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The debate over Zionism going on in Jewish communities is as old as Zionism itself. It did not end after the Holocaust, and it did not end conclusively with the founding of the State of Israel.
The champions of Zionism among Jews seem to have become a majority only after the 1967 war, but even then there was a significant minority of non-Zionists in any Jewish society.
However, it seems that the more powerful the Zionism trend has become among Jews, the more hysterical its supporters have turned. They engage in constant stable-cleaning, sniffing for dissidents behind every curtain, finding non-Zionists under each cupboard.
And when one or two are found - gevalt! All hell breaks loose. Hitler, Chmelnitzki and Petlura are back, and the shtetl is on fire. The renegades have to be found and hanged; the camp must be purified at once.
Reading the responses of Emanuele Ottolenghi ("Jews against Israel," February 22) and Melanie Phillips (in her infamous blog) to the recent debate over Zionism held in Cambridge in which Brian Klug, Richard Kuper and myself argued for alternatives to Zionism, one would think that Israel was not a nuclear regional superpower possessing the fourth most powerful army in the world, but a shaky sanctuary where Jews are annihilated by the thousands every day.
BUT ARE WE really not strong enough to have such a debate? Abraham Leon's book arguing against Zionism was smuggled out of Auschwitz; Algerian dissident Abraham Sarfati held on to his non-Zionist criticism even after years of imprisonment in Algiers for his opposition to the local regime.
Zionism is not an obvious response to suffering or to persecution. If those people, true Jewish heroes, kept on debating the subject while exposed to the most horrible perils, so, surely, can we.
Ottolenghi argued that the organizers of the Cambridge debate were "setting Jews against Jews" in a gladiators-arena scenario. The fact is that the debate was civilized and good-natured, and the participants went back to London on the train cracking Jewish jokes all the way to Kings Cross.
The only people in this story who are setting Jews against Jews are renegade-hunters like Ottolenghi. A brief read through the Internet responses provoked by his article should suffice to prove this point beyond doubt. "Fatwa anybody?" "Scumbags" and "kapos" are but mere examples.
One can only wonder what really poses a danger to fellow Jews - Brian Klug's suggestion that Jewish existence not center around Israel (he never said "There's no place in this world for nationalism")? Richard Kuper's revulsion over Israel's behavior in the West Bank? My own claim that Israel should belong to all its citizens? Or maybe, as one dead prime minister might tell us, were he able, it is those who wildly incite against anybody who dares divert from the party line.
The writer is an Israeli journalist based in London.