I identify as a progressive Zionist. This means both that I try to support Zionist ideals in a manner consistent with broader progressive obligations (particularly the need to be fair to groups not my own -- Palestinians being the obvious ones), but also that my support for Zionism itself stems out of left-wing, anti-subordination theory.
The argument that Zionism is ultimately a theory "of the left", and that, more importantly, we have to analyze anti-Zionism from a perspective that takes account of the subordinated status of Jews and the entrenched nature of structural anti-Semitism world-wide, is a claim I often make in the comments of the various feminist blogs I read, such as Alas, a Blog and Feministe. Recently, the latter had a post up on Israel's 60th birthday, and I went to work in the comments.
I comment at Feministe because I feel like, by and large, I'll get a respectful hearing and that most of my interlocutors, though not necessarily agreeing with me, will make good, meaningful points and grapple with my analysis (some are idiots, but you get that anywhere). This session wasn't different -- in fact, it was more successful than most. I got Jill to put a disclaimer at the top of this post noting that the claim that an Israeli official was threatening Palestinians with a new Holocaust was based off a mis-translation of the Hebrew. I also got a nice message from Feminist Gal basically telling me to keep up the great work. So that felt good.
But I still can't shake the feeling that there is a sense in which I struggle in vain. My goal in these threads is to argue from an aggressively and self-consciously progressive standpoint to defend Israel and the Zionist project (conceptually -- not always as applied) from their attackers on the left. In my head, I see it almost territorially: I'm not willing to cede the terrain of anti-subordination to those who I think would do my people harm, and reify my oppressed status. The hope is that, by showing how Zionism actually flows from progressive principles, I can convert them to the light: you're a progressive, Zionism is progressive, hence, you should be Zionist.
But yet, it doesn't work that way. People rarely allow ideology to trump deep-seated moral or political beliefs -- and the belief that Jews should be permanently barred from joining them family of nation-states certainly qualifies as deep-seated. Even if I did manage to make a facial case that Zionism is part of the progressive panoply of ideas, I'm not sure it would do much good. Theory doesn't trump practice, and I suspect that my argument is more likely to cause my targets to disavow leftism than to disavow anti-Zionism.
What I mean by that isn't that the folks I'm talking to are so committed to Jew-hatred that, when faced with the prospect of supporting Zionism, they'll run screaming all the way back to neo-conservatism. What I mean is that they'll use this opportunity to prove that they're iconoclastic. "I may be a leftist, but I'm not one of those types of leftists." Ideology bends to experience, and experience tells these people that they can never support the Zionist project. If Zionism is of the left, then it's the left that has to give way.
I'm not saying I'm making that perfect, uber-argument that forces people into this position. But if that's the horizon of my efforts, it hardly seems to be a fight worth continuing.
On the other hand, there is still my "cede the terrain" point. Even if I can't convince folks to give up anti-Zionism, I sure as hell don't want them claiming their position is the progressive one. The ground of anti-subordination is ground that matters to me. I will not be driven off it by fundamentally illiberal, reactionary, anti-Jewish forces without a fight.