Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The End of Zionism?

Now that Carter has put the comparison with apartheid South Africa squarely on the table, it might be time to ask whether Zionism might soon go the way of South African political racism. There are some signs in the current constellation of factors that suggest this might actually happen. In particular, if we look at 1) the current geopolitical environment in the Middle East, 2) Israel's ongoing and apparently irresolvable political crisis, and 3) the increasing exhaustion of the political myths that underlie the country's civil society, we see the possibility of a coming conjuncture in which Israelis themselves, like their white South African predecessors, might simply decide that enough is enough and it is time to allow a more just society to come into being.

The current geopolitical environment is the most unfavorable for Israel as it has been at any time in my conscious lifetime, due in large part to the spectacular failure of the Bush-Likud/Kadima alliance's attempt to remake the Middle East. The only previous time that I can recall that even comes close to the current moment are the dark days of the Yom Kippur War, when for a brief instant it appeared that the Egyptian-Syrian offensive might actually threaten the territory of Israel proper. Today, however, after the US conveniently removed the Iraqi bulwark to Iranian expansion into the Arab world and Israel's unilateralism has failed in both Lebanon and Gaza, Israel is facing a local geopolitical environment in which its sworn enemies not only enjoy momentum but also have little reason to wish to compromise with the Zionist state.

Israeli rhetoric has always claimed the country is surrounded by enemies who wish to drive it into the sea. Today, that rhetoric is not only approaching reality (though the Hashemite kingdom, as always, proves the exception to the general rule), but those enemies -- Hezbollah, Hamas, and their Iranian sponsors -- for the first time might actually be nearing the military capacity necessary to bring the goal within reach.

At this very moment, Israel's political system is nearing collapse. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert enjoys almost no popularity (a recent poll has him at about fourteen percent favorable), but the virtual collapse of both Labour and Likud has put his government "into an unusually solid position." Even as high-ranking former officials openly call for the government's resignation, a Kadima policy-maker can state:

There is no crisis. A crisis is when the government is about to fall.

With the (ceremonial) president indicted for rape and all the political parties discredited, it is fair to say Israel's political system is in crisis.

Finally, there is a growing recognition inside Israel itself that the country's self-image, as the innocent victim of Arab perfidy, is seriously at odds with the facts. Our blogroll attests to the increasing number of Israel civil organizations that have come to question Israeli's role in creating and sustaining violent relations with the Palestinians. That questioning extends all the way back to the nation's founding, as Israeli historians unearth ever greater evidence of Zionist war crimes and atrocities during the War for Independence.

Way back in 1985, at the height of Reagan's "constructive engagement" with the apartheid regime, when even the most optimistic of the regime's critics despaired of ever seeing it come to an end, the anthropologist Vincent Crapanzano published Waiting: The Whites of South Africa. The book, sadly, is now out of print and hard to find, but J.M Coetzee's New York Times review gives a good flavor for the text:

The malaise Mr. Crapanzano detects in the soul of white South Africa is the malaise of waiting ; and the keenest pages of his book are given over to its description.

''Wittingly or unwittingly, the whites wait for something, anything, to happen. They are caught in the peculiar, the paralytic, time of waiting. . . . To talk about dread, angst, guilt or being overwhelmed, all of which are components of the experience of waiting, adds a metaphysical dimension, a melodramatic tension, to the very ordinary experience I am trying to describe. Such terms 'elevate' the experience. They give it importance. . . . Waiting - the South African experience - must be appreciated in all its banality. Therein lies its pity - and its humanity.''

Of the tenor of existence in the valley where Wyndal is situated he writes:

''(Their life) impressed me as somehow truncated. . . . Their experience was not open-ended, expansive, and adventurous. . . . Their present seemed devoid of the vitality that I associate with leading a fulfilling life. . . . In waiting, the present is always secondary to the future. . . . The world in its immediacy slips away; it is derealized. It is without elan, vitality, creative force. It is numb, muted, dead.''

I wonder if Israelis might not be in a similar state: waiting, waiting for something external to happen, to bring their country's multiple crises to a final resolution. In the end, of course, white South Africans were forced to take the future into their own hands, to cede power willingly and on their own to the country's black majority. Eventually, the tension of living a truncated existence became too great, and they accepted their own capacity to take control of their lives by acknowledging the great lie they all were living.

Could something similar happen in Israel? Only time will tell.

1 comment:

shergald said...

Lithos, this was a provocative diary that really asks whether Zionism isn't leading Israel toward an apartheid society. Right wing Israel supporters need to hear this message because their persistent denials not helping their cause, unless they believe in living the lie.