30 December '15..
The World Zionist Congress met last week for the 37th time since it was founded by Theodor Herzl in 1897. Like many Jewish institutions today, it has become a battleground for the Right and Left. But what happened at the meeting put into clear focus that the struggle is really between Zionism and … something else.
An organization called LAVI introduced a resolution (the English version is here) calling for the recognition of the Jewish people as an indigenous nation:
The bill declared that “the Jewish people is a Semitic people, indigenous to the Land of Israel and seeking international recognition of its indigenous status” …
The proposal argued that “Israel’s contrived Western identity” was not only handing ammunition to its enemies to falsely label Zionism as a “colonialist” project, but that it was also placing an artificial barrier preventing peace between Israel and its other “Semitic” neighbors.
It included a statement that it “does not negate the indigenous status of any other people.” Nevertheless, it barely passed, by a vote of 51% of the delegates.
I believe that the essence of Zionism is the assertion that the Jews are an indigenous people to the land of Israel, with indigenous rights (sometimes called aboriginal rights) in the land. In fact, the Jewish people are one of the oldest documented indigenous peoples, with a unique language, culture, religion and history tied directly to the land of Israel.
The resolution refers to the struggle of the Jews to return to the land after displacement by “Roman imperialism,” but it could also have mentioned the conflict between the Jews and the Arab imperialists of the seventh century or the Jordanian and Egyptian ones that invaded the land in 1948.
A moment’s reflection should suffice to show that the narrative by which the Jews suddenly appeared in 1880 or 1948 to dispossess a flourishing ‘Palestinian’ people is nonsense. Jews have been physically present here to some extent since biblical times, and they are the paradigm case of ‘a people’ in history. ‘Palestinians’, on the other hand, are Arabs who are mostly descended from recent arrivals from Arabia, Syria, Egypt, and Transjordan. Their specifically ‘Palestinian’ culture developed very recently, in opposition to what they see as the threat of Jewish (non-Arab and non-Muslim) sovereignty. They didn’t even call themselves ‘Palestinians’ until the 1960s; and prior to 1948, ‘Palestinian’ meant ‘Palestinian Jew’.
The Arabs know that Zionism rests on Jewish peoplehood, and on the connection of the Jewish people to the land – our indigenousness. They know that their moral case to displace us is based on the argument that they are a long-term indigenous people and we are European colonialists. Thus they insist there is no Jewish people, only a religion. Thus they attempt to erase Jewish history in the land – by arrogating Jewish holy sites to themselves and by physically destroying archaeological evidence of the ancient Jewish presence. Their claims may appear ludicrous, but they have been successful in persuading large numbers of people.