We need an exodus from Zionism

Naomi Klein

Wed 24 Apr 2024 – https://www.theguardian.com/

‘Too many of our people are worshipping a false idol once again.’ Photograph: Thalia Juarez/The Guardian

I’ve been thinking about Moses, and his rage when he came down from the mount to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf.

The ecofeminist in me was always uneasy about this story: what kind of God is jealous of animals? What kind of God wants to hoard all the sacredness of the Earth for himself?

But there is a less literal way of understanding this story. It is about false idols. About the human tendency to worship the profane and shiny, to look to the small and material rather than the large and transcendent.

What I want to say to you tonight at this revolutionary and historic Seder in the Streets is that too many of our people are worshipping a false idol once again. They are enraptured by it. Drunk on it. Profaned by it.

That false idol is called Zionism.

Zionism is a false idol that has taken the idea of the promised land and turned it into a deed of sale for a militaristic ethnostate

It is a false idol that takes our most profound biblical stories of justice and emancipation from slavery – the story of Passover itself – and turns them into brutalist weapons of colonial land theft, roadmaps for ethnic cleansing and genocide.

It is a false idol that has taken the transcendent idea of the promised land – a metaphor for human liberation that has traveled across multiple faiths to every corner of this globe – and dared to turn it into a deed of sale for a militaristic ethnostate.

Political Zionism’s version of liberation is itself profane. From the start, it required the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and ancestral lands in the Nakba.

From the start it has been at war with dreams of liberation. At a Seder it is worth remembering that this includes the dreams of liberation and self-determination of the Egyptian people. This false idol of Zionism equates Israeli safety with Egyptian dictatorship and client states.

From the start it has produced an ugly kind of freedom that saw Palestinian children not as human beings but as demographic threats – much as the pharaoh in the Book of Exodus feared the growing population of Israelites, and thus ordered the death of their sons.

Zionism has brought us to our present moment of cataclysm and it is time that we said clearly: it has always been leading us here.

It is a false idol that has led far too many of our own people down a deeply immoral path that now has them justifying the shredding of core commandments: thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not covet.

We, in these streets for months and months, are the exodus. The exodus from Zionism

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It is a false idol that equates Jewish freedom with cluster bombs that kill and maim Palestinian children.

Zionism is a false idol that has betrayed every Jewish value, including the value we place on questioning – a practice embedded in the Seder with its four questions asked by the youngest child.

Including the love we have as a people for text and for education.

Today, this false idol justifies the bombing of every university in Gaza; the destruction of countless schools, of archives, of printing presses; the killing of hundreds of academics, of journalists, of poets – this is what Palestinians call scholasticide, the killing of the means of education.

Meanwhile, in this city, the universities call in the NYPD and barricade themselves against the grave threat posed by their own students daring to ask them basic questions, such as: how can you claim to believe in anything at all, least of all us, while you enable, invest in and collaborate with this genocide?

The false idol of Zionism has been allowed to grow unchecked for far too long.

So tonight we say: it ends here.

Our Judaism cannot be contained by an ethnostate, for our Judaism is internationalist by nature.

Our Judaism cannot be protected by the rampaging military of that state, for all that military does is sow sorrow and reap hatred – including against us as Jews.

Our Judaism is not threatened by people raising their voices in solidarity with Palestine across lines of race, ethnicity, physical ability, gender identity and generations.

Our Judaism is one of those voices and knows that in that chorus lies both our safety and our collective liberation.

Our Judaism is the Judaism of the Passover Seder: the gathering in ceremony to share food and wine with loved ones and strangers alike, the ritual that is inherently portable, light enough to carry on our backs, in need of nothing but each other: no walls, no temple, no rabbi, a role for everyone, even – especially – the smallest child. The Seder is a diaspora technology if ever there was one, made for collective grieving, contemplation, questioning, remembering and reviving the revolutionary spirt.

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So look around. This, here, is our Judaism. As waters rise and forests burn and nothing is certain, we pray at the altar of solidarity and mutual aid, no matter the cost.

We don’t need or want the false idol of Zionism. We want freedom from the project that commits genocide in our name. Freedom from an ideology that has no plan for peace other than deals with murderous theocratic petrostates next door, while selling the technologies of robo-assassinations to the world.

We seek to liberate Judaism from an ethnostate that wants Jews to be perennially afraid, that wants our children to be afraid, that wants us to believe the world is against us so that we go running to its fortress and beneath its iron dome, or at least keep the weapons and donations flowing.

That is the false idol.

And it’s not just Netanyahu, it’s the world he made and that made him – it’s Zionism.

What are we? We, in these streets for months and months, are the exodus. The exodus from Zionism.

And to the Chuck Schumers of this world, we do not say: “Let our people go.”

We say: “We have already gone. And your kids? They’re with us now.”

  • Naomi Klein is a Guardian US columnist and contributing writer. She is the professor of climate justice and co-director of the Centre for Climate Justice at the University of British Columbia. Her latest book, Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World, was published in September
  • This is a transcript of a speech delivered at the Emergency Seder in the Streets in New York City