“We Fight, Therefore We Are:” Zionism’s Epistemology

Ramon’s Grosfoguel, in a seminal article, The Structure of Knowledge in Westernized Universities, provided a conceptualization of multiple genocides/epistemicides, which can and should be extended to deconstruct the Zionist settler colonial project. From its epistemic inception, Zionism’s settler colonialism was directed at the Palestinians and culminating in ethnic cleansing, destruction of villages and towns as well as the constant structured violence directed at the population.

Rene Descartes statement, “I think therefore I am” for Grosfoguel and Enrique Dussel was preceded by 150 years of “I conquer, therefore I am”, which for the Zionist settler colonial project may be translated into “I ethnically cleanse therefore I am.” In almost identical ontological and epistemic conceptualization, Menahem Begin maintained that “we fight, therefore we are,”as an ideological formation for the Zionism, which since the establishment of the state has become the bedrock in the process of building and expanding a militaristic state. (Menahem Begin, The Revolt, p. 26)

“Out of blood and fire and tears and ashes, a new specimen of human being was born, a specimen completely unknown to the world for over 1,800 years, the “FIGHTING JEW.” It is axiomatic that those who fight have to hate… We had to hate first and foremost, the horrifying, age-old, inexcusable utter defenselessness of our Jewish people, wandering through millennia, through a cruel world, to the majority of whose inhabitants the defenselessness of the Jews was a standing invitation to massacre them.” (Menahem Begin, The Revolt, pp. xi-xii)

Begin’s statement above has to be understood in the broader Zionist movement attempt at constructing the new national and modern Jewish identity in Palestine; epistemologically vested in might and power. For Begin and his movement, the approach was not confined to securing a piece of land, important as it maybe, rather it was an attempt to do away with the ‘weak’ and ‘meek’ Jewish person living and being a constant subject of anti-Semitism and relentless oppression in Europe and other parts of the world.

In Zionism, Begin and others sought to constitute the new independent, assertive, powerful, secular and national Zionist Jewish figure forging ahead by fighting to claim a place in the world. “We fight” for Begin and the Zionists is at the heart of identity formation, which if done consistently would help castaway the old and weak Jewish person that was subject to the diktat and power of others living in ghettos awaiting divine salvation. Begin’s maintained the new revolting Zionist Jew “began to fight instead of to plead.” Zionists took matters into their hands since salvation is not coming anytime soon considering all the suffering experienced by Jews in the real world and only might and power in the world can alter the course for the Jews.

“We fight” is about the Zionist Jews becoming masters of their own destiny and epistemologically located in the modern world as equals to ‘Western man’ crafting nationhood through blood, might, conquest and colonization as well. For the Zionist, the fighting was on behalf of a national liberation movement intended on ending Jewish persistent subjection and oppression at the hands of Europe first and foremost and then after the birth of the state included everyone that opposes the settler Zionist project; Palestinians included. Indeed, “Zionism secularized and nationalized Judaism” for it is not the book that guides but the power of the gun that defines the constituted national community. (IlanPappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, p. 11)

In the same way that the “I” for Descartes “replaces God as the new foundation for knowledge” and its production, the Zionist in Palestine by embracing a Eurocentric, racist, genocidal and exclusivist world view embarked on a nationalist project founded upon settler colonialism with the powerful Zionist person replacing God in forging a state. Fighting and power gives meaning to the Zionists as they moved to a form a new modern Jewish person that exists in the here and now while being ready to take hold of its future and not waiting for a non-acting God in the world.

For Begin militancy and violence was a way to reshape identity since “for nearly two thousands years, the Jews, as Jews, had not borne arms, and it was on this complete disarmament, as much psychological as physical, that our oppressors calculated.” The link between arms and exile was explicit as Begin asserted that we Jews: “gave up our arms when we were exiled form our country.” Thus, the notion of return to the land is also epistemologically a restoration of strength and use of arms. Exile would be brought to an end by means of the emergence of the powerful Zionist Jewish figure restored in the land by resorting to arms. Consequently, the ineffective God of Judaism is replaced by the Zionists figure that is acting within history and restoring the Jews to the land through human agency, a national project and use of arms.

The “Jewish question” in Europe was thought to be addressed by means of birthing into the modern world a strong and militant Zionist Jew that can bring to an end the political quietism of Orthodox or traditional Judaism that up to this point have not been able to defend the Jewish person from European violence and endemic anti-Semitism.

For Herzl and the Zionists, militancy was about saving Jews from the ever-present pogroms in Europe, “of ‘fighting’ the scourge of anti-Semitism, of ‘conquering’ the land, ‘capturing’ the Diaspora of Jewish communities, ‘combating’ assimilation; the alliances he sought with the rich and powerful were both political and military; he advocated a ‘campaign’ of deception to get stubborn Jewish masses to emigrate. ” The Zionist project was an internal epistemic one focused on challenging, rejecting and changing existing Jewish attitudes toward their own text, history and conditions to urge them all to take matters into their own hands by embracing nationalism. Externally, the Zionist effort was directed at securing Palestine from the British to begin building a settler colonial nation-state.

The new Zionist attitude is evident in the writings of both Micah Berdichevski and Saul Tchernickovski who required setting aside ‘the Book’ while taking up the sword to build the state. “The world” for Begin “does not pity the slaughtered. It only respects those who fight,” and Zionist set out to forge the modern fighting identity. Force and violence as a framework was unleashed on the Palestinians starting with the first Zionist secret defense organization in Palestine lead by both David Ben Gurion and Yitzak Ben Zvi commenting in the first meeting that “not by word of mouth shall a nation be saved, nor shall a country be rebuilt by speeches. ‘In blood and fire Judea fell, in blood and fire it shall rise again.’

It is modernity and secular materiality that was at the heart of the Zionist project, which was certainly an internalizing of Eurocentric conceptualization of the human and his/her agency in the world. In this view, the human emerges into the modern devoid of metaphysics and meaning, rather becoming a pure byproduct of the material and an instrument to shape and be shaped by it. Such a material human responds to and is molded by power having internalized the Eurocentric racist structure that was imposed upon it. Zionism internalized the modern national European project and reproduced it in creating the new Zionist figure that only acts and responds to power for it is the measure of meaning in the modern material world.

The modern, nationalist and material Zionist epistemic is diametrically opposite the classical and Orthodox Judaism on the question of return to Palestine. Up to the point of the emergence of Zionism it was universally accepted that only when the awaited Messiah arrives into the world that the return is authorized otherwise it is a violation of universally recognized Jewish teachings. Indeed, the early Reform Jewish response to Zionism was articulated in the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, with the official statement reading: “We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.”

Just as Important was the views of Jews in Palestine and their response to Herzl’s invite to join in the Zionist effort. Rabbi Joseph Hayyim Sonnenfeldt wrote from Jerusalem in 1898, expressing the “dismay in the Holy Land” and describing Zionists as “evil men who deny the Unique one of the world and His holy Torah have proclaimed with so much publicity that it is in their hands to hasten Redemption of the People of Israel and gather the dispersed from the ends of the Earth.” Furthermore, Rabbi Sonnenfeldt concluded his letter by stating that “Doctor Herzl comes not from the Lord but from the side of pollution, for we say: anyone who pleads in defense of Israel is exalted in the world by the Holy One – blessed be He -, while this evil man pleads in condemnation and multiplies accusations.”

A similar view was articulated aroundthe same time in 1897,by the leading American Reform Rabbi, Issac Mayer Wise who stated:“We totally disapprove of any attempt for the establishment of a Jewish State … We affirm that the object of Judaism is not political nor national, but spiritual, and addresses itself to the continuous growth of peace, justice, and love in the human race, to a Messianic time when all men will recognize that they form one great brotherhood for the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth.”

Albert Einstein expressed an identical perspective opposing Zionism in 1930, and stating:“Apart from practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state, with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain – especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish State. We are no longer the Jews of the Maccabee period. A return to a nation in the political sense of the word would be equivalent to turning away from the spiritualization of our community which we owe to the genius of our prophets.”

“In blood and fire” was sacrilegious for the Orthodox and reform Judaism and up to the late 1930s the Zionist were in the minority on the question of the return to Palestine if it was on the basis of nationalism. It is this worldview that gives birth to the militant strand in Zionism and eventually becomes the pillar around which the new state is formed. The use of violence was not only an instrument of defending oneself or fighting to claim Palestine but an epistemic foundational building block and a shift that makes the modern nationalist Zionist a reality. Constituting the state becomes a function of affirming the veracity of the epistemic shift and the reorientation of Judaism itself into the Zionist point of view. ‘Blood and might’ for the Zionist is what saves the Jews rather than the book and God who is seen to have failed in doing so many times over.