I have noticed a distinct shift in the focus of the Zionist narrative in the US. For the last forty years or so, Israel has been sold to Americans as a necessary palliative for the Jewish people following the total destruction of the Holocaust. Now, the primary argument advanced is that the Jewish people have been a people tied to the land on which their state is located for a mythically uninterrupted period of time variously described as between 2,000 and 4,000 years.
Tom Segev reports in his book, The Seventh Million, that Holocaust refugees were looked down upon when they arrived in Israel. In the United States the holocaust didn’t become a major part of the Zionist dialogue until the 1970s and we are now suffused with memorials (wikipedia lists 63) to a tragedy that occurred on another continent. While there are certainly groups that commemorate the Irish Famine, the Armenian Genocide and other such tragedies, no tragedy receives the kind of attention that the Holocaust has garnered. Our own complicity in genocide receives relatively scant attention. This is despite the estimated two to four million Africans who died while being transported to be forced into slavery and the multiple genocidal wars with native peoples.
But while the magnificent horrors of the Holocaust have been infinitely portrayed and the movies and books continue to flow, the focus of the narrative has shifted back to a variant to that employed by Zionism’s founders. The basic tenets are that the Jews have ties to the land of Israel that are stronger and somehow more legitimate than that of the Palestinians.
The Palestinians are first scorned for not using that term for themselves until their land was ‘cleansed’ of their presence. This was of course, common everywhere before the rise of nationalism. Before emancipation, Jews themselves identified as a religion and not as a nation. Certainly they were not Israelis before they established Israel. As Shlomo Sand has explored in The Invention of the Jewish People, Jews went through a process of inventing themselves as a nation, and that definition was probably a necessary precursor to ‘finding’ themselves a country. (Maybe as a result of this, Jews now have a unique identity. They are not one race, not all of them are religious and not all claim a right to Palestinian land. As Gilad Atzmon has explored it is the tripart nature of that identity, i.e., religion, race and politics that leave you criticized as racist or anti Semitic if you criticize the politics of Israel.)
But whatever the facts of who called themselves what, the concept that the Palestinians by not calling themselves Palestinians should not be entitled to the land they lived on makes no real sense. Why would my self-proclaimed identity affect my ability to own land? I can own land in California without thinking of myself as a Californian. In fact, some Israelis own land in the US and I presume that they expect the US to make sure they retain their rights as owners.
The next step of this fantastic narrative is that the Palestinians gave up the land by leaving it at some point during the establishment of the state of Israel. By this narrative, the Palestinians gave up all rights to the land either by becoming refugees fleeing from ethnic cleansing and the destruction of their towns or by fighting to keep their land. This is tortured reasoning, but I guess that the idea is that if you don’t submit willingly to your own destruction and somehow survive, then you lose your property and assets.
I don’t know why the primary thrust of the myth has altered but I have a guess. In its initial stages, Israel needed citizens. Nationalism and blood privilege are attractive concepts. Then it seems for a long period Israel was more interested in donations, political capital and investment. As long as Jews supported Israel, Israel did not need them to move there. That has changed. With the full support of President Trump and the tacit support of most of western Europe’s leaders, Israel has been expanding by increasing its so-called settler movement of occupation, approving 12,000 new units in 2017 up from about 3000 in 2016. Netanyahu has announced he will annex the settlements, effectively increasing the size of the State of Israel. Instead of a Nakba there has been an endless stream of mini-Nakbas, just small enough to fall under the indulgent radar of the press.
Israels free ‘birthright’ (the name itself proclaims blood privilege) program promotional videos now emphasize coming home to young people who are citizens of other countries. It could be that Israel is working to neutralize the population advantage of the Palestinians.
It is clear that in the new narrative, citizenship is biologically and not geographically determined. It seems odd that so many in the West who claim to oppose racism, so easily accept a race-based system of ethnic cleansing.