A Progressive Zionist Confronts “Nakba”

May 24, 2009 by

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The other day, someone said to me, “If you think you know the answer, it’s not a good question.” The question being, as a progressive Zionist, what do I do with Nakba, which shows up at the end of every semester when I am at my most exhausted.

This is the test, of course. It forces me to hold a lens to each word in that identity, even if it makes me queasy to do so. It’s hard to exist in a liminal space; that is, to make room for both narratives, Israeli and Palestinian, especially when one is exceedingly painful to think about. I can’t reject the Palestinian story, both because of my progressive politics and what I hope is some level of intellectual and moral integrity. But I do struggle with empathy, specifically, how much I can have and for whom. I choose every day to throw my lot in with my people, the Jews, and yet I would like to see a different manifestation of Israeli power, one that fulfills the need for security and pursues peace. I don’t reject the narrative of Nakba, because there is a level of truth to it, but I do reject the assault on Israel as illegitimate, as a pariah because of the way it came into being.

My meager analysis is one that I think weds progressive politics with Zionism. Racism – both anti-Jewish and anti-Arab – is at the heart of this conflict, and it is at work both in the region as well as in the entire world. It’s what allows the conflict to continue to play out, it’s what led Jews and Arabs to this point, where at our worst, we are hopeless, at best, ambivalent. In the face of what seems like perpetual, insidious anti-Semitism, Jewish self determination is critical, but so is morality, and so is the ability to wrestle with what that means.

It’s been a whole year since I was last in Israel, and I’m starting to feel a little panicked. Certain smells are driving me crazy, I’ve been to Aroma in Manhattan multiple times this week, I eavesdrop on unknowing Hebrew speakers. Some people appreciate my nostalgia and others challenge me to confront my Zionism from uncomfortable angles. I still end up at the same place, holding both truths close to my chest-Israel is vital, it must endure and flourish, it has both hurt and been hurt, like every living thing. My own loving struggles must remain based in my progressive values, so in the next year of Israel’s life, I can love a little smarter.

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