Mike Marqusee on becoming an anti-zionist 'self-hating' Jew

Remarkably honest and well written...

So what was the creed we were taught in Sunday school? It was not about God. It was about the Jews. A singular people who had given wonderful gifts to the world and whom the world had treated cruelly. A people who were persecuted. A people who survived. A people who triumphed. Despite the Holocaust, we were not a nation of losers, of victims. There was a redemptive denouement. There was Israel, a modern Jewish homeland, a beacon to the world. A shiny new state with up-to-date, Coke-drinking people like us. Liberals, like us. Bearers of democracy and civilisation, making the desert bloom. A little America in the Middle East.

Israel was both our own cause, a Jewish cause, and a moral cause, a universal cause. Like America. A land without people for a people without land. Like America. That was the gift we received in Sunday school - an extra country. For us there were two nations and, best of all, we didn't have to choose between them. As Jews and Americans, we enjoyed a double birthright and a double privilege. The coming home of the Jews to the land of our forefathers completed the epic saga stretching back to Genesis and ensured it ended with a huge upswing in mood. From near-annihilation in the Holocaust to the pride of statehood in a few short years. We took this less as a sign of the divine inspiration of the ancient prophets than as another manifestation of the order and justice that generally prevailed in our world. A testament to progress and the Jewish mastery of progress.

Thanks to America and Israel, the Jews were safe at last. We could visit Israel and work on a kibbutz, like a grown-up summer camp. We were taught to revere Ben Gurion and his heir, the Jewish-American farm girl Golda Meir. In our Sunday school textbooks the Israelis looked like us. And the country they were building looked familiar, with modern buildings and girls in jeans. These were Jews who read books but also drove tractors and tanks.

As always, the Jews had enemies. Israel was menaced by Arabs (not Palestinians, a word never uttered in our synagogue). They were exotically attired bedouin - people who did not have or want a home. In our Sunday school texts, they appeared swarthy, coarse, ignorant, duplicitous. These descendants of Pharaoh and the Philistines seemed curiously ungrateful and irrational. For no reason at all, they hated us.

...In Sunday school, Israel's victory in the 1967 six-day war was a great moment of Jewish pride. I don't remember much thanking of God, and no mourning for the victims on either side, just a sustained note of elated triumph. To cap all our other Jewish achievements, to confirm our eminence, we had proved ourselves masters in war. Six days to defeat Arab armies attacking from all sides, to sweep across the Sinai, unite Jerusalem, drive the enemy back across the Jordan. No one spoke then, not in my hearing, of the beginning of an occupation. We had redrawn the lines on the map. That was our prerogative. That was justice. We were unbeatable and we were righteous. Israel married moral virtue and military strength - another sign that we lived in an age of order and progress. When a friend who liked to tease me about my anti-Vietnam war views suggested I might not support Israel against the Arabs, I was outraged and offended.

I'm not sure exactly when or how I began to doubt. But I remember what happened the first time I expressed that doubt. It was a few months after the '67 war. A special visitor came to our Sunday school class. He was in his early 20s, with thick fair hair falling over his forehead, a snappy sports jacket and polished loafers. Some of the girls whispered that he was cute. He had an accent but it was nothing like our grandparents' accents. He looked and dressed like us but he had been a soldier in a war and that made him an alien being. Smiling, he perched himself casually on the front of the teacher's desk and told us about the remarkable achievements of the Israeli army. He told us that the Arabs had planned a sneak attack but had met with more than they bargained for. They were bad fighters, undisciplined soldiers. And they were better off now, under Israeli rule. "You have to understand these are ignorant people. They go to the toilet in the street."

Now something akin to this I had heard before. I had heard it from the white southerners I'd been taught to look down upon. I had heard it from people my parents and my teachers described as prejudiced and bigoted. So I raised my hand and when called upon I expressed my opinion, as I'd been taught to do. It seemed to me that what our visitor had said was, well, racist.

And on the difference between Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism.

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Since March 29th 2006