The Globalist Takeaway: Understanding Zionism and Jihad

by Marissa Dearing:

“I like to speak in American universities because I see myself as a subversive force,” asserted Professor Gadi Taub of Hebrew University, leaning against the blackboard. “America academia is ill with political correctness.”

Given the topic of this lecture series, “Understanding Zionism and Jihad,” Professor Taub’s composed bluntness seems uniquely appropriate.  Exposure to and reasoned consideration of the arguments for the other side are essential for Taub. American academia, however, allows “no genuine conversation.” It is “not enough to speak of diversity and then have all the same opinions.” Issues like Zionism, fraught with emotion, partisan politics, and misunderstanding, require open debate that cuts through the euphemism and spin.

Euphemism and spin are, in Taub’s view, especially at fault for the misunderstandings surrounding Zionism: “In Israel today there is a cultural war about the nature of Zionism, and as usual it is a war of interpretation.” Most Israelis cannot accurately define Zionism, according to Taub, for whom Zionism is not about Zion nor even about Judaism, but about Jewish political independence. “The shortest definition of Zionism,” Taub argued, “is the application of the right to self-determination for the Jewish people.”

Professor Gadi Taub of Hebrew University discusses the misunderstandings of Zionism. (Dearing, TYG)

Professor Taub strove to offer “the long view of what Zionism is,” refuting the idea that it is a reaction to the Holocaust and instead grounding it in the aims of the movement according to its founder Theodor Herzl. Living in the Hapsburg Empire, Herzl saw that “when people were given liberties…they began to express their cultural identity in the public sphere.” Accordingly, people who “formerly got along in the public sphere suddenly demanded separate expression of their identity…and self-determination.” Herzl recognized that surging nationalism in Europe posed a danger to the Jews, who would now face the opposition of anti-Semitic cultural groups, who previously had no means of separating themselves or targeting Jews. The Jews “would need a state of their own.”

Herzl concluded that in an increasingly nationalistic Europe, “Jews were faced with a tragic choice: to be free and not Jewish or to be Jewish and give up their freedom.” According to Taub (and Herzl), one could not be, for example, Jewish and German, in the same way one could be Catholic and German. The country’s implicitly Christian practices precluded Jewish compatibility. Even for non-orthodox Jews, national and religious identities were in conflict.  The formation of an identity is through a common narrative, often beginning in the school system: “This kid sits there and looks right and left at the other students, and sees this is their story,” but the Jews don’t need a narrative nor do they have room for another.  “So this German Jewish boy at school learns what it means to be German, which is to accept German history and accept German narrative,” but “accepting this story means giving up his narrative, his ancestors.  He remains a stranger.” Thus, “to participate in German society,” a German Jew had “to give up his religious identity.”

Professor Taub pointed out that “democracy depends on nationalism” because if there is “no sense of ‘we’…you don’t vote for the public good.” People live peacefully together only if they are allowed political self-determination. For this reason, Herzl concluded that the Jews needed a territory of their own. He realized that “if remaining Jewish is about retaining the Jewish narrative, then it’s not only about where we came from but where we’re going to.” The Jews would not follow Herzl anywhere but to Israel. Taub was careful to note that the “land of Israel was the conclusion not the assumption of the Zionist movement.” It is about the “natural right of the Jews to be like all other peoples, the right to be free in their own state.”

Professor Taub then turned to the question of settlements, and how it is that he can “oppose settlements because [he’s] Zionist.” Both morally and pragmatically, Taub thinks settlements are incompatible with Israel’s aim of self-determination. First, “if Israel rests on the idea of universal self-determination for all peoples,” it cannot “justify holding people under occupation and denying them the same right.” Furthermore, the “very idea of a Jewish democracy depends on one place under the sun where Jews are a majority,” and if they are outnumbered by Palestinians, this will no longer be true. “If Israel doesn’t extract itself, it’s going to become a bi-national state,” and bi-national states usually collapse; when they do work, they need many centuries of people living in harmony for centuries, but “Jews and Muslims are not suddenly going to be Switzerland.”  With a small smile, he added: “right now, the Scots are trying to secede from Britain, and I don’t see how we’re going to live more peacefully than them.”

Professor Taub is convinced that the settlers’ plans have nothing to do with political Zionism: “for them, the process of [the Jews] returning home is part of the process of redemption…it’s a Zionism of land not a Zionism of liberties.” For him, “the settlements are…a negation of the Zionist worldview and an extreme danger to us.” He added that the situation is especially explosive because “these people think they have God’s politics in their hands…and no earthly politics can stop them.”

Addressing the conception that a Jewish state is inherently discriminatory because it does not include the Arab population, Professor Taub said that such a view is a “strange…because most democracies have national minorities,” which are “not part of the state.” He asked, “Should Italy stop being Italian because it has Germans there?” Further, adopting an Israeli identity that transcends Judaism would simply make Israel like France, “the most intolerant” European country, because the unity of citizenship and nationality means “one culture, one identity for everyone, one language, one school system” and so on.

In the Q&A following his lecture, Taub, asked for his reaction to the displacement of Palestinians, acknowledged that “our national determination came at their expense [but] I don’t think there was any other way to do it.” Asserting that “the Arab minority does not want to assimilate,” Professor Taub believes the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in partition, and in allowing the “political minority to retain their rights outside of the majority.”

Marissa Dearing ’14 is a freshman in Berkeley College. Contact her at