Feb 26 2012

Rediscovering Israel. Retrospective by a Zionist

Published by at 8:39 am under Fiction,Rediscovering Israel

Israel Middle East politics Zionism Jewish fiction literature

Longtime readers may recall a series I wrote for a new website called Rediscovering Israel, around the time I went on a trip to the holy land around March of 2010.

I set up the site not only as a sort of online diary of my thoughts and observations while I was traveling, but also potentially as a go-to site for other North American travelers to Israel, including others on my tour. It got some decent traffic and one of the articles ended up as a feature in the National Post. But after an initial burst of activity, the site was neglected and never really took off.

Ultimately, I made the decision to shut it down (It’s still up as of today, but its days are numbered by whenever the webmaster gets around to putting the thing out of its misery). I’ve moved the articles over here; re-reading them, I was mostly struck by how current they still are:

We’re still talking about Israeli democracy, terrorism, borders, settlers, spies, religious identity, human rights, Middle East politics, prisoners, Jerusalem… well, I suppose we’ll be talking about these things forever. Probably just as well that I never wrote a final article wrapping up the articles into a nice package, though I often thought about doing just that. I suppose this retrospective is it.

I wrote a lot about the things I’d seen and learned. It was a fairly substantial effort, particularly given that I was barely there for 10 days. I wasn’t exactly starting from a blank slate; I’m a student of Middle East history and had visited the country previously on a Birthright tour. It did push my thinking along, though. For instance, my own sense of Zionism evolved from something a bit superficial into something based more on a better understanding of how the country operated and how actual Israelis living in the Jewish homeland saw themselves and the larger world. I had more time to talk on this trip and ask questions of journalists, military people, civil servants and students, including some Arab Israelis (who naturally identified themselves as Palestinians living in Israel).

What’s happened since I went to Israel? Obviously, I’m still writing a lot about politics and conflict around Israel and the Middle East at The Propagandist in Z Word. Certainly, a fair bit of what I learned about the evolution of Zionism and the development of the modern Israeli state — in the midst of constant threats and violence — ┬áinfluenced my writing in my novel, A History of the Middle Eastside, which aims to break down the complicated history into a sort of Gangs of New York-style fantasy tale.

On a more personal note, my ideological support for Zionism has never wavered, even as the last remaining vestiges of agnosticism have fallen away to leave me an unrepentant atheist. Some may see that as contradictory, but my ideology was always political, never religious. I have not attended synagogue except for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and public non-religious events since I was old enough to simply refuse to go. And I must confess to a certain impatience which can easily mutate into rudeness when dealing with people (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, whatever) who profess to believe in the existence of an all-knowing omniscient and omnipotent God, or related supernatural silliness.

My Zionism stems from a mix of agreement for US President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points and a common-sense belief that the Jewish people constitute a nation, originally based around religious ideas but now defined by so much more, historically, culturally, politically, linguistically, etc. Israel is unique, but at least in the way we think of nations as synonymous with countries, they are a nation like all others — and against the weird clarion calls from all sorts of directions for this nation to be divided up, or absorbed into something else, or simply bombed into nothingness, one simply must defend Israel’s right to exist (A status that strangely isn’t questioned even of basket-case failed states like Somalia or Pakistan).

Zionism does not dictate dual loyalties or support of all policies of a given Israeli government — it’s actually a term that ought not to be controversial at all. If I suggested that Canada has a right to exist, or Italy, or Japan, people would look at me funny, since I almost certainly would be answering forcefully a counter-statement that had never been posed. Yet, if someone says that Israel has a right to exist, or that the Jewish people constitute a nation with a heritage going back thousands or years, or that Israeli citizens ought to be able to live without constant threats or insecurity, many will take issue with that.

Hopefully, the articles from Rediscovering Israel will give you a bit of further insight into my own thinking on Israel, Zionism and the Middle East. Feel free to leave a comment. And while we’re on this topic, I wouldn’t be much a shameless self-promoter if I didn’t suggest one last time that you buy a copy of A History of the Middle Eastside

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