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Patriotic Zionism and Nationalistic Zionism

Patriotism and Nationalism

I am a patriotic Zionist, not a nationalistic Zionist.

What are the differences between patriotism and nationalism? I am more interested in descriptions in terms of the behavior of the patriot and the nationalist rather than the exact definitions of the terms.

George Orwell explained nationalism in the following way “….the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil, and recognizing no other duty than advancing its interests.” He continues “By patriotism, I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world, but has no wish to force on other people.”  This differentiation was echoed more recently by President Macron who declared patriotism as good and nationalism as bad. 

Patriotism generally respects the patriotism of others; nationalism generally does not respect other nationalisms, especially those peoples geographically proximate.

Both patriots and nationalists are proud to belong to a special group perceived to differ in certain ways from all other groups. Note that this always means the patriot or nationalist group always excludes an overwhelming percentage of the human race from his special group.

I think a good illustration of the differences comes in Amoz Oz’s book “Dearest Zealots”. He writes that when he was about 8 years old in 1947 he befriended a British policeman who believed that the Jewish return to Israel heralded redemption for the world. Amos’s young friends called him a traitor for befriending an enemy. Those kids were clearly nationalists; probably the British policeman, because of his favorable attitude towards the Jews, was a British patriot, certainly not a nationalist.

The patriot and nationalist regard minorities within their nation in markedly different ways.

The nationalist attitude towards minorities combined with its general hostility towards other nations often induces racist patterns of belief and behavior towards minorities. 

The differences between patriots and nationalists were well illustrated at the Versailles treaty negotiations in 1919. The Poles, Czechs, Greeks, Italians, Bulgarians, etc., all wanted sovereignty over areas where they were the majority.  That is both patriotism and nationalism. But the more nationalistic in each delegation wanted sovereignty in areas where their national group comprised 30% to 40% or less or even areas where there had been a distant historical connection.

What is Zionism? What is a Zionist?

I am a Zionist because I support the right of Jews, i.e. the Jewish people to have their own country, basically a Jewish state. That is the essence of Zionism; almost a definition of Zionism. This enters into the tough question of what is a people.   Nearly everyone agrees that Montenegrins, South Sudanese, Libyans, Paraguayans, etc., have a right to have a country, since all these peoples already have a country.  In fact having a country or nation state seems to be a sufficient reason for calling the inhabitants of that country a people. There are also many peoples without a country who want one and should have one e.g. Tibetans, Kurds, Catalonians, Scots.  There is a name for someone assenting to these other peoples’ rights to a nation  but denying it to the Jewish people: antisemite is the appropriate appellation. This basic definition is not directly relevant to the allocation of West Bank territory or to the denial of Palestinian rights to have their own state.

What is the difference between patriotic Zionism and nationalistic Zionism?

A patriotic zionist is happy to be a Jew in Israel enjoying the culture, life, development, and prefers living in Israel. This patriotic Zionism can also be felt by Jews (and others) living outside Israel.

A nationalistic zionist shares most of these characteristics but has very important additional features: a desire for land expansion based on irredentism and culturally, an assertion of superiority over neighboring peoples, religions, or nations and, politically, the denial of the legitimacy of some other peoples’ rights. The biblical names Judea and Samaria are used to bolster a historical right to the West Bank.  These are the areas where the early Israelites lived and where many of the bible stories took place.

Concerning land expansion; an early right-wing nationalistic song was named “two banks of Jordan” (shtei gadot hayarden) i.e., they both belong to Israel. Culturally, for example, a guide at the Israel museum dismissed Assyrians, Egyptians, and Greeks as having different religions, languages, and cultures than the inhabitants of these lands 2000 years ago. This is deliberately ignoring peoples who have retained their religion/culture/language e.g., the Chinese and Hindus, each well over 2000 years, and the Armenians almost 2000 years. Politically, Golda Meir, and others more recently, have denied the existence of a Palestinian people. 

Personally, as an example of cultural attachment, I do love and sing (to myself, my voice precludes willing listeners) a number of Israeli songs which does give me a feeling of belonging and attachment to Israel. I do take pride in the economic and technological development of Israel. Many Jewish people take pride in Jewish scientists, the Hebrew language, and the Bible as a gift to mankind from the Israelites.

Problems with Patriotic Zionism

But what are problems even with patriotic Zionism? The biggest problem, as in all patriotism, is the focus on one’s own culture, country, history, politics, religion, society, etc., to the exclusion of nearly all others (unless these directly affect your own).  There are many people who know many details about Auschwitz, Sukkot, Israeli political parties, famous Jews, etc. but know hardly anything about the Armenian genocide, the Rohingya, the EU, Luther, or Dalits. Few of them are interested or knowledgeable about these latter set of topics. Nationalistic Zionists, generally, would be even less interested.

Religion and Nationalistic Zionism

There are many religions and within each, there is a wide diversity of beliefs.  Within Judaism, it is generally the more Orthodox groups that adhere to a more nationalistic Zionism. The reason for this is that among the orthodox God’s biblical promises to Israel are taken more seriously than among the non-Orthodox Jewish majority. This is similar to Christian Evangelicals’ biblical basis for the support of a nationalistic Zionism. There is a pattern of nationalists worldwide using the majority religion to further nationalist goals (India and Turkey are good examples).  The biggest problem with religion entering politics is that God, as interpreted by the believer, does not, indeed, cannot, compromise.

Conclusion

Using Orwell’s differentiation of patriotism and nationalism and combining it with the nationalism espoused by religious Zionism, we can come to s conclusion about Zionism. Patriotic Zionism has its flaws but for the most part, it is a reasonable belief, infusing Jews with pride in the Zionist state. Nationalistic Zionism is a pernicious, yet widespread, doctrine that has caused the State of Israel to lose its moral compass and acquire many of the characteristics of a colonial state.

About the Author
Born in London in 1949. Studied Maths at Warwick University. Came to Israel (WUJS program at Arad) in 1971. I became a citizen and served in the army in 1973. Returned to the UK in 1974. Worked in Information Systems. Married an American Orthodox woman in 1977 and moved to America. For a few years I have led a retiree philosophy class.
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