Zionism used to be one of the great left causes. It seems strange to write this now when it is the Palestinian cause that is so fashionable. Today, questioning the assumptions and motives of some anti-Zionists can be uncomfortable and Terry Glavin has become the latest target of their ire. He took on one of the most egregious examples this week in his excellent Vancouver Sun column. It has caused quite a stir amongst the usual unsavoury types. These days, as I look out at left anti-Zionism I see a landscape shrouded by the shadows of crematoria, and I shudder.
There is an urgent case for justice for the Palestinians. It is the case articulated in various ways by peace movements both inside and outside Israel. The dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees has never been addressed, neither has the Palestinian State, as envisaged in the 1947 UN partition plan, been created. The occupation continues. The argument for a two state solution is overwhelming. Yet somehow all this is obscured by a determined, dangerous and futile attempt to question the legitimacy of the State of Israel, rather than support the search for a settlement.
How did some of the left fall for this, especially as they seemed so oblivious to the Palestinian case before the 1970's? Part of the answer lies in the successful re-branding of the PLO as an oh so fashionable anti-colonial national liberation movement. This enabled the romanticisation of Palestinians as the vanguard of a new revolutionary class in the developing world, promoting the seductive call for a "secular, democratic state of Palestine", a piece of sophistry in reality meaning the abolition of Israel.
There was, however, a logical flaw in their position. If Palestinian nationalism constituted a progressive national liberation movement, what of Zionism? Is it not the national liberation movement of the oppressed Jewish people, as an earlier left had viewed it? Is it not progressive too? The process of the denial of legitimacy was an answer to this dilemma.
I have waded through a lot of this unimpressive guff - Zionism as racism, colonialism, apartheid etc.; Zionism being illegitimate as it was a diaspora nationalism - the justifications for denying Israel's legitimacy were varied and, above all, political. There was a subtext, but it remained buried.
Then something else that Terry mentions was added to the brew. In 1976 Arthur Koestler published a contentious book, The Thirteenth Tribe. The Khazar myth was reborn. Koestler's reputation as a great writer had been established by Darkness at Noon and so the book received considerable publicity. However, by now he was dabbling in the paranormal and was attracted to outlandish theories. This one, that European Jews were not descended from the original Hebrews but from the Turkic Khazars, provided a bridge from anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism. Now it was possible to oppose Israel not just on political grounds but on ethnic ones too. The subtext could come to the surface.
Ethnic de-legitimation began to merge with European conspiracy theory. If Jews had no ethnic claim to their state how could they be anything other than the dark creatures of anti-Semitic myth? After all had they not usurped the legitimate Semitic inhabitants? Why had they come to steal the land? Surely it was a part of a plan for world domination as the shadowy Jewish lobby began to control American foreign policy. This insane and sinister 'logic' infected the left and the growing Islamist movement. Their alliance was just one sign of a left distaste for Israel and for Jews. Anti-Zionism was a device for articulating, whether consciously or unconsciously, an anti-Semitic discourse.
The justified demands of the Palestinian people for their national rights require engagement with the politics of mutual recognition, with compromise as well as restitution, and acting in partnership with Israel whose permanence and legitimacy is fully accepted. Instead, the left anti-Zionists offer the politics of annihilation. It is a politics that could drown the Middle East in blood. It offers the Palestinians the chimera of victory and the certainty of a catastrophic defeat. Such a disaster would, of course, reinforce the smug self-righteousness of those convinced of Israel's intrinsic wickedness.
When will this left wake up and abandon these dangerous fantasies? When will they engage with the wishes of the Palestinian people and support the peace movements and peace process? When will they jettison their alliance with Jihadi organisations? The moment they do we can start to recover a left that can speak for the rights of all, as well as a left that wishes to defeat fascism rather than cuddle up to it.