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Anti-Zionism Is Not Enough

The anti-Zionist position is either redundant, or a collaboration with our enemies. Everything that is wrong with Zionism is covered in a general critique of nationalism. If you are an anarchist, you are already an anti-nationalist in the same way that you are already an anti-fascist, an anti-racist, an anti-sexist, and against other forms of inequality, domination, subjugation, etc. Likewise, you are already against particular forms of these relations of power: like patriarchy, anti-Blackness, antisemitism, or anti-Nazism. Within a conversation about any of these particulars, it makes sense to specify you are against them. The language is useful for analyzing all the unique features of a relation and tailoring specific responses. In the larger context of social struggle though, you are replacing the specificity of your anarchist ideas with the generality of a single issue, a usually generic, lowest common denominator point of agreement to focus masses of diverse people. What this hopefully leads to is collaboration, in both good and bad ways. With Antifa, it led to collaboration with authoritarian Marxists and radical liberals, statists. With anti-Zionism, it leads to collaboration with an even broader spectrum of politicians, including nationalists of the most despicable variety.

Sometimes it makes sense to downplay one’s anarchism for the sake of progress on a single issue. However, in many cases, those single issues are wedge issues in a conflict between much stronger, much more significant opponents of one another. As anarchists, participating as advocates for one side of such conflicts may advance the single issue in our favor, but in the end we have also advanced one side of the larger conflict. The belief that some of those we collaborate with will come to our side of the fight against authority may have some validity, but compared with the amount of support we provide to those who will go on to side with authority, it’s a very small number. Those who were anarchists themselves and now move on to side with whoever proves most powerful in advancing the single issue, that is also an undesirable outcome.

The biggest problem with these dynamics in the case of Israel-Palestine is that anarchists have a uniquely better alternative to suggest. We are among the few who recognize that nationalism itself is a problem, especially when it becomes the basis for legitimizing states. We are among the few who can point out that it is states that enforce private property in land, making it possible for it to be sold from underneath the feet of its tenant farmers, as happened before Israel was established. We are among the few who can point out that it is the state that claims sovereignty over entire geographical regions, defines its borders, and polices them. We are among the few who can point out that it is one’s residence itself that justifies self-determination: not property ownership, not race, not nationality, not sex, not legal status, not even criminal status. Anarchism undermines the core logic of nationalism, imperialism, and settler-colonialsm, not just between particular groups of people but universally, among all people, as all people are equal and free.

This position above is something that most anti-Zionists do not hold. They may reject the privatization of Palestinian lands because Zionists were buying it, but privatization of land itself they hold no clear position on. They may reject the State of Israel’s claim to sovereignty over some portion, or all of historic Palestine, but only because Jews were a minority group or the British were a colonial force. For these anti-Zionists, a Palestinian nation-state is acceptable: the two-state solution, in other words. They may reject the ethnonationalism of the State of Israel, but they accept the nation-state itself, so long as it rules both Palestinians and Jews equally. They may criticize the trade agreements between the United States and Israel, but only because they do not want to feel complicit in Israel’s acts. These are only some of the shortcomings of only some anti-Zionist positions on liberation. The diversity of so-called anti-Zionists themselves making it difficult to say much at all in general.

I don’t believe that there is a lot that anarchists can do about the mass murder of Gaza’s residents by the State of Israel, the constant torment of Palestinians in the West Bank, and the suppression of Palestinian resistance from outside by Israel and within by militant nationalist forces. However, I also don’t believe there is much that the broad anti-Zionist movement outside Israel-Palestine can do about it either. In a fight with such terrible odds, we might as well retain our integrity and fight it as anarchists, proud of our entire outlook. The State of Israel and its fascistic government shares the strongest position with the United States and its arms exporting profiteers. Second to them is in power is Hamas, with Iran behind them and with other Islamist allies along the side. We have no common cause with any of these authoritarians, except the most basic humanitarianism that is advanced only in pieces when it is convenient to their accumulation of power. With little more than our words and some small activities of protest or sabotage, it’s clear that our activity will amount to little effect.

This also means we have little to lose and much to gain. In the short term, it is important to present our positions clearly so that in the long term we can look back on a history of consistency. For now our criticisms may fail to make an impact, but they are criticisms that will not disappear with the moment. As we interface with all those who are with us against the horrors of Israel’s aggressions, let’s not lose ourselves in their passion. Our respect for our differences from others is also a respect for the differences of others. That is something that goes to the basis of anarchist thought.

Finally, this is not a call for strict purity and I am not advocating for disengagement. I am advocating for boundaries during our engagements. We make choices when we work with other tendencies in single issue struggles. Sometimes this is little more than the choice of carrying the flag of an oppressed national movement during an anti-colonial struggle. Sometimes it is as much as providing material support to authoritarians on the front lines of an armed struggle for the protection or formation of a nation state.

What I advise caution on here is the blurry line between solidarity and subordination. At what point does one’s own positions become subsumed into the single issue? In my opinion, contemporary anti-Zionism has reached that point where its meaning refers to something that has ossified into a stereotyped, media trope. Something that restrains anarchist critiques and can no longer embrace them. A movement that is no longer willing to hear its critics externally, assuming they can not be reasoned with. A movement becoming more intolerant of its critics internally by the day, for the sake of solidifying a united front. Some of this is the result of the dire situation that Palestinians are in right now and the urgency of a cease-fire. Though some of this is also the result of a discourse that has long been dominated by those with positions that are antithetical to anarchist goals, who position themselves as representatives of Palestinian interests, and who never mention struggles in Israel-Palestine that oppose statist solutions. Some say that politics is another word for compromise, but maybe that’s more of an argument against politics than an argument for compromise.