A great source of confusion and conflict seems to derive from the slippage of meaning contained in key terms like ‘Zionism’ and ‘Jewish State’. Many arguments both for and against Israeli policy, the acts of Palestinians, and possible solutions for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians use these terms in a highly ambiguous way. Sometimes they are used with different, even contradictory, meanings as a part of the same dialogue. Moreover, it is often assumed that these phrases only contain one possible interpretation, and this interpretation is assumed each time particular individuals enunciates the term and – far more problematic – when the term is read when used by others. Furthermore, these phrases (among others) when used and abused in this fashion tend to block the ability to really think through the conflict and possible solutions. Hegemonic interpretations are established which result in rhetorical deadlocks and the sidelining of conceptual alternatives.
Historically, there were (and are, obviously) many notions of what ‘Zionism’ and/or a ‘Jewish State’ should or could mean, and it is probably more accurate to speak in terms of ‘Zionisms’. Cultural Zionism, Religious Zionism, Revisionist Zionism; these are just a few of the loose categories/genres under which a wide range of perspectives fall. Similarly, there are many conceptions of what ‘A Jewish State’ might mean, though this phrase is used no less accurately by many voices speaking about Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians. There is great political interest in controlling the definitions of these terms by positions across the spectrum of opinion. In fact, it seems that there is a certain interest in assuring that these notions are never accurately defined, as any fixation of meaning of, say, the term ‘Jewish State’ would render many of the arguments in defense of Israeli policy and on potential alternatives and solutions to the current constellation problematic. The very ambiguity, in such cases, operates a rhetorical mechanism allowing those employing it to deflect a wide range of arguments without really engaging their substance. This technique essentially entails evoking a kind of emotional response, meant to short-circuit any kind of discourse on possible alternatives (e.g. a One State Solution) by base emotive appeals to canards about ‘the destruction of the Jewish State’; the implication being the destruction of the Jewish people.
So, I would like to invite posters to help solve this conundrum by opening up a discussion about what we mean when we say ‘Zionism’ and/or ‘A Jewish State’. I must admit, I’m particularly curious to see the conceptions put forward by our ‘pro-Israel’ posters (for lack of a better term). Other key concepts may also find their way into the mix as a result of looking at these two. My intention is not, however, to ‘fix’ the definitions of these terms. In fact, more the opposite – to open them up – or – to use them as an entry point into the fundamental communicative deadlocks which seem to characterize the discussion of Israel/Palestine here and which are a microcosm of certain aspects of the conflict itself – questions of national self-determination, national and individual ‘rights’ and the relation of ethnicity/cultural groups to sovereignty and political power and privilege.
Moreover, I hope that some clarification of terms – and thus, hopefully, the clarification of the commicative process about the conflict – might lead to a greater understanding and tolerance of positions rather the rhetorical scapegoating so common here.