Monday, April 25, 2005

Life after Zionism

Polllyanna Frank is singing from my computer speakers: Life after Zionism, on the shore. When I heard her performing at the Yellow Submarine, five years ago, I was drawn and repelled. Queer, political, and singing hard words with soft tunes. The nice and straight boy I was found the lyrics a bit in-yer-face.

Make lots of money
Drive really fast
Fuck the secretary
Drink like a man
Always smell bad
And never shed a tear

Yes, I too want to be a hero in the IDF
and I'll have a gorgeous wife waiting for me in bed
When I'll finish dealing with everything
She'll wank me off and she'll say
you're a-m-a-z-i--i--I--n-g

But what I remembered most from the gig was this song, which was just one, unfinished sentence, which I found dangerously suggestive at the time. She repeated it so many times: Life After Zionism, on the shore. It was summer 2000, and post-zionism was becoming a catchy label in some circles, like a fashionable brand. The second Intifada would change all this: it was as if Israeli discourse went back twenty years to some nostalgic neverland. Corny patriotism, however anachronistic, pathetic and fake, now reigns supreme.

Zionism: such a messy bundle of emotions; the way it's used here, by most Israeli Jews ("of course I'm zionist") and by the defying minority ("I'm not Zionist!"); the way this term is sometimes used in Europe, or in Arabic, synonymous with fascism/colonialism/racism. "You've shown your true colours... Zionist!" I once heard a professor at SOAS snap at a colleague: it was as if he expected the ground to open its mouth and swallow the colleague whole. A term so charged and laden with emotions, yet so vague; what does it actually mean, where does one mark the lines, and is it a useful term? Almost always it is used for the sake of mystification; a great fraternity which one belongs to, or a great axis of evil one tries to escape or fight. It's always greater than history, transcending place and time and people. But when a term becomes a badge or an insult it is a good moment to stop using it. This is my own private resolution: to sidestep the whole thing. Like other 19th century ideologies, e.g. Socialism and Anarchism, Zionism was - once upon a time - a term which had more or less a meaningful sense. Of course, it meant a lot of different things to different people. But whatever it meant a hundred years ago really has very little to do with the way people use it today.

Does this sound evasive? Maybe it is in a sense. Understanding that I no longer want to call myself a Zionist was, for me, a moment of both crisis and emancipation. But I decided not to wear the non-zionist badge, because I feel that the word is given magical power which I personally find harmful. It's taking sides in a debate which I think is no longer relevant. Ulrich Beck calls these terms 'zombies': ideological constructs, remnants of the 20th century, which live amongst us like ghosts, and still carry great emotional appeal. But when you look carefully at them, you see that these terms have long lost their meaning: they are hollow, no more than an empty costume. I think it's time for some exorcism.


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