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There is no such thing as progressive Zionism

January 31, 2018 at 11:39 am

A strand of Israeli propaganda with a long history has been to misrepresent the Zionist movement as a “progressive” cause. For example, over the past few years we have been told that Israel is good for women, the LGBTQ community, people of colour, the environment and even for technological progress.

“Pinkwashing”, “greenwashing” and many other hasbara efforts have been very real, but they have met with little success. At their heart, they amount to cynical PR strategies which people see through quickly.

These are actually attempts to change the conversation to an unrelated topic; we can call it “whataboutery”. “What about Syria?” the Zionists ask. What about China? What about women? And so on.

These crude distractions have become even harder to sell over the past year, with Israel’s open embrace of US President Donald Trump and his cohort of white supremacists, hard-right Zionists and even Nazi-aligned figures like former advisor Sebastian Gorka.

Read: Israel is damaged by its own Zionism

“While BDS continues to grow in the hearts and minds of millions around the world with its inclusive, nonviolent and anti-racist human rights principles,” the co-founder of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement Omar Barghouti put it to me recently, “Israel is increasingly becoming a role model in the rising xenophobic, far-right global alliance led by the Trump administration.” As a result, he explained, Israel is quickly losing the liberal mainstream, including many young Jewish-Americans. “A 2016 Brookings Institution poll shows almost half of all Americans — and 60 per cent of Democrats — supporting sanctions against Israel.”

While increasingly reliant on hard-right extremists and Trump fans for its support base, Israel is more and more coming to abandon attempts to win over progressives and the left. It knows that it is fighting a losing battle in this respect. The Israeli Labour Party itself has shifted openly to the right in recent years.

When BICOM was launched at the start of the millennium, what is arguably Britain’s leading Israel lobby group said that its aim was to “bring about a significant shift in opinion in favour of Israel amongst the general public.” A decade later, however, and this goal was abandoned in favour of a focus on “opinion formers” — top journalists, policy-makers and other members of the elite. BDS activists had essentially won the debate at the grassroots in British trade unions, shifting union policy as a result.

There are still liberal Zionists who try to make the so-called “progressive” case for Israel, though. They are increasingly in the minority of the Zionist movement, although some have the ear of Israeli policy-makers, who have advocated just such a strategy.

Read: I am not anti-Semitic, but I am anti-Zionism

However, more fundamentally, the reality is that Zionism has always been a reactionary, racist movement, seeking to dispossess the Palestinian people. This is the circle which those trying to “make the progressive case for Israel” simply cannot square.

A perfect, and deeply ironic, example of this was seen recently when an attempt to portray Israel as being good for women’s rights collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. A group calling itself “Zioness” released a poster dubbing themselves “Zionists for women’s rights” and declaring that they were part of “#Resistance” opposed to Donald Trump.

The poster included a stylised photo of a woman with dreadlocks and her arms crossed wearing a Star of David chain. The image looked as if it was cast in the style of the iconic Barack Obama “Hope” election campaign poster, and appeared to be an attempt to cast the group as being composed of people of diverse racial heritage, although in the image used, the model’s skin appeared lightened, if not entirely white.

It was reminiscent of previous Israeli government propaganda efforts. One such campaign, by government-funded group Stand With Us, once illustrated an advert claiming that “Israel celebrates diversity” with photos that included one of a white man wearing dreadlocks.

The “Zioness” poster turned out to be even more egregious than this. It has emerged that the image of the woman had been used without her support or even knowledge, let alone her permission.

South African hip-hop artist Dope Saint Jude confirmed on Twitter that it was a doctored picture of her: “I didn’t know they were using my image… I am in no way affiliated with the Zioness movement… I’m just a South African girl who rides a motorbike, makes music and has no ties to Israel.” Or, it must be stressed, the Zionist movement.

The photo turned out to have been taken from the Getty archive, where it was listed as a stock photo, mislabelling the South African citizen as “African American”.

Zioness took the image, lightened Dope Saint Jude’s skin, Photoshopped-out her tattoos, which included Christian religious iconography, and added a symbol taken from the Israeli flag. In doing so, the group unwittingly demonstrated the falsehood at the heart of Zionism, not least the claim that it is a “progressive” ideology. The reality is simple; there is no such thing as progressive Zionism.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.