WAYNE MYERS - It is true that there are Israeli Arab Knesset members and that Israeli Arabs can vote, but it is also true that there are huge differences in the way that Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews are treated by the state, ranging from whether or not they are required to join the army at the age of 18 to whether or not their home town or village gets a reasonable annual budget to cover municipal requirements.

It is painfully obvious from available statistics that Israeli Arab areas get substantially less support from the Israeli state than equivalent size Jewish settlements, and that in general, while Israeli Arabs may not offically be second-class citizens of Israel, that is certainly what they are in practice.

Then, in late 2008, Operation Cast Lead began. Having previously largely withdrawn from Gaza in 2005 (though still keeping it surrounded and effectively cut off from the West Bank), Israel began in December 2008 to bombard it indiscriminately, in the name of ending rocket fire into Israel from within the Strip. For the life of me, I could not see how this was supposed to work. I could not see any way of defending this action. As the number of Palestinian casualties grew - far out of proportion to the number of casualties on the Israeli side - it just got worse and worse.

For the first time in my adult life I began wondering whether the Jewish State was actually worth defending at all on any level if this was the price. I was watching a blatant and brutal massacre of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, utterly disproportionate to the attacks that had provoked it, which had in turn been provoked by earlier Israeli incursions, in an endless back-and-forth cycle, in order to defend what?

An Israeli State that would allow me - born in London - to become a citizen at a moment’s notice, while Palestinian friends of friends actually born in the Holy Land itself could never become citizens of anything anywhere? Exactly what convoluted justification would stand that up?

I couldn’t do it anymore. On Machon, I’d had training in how to argue against the proposition that Zionism was racism, but no training in how to argue in defence of the indiscriminate massacre of civilian children. That one hadn’t come up.

I began to consider the possibility that I’d been misled.

It looked terribly plausible. It was horribly embarrassing and deeply painful, but it began to seem to me an awful lot as if Achad Ha-am, founder of Cultural Zionism, and a somewhat flawed but deeply ethical character, would have himself been implacably against anything calling itself a Jewish State that behaved like this.

Around the same time, I took up the saxophone, as part of an effort to give up smoking, and had a one-off lesson with the best local saxophonist I could find, who happened to be another Israeli exile by the name of Gilad Atzmon. This was an incredible stroke of luck, as without exaggeration I can promise you that Gilad is one of the best saxophonists alive anywhere in the world; he is also a lovely guy in person and a fantastic music teacher. Additionally, he is highly politically active as an anti-Zionist, and is considered so extreme that most other anti-Zionists consider him totally beyond the pale; he is widely accused by both anti-Zionists and Zionists alike of actual anti-semitism.

This is of course utter rubbish. It was clear to Gilad from the second he met me that I was Jewish - we even discussed the fact during my first pre-lesson meeting - and had he been a real anti-semite he would never have agreed to teach a Jew to play the saxophone.

His views are, nonetheless, extreme; for example he is against the concept of secular Jewish anti-Zionist organisations, and believes them all, along with any concept of secular Jewish identity, to be a stalking horse for Zionism itself.

 This stems from his deeply philosophical approach to the whole Israel-Palestine question, and his view that any secular expression of Jewish identity is inherently somehow supremacist; this has led him - as I understand it - to hold that any kind of Jewish identity itself is deeply flawed outside of the religious context.

SECULAR AND POSITIVE

I do not agree with Gilad on that. I do believe that it is possible to be a secular Jew with a positive Jewish identity that does not in any way believe in Jewish supremacy. I do not even agree with his view that Zionism is inherently racist.

For example, the pre-1948 position of the Zionist youth movement Hashomer HaTzair, which argued, as Zionists, for a secular binational state to be shared equally between Jews and Palestinians, puts paid to that.

In the 1920s Martin Buber, a humanist philosopher who had absolutely no truck with racism, developed a branch of Zionism centered politically around the concept of a binational state, and sadly, like Hashomer HaTzair, got nowhere.

Today it is clear that the racist branches of Zionism have prevailed.

But it does not take much more than a cursory view of the history to see that those were not the only branches.

Nevertheless, post 1948, it is very hard to argue that Zionism has not behaved, since Independence, in a de facto racist way. On that at least, Gilad, Daphna and I can all agree.

Right now in 2012 we are watching aghast at yet another massacre of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Yet again this comes just before the Israeli elections; this time we are hearing Israeli ministers such as Eli Yishai assert that “the goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”

Not only can I no longer defend any of this, I can no longer defend Zionism at all, not even in an abstract philosophical sense outside of any context involving the actions of the Israeli state.

The Law of Return, under which I - an occasional tourist who just happens to be Jewish - can claim Israeli citizenship at a moment’s notice, while a Palestinian actually born in, say, Haifa, but subsequently exiled cannot - that is a racist law. The notion of a Jewish state? That is - as far as it has been put into practice since 1948 - a racist notion.

IS ZIONISM RACISM?

It didn’t have to be. There were historical strands within Zionism that were not racist. Martin Buber - Zionist founder, in 1925, of the Brit Shalom organisation advocating a binational state, was not a racist, and nor were the pre-1948 Hashomer Hatzair.

BUT RIGHT NOW?

It’s really very hard indeed to argue otherwise.

And it’s such a blessed relief to feel that I am no longer obligated to attempt to do so.

That relief does not, however, in any way reduce the anger I feel at the current massacre of civilians in Gaza. (Concluded)

                    –The Independent