15-38 115/15 Gramsci: an infinity of traces

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Zionism From the Standpoint of Its Victims (Notes)

Author NotesHartley

Said Reader 114-68 (15-38)

115/15 Gramsci: an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory

Effective Ideas

when its value has been proved in reality by its widespread acceptance


Effective Political Ideas

need to be examined historically in two ways:

  1. genealogically

  2. as practical systems for accumulation (of power, land, ideological legitimacy) and displacement (of people, other ideas, prior legitimacy)

Present political and cultural actualities make such an examination extraordinarily difficult, as much because Zionism in the postindustrial West has acquired for itself an almost unchallenged hegemony in liberal “establishment” discourse, as because in keeping with one of its central ideological characteristics,

Zionism has hidden, or caused to disappear,

  • A. the literal historical ground of its growth,

  • B. its political cost to the native inhabitants of Palestine, and

  • C. its militantly oppressive discriminations between Jews and non-Jews.

117/16 [Hegemony]

so strong a conjuncture of powerful institutions and interests—

  • the press,

  • the liberal intelligentsia,

  • the military-industrial complex,

  • the academic community,

  • labor unions

for whom [. . .] uncritical support of Israel and Zionism enhances their domestic as well as international standing.

17 systematic

118/18 The task of criticism, or, to put it another way, the role of the critical consciousness in such cases:

is to be able to make distinctions, to produce differences where at present there are none.

To write critically about Zionism in Palestine: NOT anti-Semitic;

conversely, the struggle for Palestinian rights and self-determination: NOT pro antiquated and oppressive state structures of most of the Arab nations.

Gramsci’s Traditional Intellectuals: experts in legitimation

On the other hand, it would be totally unjust to neglect the power of Zionism as an idea for Jews, or to minimize the complex internal debates characterizing Zionism, its true meaning, its messianic destiny, etc.

19 any well-meaning person

[See the idea as complicated:]

  • the power of Zionism as an idea for Jews

  • Zionism’s other aspects for Palestinians

119 Daniel Deronda 119-24/19-22

120/20 homelessness

21 Yet if there is a felt reality about “peoples of the West,” there is no such reality for the “peoples of the East.”

redeem the soil

123 the land itself

22 a method for transforming the East into the West

Eliot is no different

124 Eliot, Mill, Marx, Renan

assenting Gentile response

On one important issue there was complete agreement between the Gentile and Jewish versions of Zionism: their view of the Holy Land as essentially empty of inhabitants, not because there were no inhabitants

23 their status as sovereign and human inhabitants was systematically denied

the extent to which the roots of Jewish and Gentile Zionism are in the culture of high capitalism

125 Jewish Colonies

the founding of Jewish colonies

“A great calling is reserved for the Jews: to be a living channel of communication between three continents. You shall be the bearers of civilization to peoples who are still inexperienced and their teachers in the European sciences, to which your race has contributed so much. You shall be the mediators between Europe and far Asia, opening the roads that lead to India and China—those unknown regions which must ultimately be thrown open to civilisation. You will come to the land of your fathers decorated with the crown of [126] age-long martyrdom, and there, finally, you will be completely healed from all your ills! Your capital will again bring the wide stretches of barren land under cultivation; your labor and industry will once more turn the ancient soil into fruitful valleys, reclaiming it from the encroaching sands of the desert, and the world will again pay its homage to the oldest of peoples.”


The three ideas that depended on one another in Hess and Eliot—and later in almost every Zionist thinker or ideologue—are

  • (a) the nonexistent Arab inhabitants,

  • (b) the complementary Western-Jewish attitude to an “empty” territory, and

  • (c) the restorative Zionist project, which would repeat by rebuilding a vanished Jewish state and combine it with modern elements like disciplined, separate colonies, a special agency for land acquisition, etc.

Of course, none of these ideas would have any force were it not for the additional fact of their being addressed to, shaped for, and out of an international (i.e., non-Oriental and hence European) context. This context was the reality, not only because of the ethnocentric rationale governing the whole project, but also because of the overwhelming facts of Diaspora realities and imperialist hegemony over the entire gamut of European culture. It needs to be remarked, however, that Zionism (like the view of America as an empty land held by Puritans) was a colonial vision unlike that of most other nineteenth-century European powers, for whom the natives of outlying territories were included in the redemptive mission civilisation.

From the earliest phases of its modern evolution until it culminated in the creation of Israel, Zionism appealed to a European audience for whom the classification of overseas territories and natives into various uneven classes was canonical and “natural.” That is why, for example, every single state or movement in the formerly colonized territories of Africa and Asia today identifies with, fully supports, and understands the Palestinian struggle. In many [127] instances—as I hope to show presently—there is an unmistakable coincidence between the experiences of Arab Palestinians at the hands of Zionism and the experiences of those black, yellow, and brown people who were described as inferior and subhuman by nineteenth-century imperialists. For although it coincided with an era of the most virulent Western anti-Semitism, Zionism also coincided with the period of unparalleled European territorial acquisition in Africa and Asia, and it was as part of this general movement of acquisition and occupation that Zionism was launched initially by Theodor Herzl. During the latter part of the greatest period in European colonial expansion, Zionism also made its crucial first moves along the way to getting what has now become a sizeable Asiatic territory. And it is important to remember that in joining the general Western enthusiasm for overseas territorial acquisition, Zionism never spoke of itself unambiguously as a Jewish liberation movement, but rather as a Jewish movement for colonial settlement in the Orient. To those Palestinian victims that Zionism displaced, it cannot have meant anything by way of sufficient cause that Jews were victims of European anti-Semitism and, given Israel's continued oppression of Palestinians, few Palestinians are able to see beyond their reality, namely, that once victims themselves, Occidental Jews in Israel have become oppressors (of Palestinian Arabs and Oriental Jews).

25 But in order to break down the iron circle of inhumanity we must see how it was forged, and there it is ideas and culture itself that play the major role.

26 One needs to repeat that what in Zionism served the no doubt justified ends of Jewish tradition, saving the Jews as a people from homelessness and anti-Semitism and restoring them to nationhood, also collaborated with those aspects of the dominant Western culture (in which Zionism institutionally lived) making it possible for Europeans to view non-Europeans as inferior, marginal, and irrelevant. For the Palestinian Arab, therefore, it is the collaboration that has counted, not by any means the good done to Jews. The Arab has been on the receiving end not of benign Zionism-which has been restricted to Jews-but of an essentially discriminatory and powerful culture, of which, in Palestine, Zionism has been the agent.

My interest is in trying to record the effects of Zionism on its victims, and these effects can only be studied genealogically in the framework provided by imperialism, even during the nineteenth century when Zionism was still an idea and not a state called Israel.


Imperialism was and still is a political philosophy whose aim and purpose for being is territorial expansion and its legitimization. A serious underestimation of imperialism, however, would be to consider territory in too literal a way. Gaining and holding an imperium means gaining and holding a domain, which includes a variety of operations, among them constituting an area, accumulating its inhabitants, having power over its ideas, people, and of course, its land, converting people, land, and ideas to the purposes and for the use of a hegemonic imperial design; all this as a result of being able to treat reality appropriatively.


Laying claim to an idea and laying claim to a territory-given the extraordinarily current idea that the non-European world was there to be claimed, occupied, and ruled by Europe-were considered to be different sides of the same, essentially constitutive activity, which had the force, the prestige, and the authority of science. Moreover, because in such fields as biology, philology, and geology the scientific consciousness was principally a reconstituting, restoring, and transforming activity turning old fields into new ones, the link between an outright imperialist attitude toward distant lands in the Orient and a scientific attitude to the "inequalities" of race was that both attitudes depended on the European will, on the determining force necessary to change confusing or useless realities into an orderly, disciplined set of new classifications useful to Europe.

29 Imperialism was the theory, colonialism the practice of changing the uselessly unoccupied territories of the world into useful new versions of the European metropolitan society.
30 an indifference linked to European supremacy, which benefited even Europe's proletarians and oppressed minorities.
What we will discover is that everything positive from the Zionist standpoint looked absolutely negative from the perspective of the native Arab Palestinian.
32 My premise is that Israel developed as a social polity out of the Zionist thesis that Palestine’s colonization was to be accomplished for and by Jews and by the displacement of the Palestinians; that in its conscious and declared idea about Palestine, Zionism attempted first to minimize, then to eliminate, then, all else failing, finally to subjugate the natives as a way of guaranteeing that Israel would not be simply the state of its citizens (which included Arabs, of course) but the state of the whole Jewish people, having a kind of sovereignty over land and peoples that no other state possessed or possesses.
36 a culture of discipline by detail
37 “Racism” is too vague a term: Zionism is Zionism. For the Arab Palestinian this tautology has a sense that is perfectly congruent with, but exactly the opposite of, what it says to Jews.


Said Sentences from “Zionism From the Standpoint of Its Victims” [1979]

In short, effective political ideas like Zionism need to be examined historically in two ways: (I) genealogically in order that their provenance, their kinship and descent, their affiliation both with other ideas and with political institutions may be demonstrated; (2) as practical systems for accumulation (of power, land, ideological legitimacy) and displacement (of people, other ideas, prior legitimacy). (116)

The task of criticism, or, to put it another way, the role of the critical consciousness in such cases is to be able to make distinctions, to produce differences where at present there are none. (118)

In short, all the constitutive energies of Zionism were premised on the excluded presence, that is, the functional absence of “native people” in Palestine; institutions were built deliberately shutting out the natives, laws were drafted when Israel came into being that made sure the natives would remain in their “nonplace,” Jews in theirs, and so on. It is no wonder that today the one issue that electrifies Israel as a society is the problem of the Palestinians, whose negation is the most consistent thread running through Zionism. And it is this perhaps unfortunate aspect of Zionism that ties it ineluctably to imperialism—at least so far as the Palestinian is concerned. (139/30-31)

Thus, as I said earlier, I have in mind the whole dialectic between theory and actual day-to-day effectiveness. (141)

To do this it was necessary to visualize and then to implement a scheme for creating a network of realities—a language, a grid of colonies, a series of organizations—for converting Palestine from its present state of "neglect" into a Jewish state. (143)

A main ideological necessity for such a program was acquiring legitimacy for it, giving it an archeology and a teleology that completely surrounded and, in a sense, outdated the native culture that was still firmly planted in Palestine. (143)

For Israel and Zionists everywhere the results of Zionist apartheid have been equally disastrous. (144) (also 162)

In his body and being, and in the putative emotions and psychology assigned to him, the Arab expressed whatever stood outside, beyond Zionism. (145)

Both in theory and in practice their effectiveness lies in how they Judaize territory coterminously with de-Arabizing it. (155) (also 159)

Dalet Plan 156 Deir Yassin Massacre 157

But for all its horror, even Deir Yassin was one of many such massacres which began in the immediate post-World War I period and which produced conscious Zionist equivalents of American Indian-killers. (157)

Rather, I think, Zionism's effectiveness in making its way against Arab Palestinian resistance to it lay in its being a policy of detail, not simply a general colonial vision. (150-51)

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