiced in any way that contrasts local governments (nobody pressured any East-European government to establish any Jewish state), it follows that the Holocaust clearly was an act against Jewish people for the mere fact that they were Jewish. Before one considers blaming Israel for genocide, he / she is strongly advised to take a look at the remains of concentration camps in Eastern Europe; there, among the piles of eyeglasses collected from those who were led to their death, and the huge structures used to kill Jewish people by Cyanide, one can grasp the meaning of “real” genocide.

Ever since its inception, Israelis have been battling to clearly define the relationships between Israelism, Judaism and Zionism and how the relationships are to be represented in politics, if at all. It’s an ongoing public debate that is unlikely to end any time soon, let alone when the state is under constant threat of destruction by its enemies.

As people “choose” their own level of obedience to Judaism and Zionism, one can conclude that there is ample “grey area”. There exists enormous political tension in Israel, between people with varying interpretations of Judaism and of Zionism – tension that, unfortunately, “eats” Israel from within and considered by many – including your truly – as grave a threat to Israel’s future as all bunch of fanatic Muslims shooting rockets.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the lesson:generally speaking it’s not easy to get the right words, expecially if the talk is not about mere data. Ref to my previous comment about Tel Aviv, I had to think a while before choosing jewish i.o. israeli ‘way of life’: I’ll explain why.
Since yours is a young state I supposed it hasn’t developed a proper character or attitude to life yet (we may talk about peaceful canadians or easy going italians , it’s quite a common sense). So I have chosen jewish wanting to underline the western trait that the post-Secon World War immigrations may have brought along I was referring more to culture rather than religion, but probably I am wrong anyway:further corrections highly appreciated.