29 August 2007 - Guest blogger Mike Berger: "Why I am a Zionist"
Mike’s a veteran of the media wars in South Africa. Like me, he was "drafted" unexpectedly. Mike is one of the most prolific letter-writers on Israel and other subjects, and is well-respected in political circles. His most recent article, “Why I am a Zionist,” was blocked by timid editors. In solidarity, I am posting it below in full, along with an introductory note from the man himself.
The South African media is, in many ways, admirable. Some sections were a strong source of opposition to apartheid. Currently, they speak out vigorously against aspects of the ruling party's policies and actions in government. But many have bought into a generalized, rather soft-focus and fashionable anti-imperialist/anti-American/anti-Israel stance which, coupled to a tabloid approach to public affairs, makes their stand less principled and effective than it might have been.
In particular, the more serious newspapers are dominated by the Independent group and by the Mail and Guardian both of which strongly embody these shortcomings. Their pages are a regular source of anti-Zionist material and it is difficult to get contrary viewpoints published.
Here is one article rejected by both the Cape Times (the morning daily of Cape Town) and the Mail and Guardian, a national weekly. It has been (very) slightly edited from the original submitted.
I’ve just finished reading Jan Morris’s last book, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere. In it she pays tribute to a city which, for her, symbolises the vast ebb and flow of humanity and, consequently, has become the natural capital of that tribe of universal people who, to summarise in her own beautiful words: “. . . form a Fourth World, or a diaspora of their own…. They come in all colours. They can be Christians or Hindus or Muslims or Jews or pagans or atheists. They may be patriots, but they are never chauvinists . . . they are always in a minority, but they form a mighty nation . . . it is the nation of nowhere”.
I am a natural member of this tribe. I have lived in different countries and have studied, taught and interacted socially and professionally with Muslims, Hindus, Indians and black and coloured South Africans. I have learnt that stereotypes at the level of the individual have little meaning, and we have a black granddaughter of whom we’re inordinately fond.
So why have I found myself writing passionate letters and articles in defense of Israel to newspapers, and why have I become involved in Jewish community organisations? In short, how has my Jewish identity come to assume a much greater significance in my life than either my history or temperament would invoke?
The answer is simple and is contained in the blurb to an upcoming HSRC (Human Sciences Research Council) Seminar entitled “How Israel envisions a Palestinian state for the Palestinians”, hosted by Dr. Virginia Tilley with Dr. Ghazi-Walid Falah (from Akron, Ohio) as the guest speaker. His intent is also best summarised in his own words:
“My thesis here is that the Israeli political class…(is) trying to impose their political hegemony on the contour of the future Palestinian state . . . any future Palestinian state that is ‘allowed’ to crystallize had (sic) to be consistent territorially, economically and politically with the grand geopolitical code of the Zionist enterprise of settlement, colonization, land redemption and aggrandizement of state boundaries and territory . . . . Otherwise, its leaders and population are decried and demonized as 'terrorists' . . . Israeli strategy is double-pronged here: a war of rhetoric and the war of occupational fire power, both aimed at the destroying the current leadership structures”.
Tilley herself is an ardent anti-Zionist who has found a congenial home in South Africa, initially in the Centre for Policy Studies and now in the HSRC. The first is a research organisation concerned with development issues in South Africa, specifically, and Africa more broadly. The second is a parastatal research institution, supposedly concerned with national issues, and supported largely by the South African taxpayer.
She is the author of a book entitled The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock—which, as pointed out even by her ideological bedfellows, is a euphemism for the euthanasia of the Jewish State.
Should there be any doubt where Tilley stands, she is happy to inform us: “First, each person works in his or her own immediate orbit. People might urge divestment from companies investing in Israel by their colleges and universities, corporations, clubs, and churches. Boycott any sports event that hosts an Israeli team, and work with planners to exclude them. Participate in, and visit, no Israeli cultural events - films, plays, music, art exhibits. Avoid collaborating with Israeli professional colleagues, except on anti-racist activism. Don't invite any Israeli academic or writer to contribute to any conference or research and don't attend their panels or buy their books, unless their work is engaged directly in anti-racist activism. Don't visit Israel except for purposes of anti-racist activism. Buy nothing made in Israel : start looking at labels on olive oil, oranges, and clothing. Tell people what you are doing and why. Set up discussion groups everywhere to explain why.” The seminar she will be hosting is simply another nail she hopes to drive into Israel ’s coffin.
Dr Tilley is an anti-Zionist zealot, as devoted to the destruction of Israel as Hamas or Hezbollah; perhaps more so since she does not need to live with the consequences of her actions.
She is part of a small, but very vocal, Western network of likeminded ideologues, whose ideological purity and zeal have received recognition from within the Muslim anti-Israel establishment. According to a London-based Saudi newspaper, such Western intellectuals have freed themselves from the timidity of their Muslim counterparts and “are dedicated to stripping bare Zionism and its crimes”.
If I had ever hoped to become a permanent, card-carrying member of Jan Morris’s universalist “nation of nowhere”, my contact with the tribe of “zealots” has disabused me of such Utopian dreams. Like others, I too have been seriously “mugged by reality”. Kicking and struggling they have have converted me, along with thousands of other universalist Jews, into a Zionist.
It is difficult to adequately convey the revulsion with which I read their caricature of one of the most poignant and heroic enterprises of the modern era (or perhaps of any era), namely, the resurrection and renaissance of the Jewish people from the ashes of 2000 years of dispersal and oppression, culminating in the Holocaust. Objectively, the Israeli miracle dwarfs all comparable achievements, including the extraordinary post-world war successes of Japan and Germany .
This was accomplished by a relative handful of brave men and women from many lands, cultures and ethnicities, differing vastly from one another in terms of language, degree of religious belief and level of education. The majority were themselves refugees and deeply scarred by history and personal experience. Yes, they received assistance from some of their compatriots in the Diaspora. Yes, they were supported (sometimes reluctantly and conditionally) by America. Yes, they were human and have erred, sometimes seriously. No, they have not created a Utopia, only a country which in the midst of war and bloodshed can hold its head high amongst the other nations of the world in terms of democracy, the rule of law, education, innovation and science, the arts and in freedom of opinion and expression.
That the debate in this country, and elsewhere in the West, has been framed by anti-Zionist zealots is a stain on humanity equivalent to the vile antisemitic propaganda which set the stage for the pogroms and the Holocaust of the 19th and 20th centuries. Those who hope for a more meaningful and legitimate take on the Middle East can start with the http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifinformed and left-of-centre analysis by Tony Klug at , and many similar commentaries that take account of human and historical realities on both sides.
But, so long as the tribe of zealots is accorded space and legitimacy in our media I, along with thousands of my compatriots, will have to postpone our fulltime sojourn in the Land of Nowhere and continue to serve in the Zionist trenches. Would that it were otherwise.