What is that Zionism idea all about? A primer for Jewish students
What is that Zionism idea all about? A primer for Jewish students

Spend some time on many-to-most university campuses these days; read or listen to numerous Jewish commentators and editorialists in the mainstream media dealing with Israel and the Middle East.

With rare exceptions, you’ll be hard pressed finding Jews (let alone others) who have not succumbed to the pressure to adopt one set of standards by which Israel and Zionism is studied and judged, and another entirely different set by which the rest of the Middle East and North Africa—indeed, the rest of the world--is scrutinized.

Frequently, Jewish organizations (J Street U, Jewish Voice For Peace, and too many others--including Hillel, at times) are prominent, or at least collaborative, in partaking in the one-sided Israel and Zionism-bashing goings on of other groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Students Association, radical Leftists, and progressive liberals.

While students learn about the 'evil' quest of Jews to cast off their millennial victim, scapegoat, and whipping post status, they’ll neither hear nor read anything about the plights of scores of millions of other non-Arab peoples in the region. They won’t find, for example, a local chapter of Students for Justice in Kurdistan or for the Kabyle or Amazigh (Berber”) people, whose programs they can attend. And they won’t find a post-Zionist, “Progressive” Hebrew or other professor mentioning anything about them either.

You’d think that, after what people like Captain Alfred Dreyfus, Theodore Herzl, and Dr. Judah Leib (“Leo”) Pinsker witnessed, the lesson of placing faith in such “Progressive” movements by Jews would have been learned by now. As for those other groups, the Kurds and Imazighen alone account for some 70-80 million long-oppressed, stateless peoples in the region. Did you ever wonder why you’ve hardly heard anything about them, while, at the same time, you are lectured constantly about the need for Israel, which one needs a magnifying glass to locate on a world globe, to commit suicide so that a 22nd--if not 23rd--Arab state can emerge in its stead?

Important note: That would be the second Palestinian Arab state. The first was created in the original April 25, 1920 Mandate of Palestine for division among Jews and Arabs, and in 1922, what would become today’s “Jordan” was gifted with almost 80% of the total original territory.

Two thousand years ago, the great Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel  reminded us what the Torah and Hebrew Prophets demanded--that while we must care for ourselves, we must also care for “the other” in our midst. Jews have become quite good at this, and most movements for social betterment have disproportionate numbers of Jews involved and in the lead.

In fact, given what’s happening today, one might wonder if those anti-Zionist Jews have tilted too far in the latter direction--forgetting about their own historic situation while worrying about “the other”-- and an other whose idea of justice is only for themselves at the expense of attempting to annihilate others.. 

While national liberation movements are usually viewed in a favorable light, that of perhaps the most oppressed people this planet has ever known--modern political Zionism--is increasingly regarded as illegitimate. There are several reasons for this.

For some, theology has taught for millennia that Jews were children of the Devil and cursed to be perpetual, stateless wanderers for their alleged “deicide.” Given this, how dare Jews upset such “holy” beliefs! And often, for many living in a post-Auschwitz world, the animus earlier reserved for Jews as individuals simply gets transferred (and becomes more acceptable) as hostility towards the Jewish State--the Jew of the Nations--instead.

For others, no other nationalism but their own was/is deemed legitimate. Arabs, for example, simply call the entire Middle East and North Africa “purely Arab patrimony” and a permanent part of the Dar ul-Islam.  Literally millions who have stood in the way of or challenged such ideas have been slaughtered over the centuries.

In between the above rationales exists a blend of others which have been used to also apply a constant set of duplicitous actions and attitudes towards the resurrected tiny State of the Jews. While perfect justice is found nowhere among the realm of imperfect man, it is nevertheless demanded of Israel in its struggle to survive.

Given all of this, another look at what Zionism is really all about is in order for today's generation of millenials.

Zionism has meant different things to different people over the millennia. The connecting thread, however, has always involved Jews being in their own land and in control of their own destinies. The very word “Jew” is a shortened form of Judean--a person whose origin was Judea/Judah, which, in turn, was named for one of the twelve sons/tribes of Jacob who himself was later renamed Israel. See the Roman coin of conquest, at the top of this link, issued after the first major revolt of Judea for its freedom in 66-73 C.E. and check out some excerpts from just one of many accounts by various Roman historians themselves, like the one below, from Vol. II, Book V, The Works Of Tacitus…

            “… It inflamed Vespasian’s (the Emperor) ire that the Jews were the only nation which had not yet submitted…Titus was appointed by his father to complete the subjugation of Judaea. he commanded three legions in Judaea itself. To these he added the twelfth from Syria and the third and twenty-second from Alexandria. Amongst his allies were a band of Arabs, formidable in themselves and harboring towards the Jews the bitter animosity usually subsisting between neighboring nations…”

Whether they were Biblical tears shed by the rivers of Babylon some two thousand years before him, or writings such as those of the medieval poet, Yehuda HaLevi, proclaiming a desire to be a pauper in Zion rather than a prince in Muslim Spain, these ancient ties have bound Jews to the land of Israel for most of man’s recorded history. And the persecution they suffered in both the Christian and Muslim halves of the Diaspora helped to assure that those ties would not be forgotten.

For religious Zionists of all degrees, the Hand of G-d was at work in all of these events throughout the ages leading up to the rebirth of Israel in 1948. It took, after all, the rejection by the non-Jewish world of even the most assimilated of Jews--men like Captain Alfred Dreyfus--before the rebirth of political Zionism could become a reality in the late 19th century. But not all Jews were religious Zionists.

Many had indeed tried just about everything to gain acceptance in the non-Jewish world, but the Dreyfus Affair, pogroms, and anti-Semitism culminating in the Holocaust kept on occurring in the “enlightened” and “modern” age anyway. 

So Zionism came to have another meaning… It represented, for many, a chance for Jews to simply bring a semblance of normalcy into their lives. Since the fall of Judea to Rome, forced conversions, expulsions, inquisitions, blood libels, massacres, demonization, ghettoization, dhimmitude, and every other imaginable humiliation had become the plight of the Jew in the Diaspora.

And the incitement continues. There are churches to this very day which have stained glass windows or murals depicting Jews stabbing the Host of the Christian Communion in order to allegedly kill Jesus yet again. And the Arab world provides widespread anti-Semitica to its people as well. They were either “G-d killers” in the West or kilab yahud--“Jew Dog”-- killers of prophets in the East.

So, not all Jews who longed for Zion did so out of an urge to become a nation of priests or a light unto the nations. While the high ideals of religious Zionism remained in many a Jewish heart and soul (even among agnostics), the chance to simply change their age-old fragile existence in the Diaspora was also a major motivating factor.

Besides wanting to escape the mandatory ghetto (and subconsciously the evolved ghetto mentality) of Christendum or the mellah of the Dar ul-islam--and the negative effects and consequences such existence both produced on and brought out from themselves over the centuries--Jews just wanted to have a nation like all others. 

Jews wanted to be farmers (they had not been allowed to own land in Europe), businessmen (they were only allowed to be - hated - moneylenders, tax collectors or innkeepers in much of Europe), policemen, doctors, scholars, soldiers, statesmen…whatever, but masters of their own fate--not the perpetual stranger in someone else’s land or pawn being played in someone else’s often deadly games. 

Some, like Karl Marx, would seek solutions in a broader context, via political and socio-economic reform. Ironically, while Marx despised his Jewish roots, he sounded like a Hebrew Prophet in his demand for justice for the poor and the oppressed. Isaiah, Micah, Amos and others would have understood his passion well…Indeed, they were his teachers. And to show the double standards, while for much of the Gentile world, while Marx will always remain a Jew, does that mean that Adolph Hitler will forever remain a Roman Catholic?

Zionism meshed together all these diverse fears, hopes, and dreams. And the key to its future had everything to do with transforming the powerless state of the Jews as a people.

Enter ‘Abd-ar-Rahman Abu Zayd ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Khaldun, born in the early 14th century C.E. and one of the most important philosophers, jurists, and scholars Islamic--or any--civilization would ever produce.

Graduate students in Middle Eastern Studies usually come to know Ibn Khaldun through his work, The Muqaddimah. It is actually the Introduction and Book I of his Kitab al-‘Ibar, the History of the World.

Besides giving an account of past events, Ibn Khaldun offers his readers a rational explanation of the “hows” and “whys” they occurred. He uses frequent historical illustrations, and it is here that this great Muslim scholar, who died over six hundred years ago, has some very important things to say about both Jews and their reborn nation.

While he offers good critique and discussion, for example, about Biblical and other accounts regarding Jews in general (such as the Roman conquest of Jewish Jerusalem--something even many, if not most, alleged Arab “moderates” today deny ever existed), it is his perspective on issues we have already covered above that is now of interest..

Recall that before The Muqaddimah was introduced into this analysis, we reviewed the powerlessness nature of the Jewish experience and the negative consequences which had derived from this. Ibn Khaldun specifically addressed this matter as well

Students, slaves, and servants brought up with injustice and tyrannical force are overcome by it…it makes them feel oppressed…induces them to lie, be insincere…their outward behavior differs from what they are thinking...Thus they fall short of their potentialities and do not reach the limit of their humanity. That is what happened to every nation which fell under the yoke of tyranny and learned the meaning of injustice…One may check this out by observing any person who is not in control of his own affairs and has no authority on his side to guarantee safety. One may look at the Jews (as an example) …The reason is what we have said.

However one chooses to respond to his assessment, Zionism’s non-religious raison d’etre would have been obvious to Ibn Khaldun, one of the world’s most important thinkers long ago. He devoted much time and effort to the evolution and development of the Jewish nation, its early struggles with its adversaries, and its later fight for freedom and independence with the mighty Roman Empire and the consequences. He then followed this with an analysis of the Jews’ tragic condition of powerlessness throughout subsequent generations.

Regardless of the protestations of the Arabs and their many assorted anti-Zionist allies, Ibn Khaldun would have well understood the rebirth of Israel and the ‘asabiyah--the crucial group consciousness, emphasized throughout his writings--which made it possible…even if it was a consciousness born not only out of a “noble house,” but also from the desperation of the Jews’ perpetual victim, scapegoat, and whipping post status.

While commenting that the Jews, who had one of the most “noble houses” in the world, had subsequently lost their ‘asabiyah' and for centuries suffered constant humiliations as a result, there is no doubt that he would have applauded and understood the desire of the Jewish people to end this unfortunate turn of events.

The Muqaddimah emphasizes that Jews were forced to wander in the desert for forty years due to their “meekness.” Ibn Khaldun stressed that this was necessary so that a new generation would arise with a new, more powerful ‘asabiyah to reverse this unfortunate turn of events.

Head of the “Progressive” Reform movement (the largest body of Jews in America today), Rick Jacobs, recently criticized President Trump for recognizing King David’s 3,000 year-old capital as modern Israel’s capital and for also moving America’s embassy there. But how many other peoples can make such a valid claim? Jacobs and his ilk are just what Ibn Khaldun had in mind--and it would be wise to pay heed to Ibn Khaldun’s warnings regarding such thinking.      

At a time when Arabs and their numerous supporters are demanding, at minimum, their 22nd state (most having been created by the conquest and subjugation of non-Arab peoples and their lands) while still refusing to recognize the lone, minuscule state of the Jews - and launching thousands of rockets against its civilians -  chances are more than good that ‘Abd-ar-Rahman Abu Zayd ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Khaldun, this great Muslim thinker, would have approved and viewed the resurrection of Israel as an answer to the unique plight of once-stateless Jews.