What did Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan mean when he recently compared Zionism to fascism and termed it a crime against humanity? He probably wanted to say that the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip, the one that citizens of his country sought to break when they boarded the Mavi Marmara ship are similar to the cruel, abusive acts of fascist states toward their own citizen-subjects.
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One has to admit that there is more than a speck of truth in Erdogan's charges. The practice of denying the Palestinians their basic civil rights in the occupied territories under the army's colonial regime – exemplified by the scandalous policy of administrative detentions and the disappearing of people in Israeli prisons for years because of their opposition to repression and humiliation – is frighteningly similar to the persecution practiced by the dark regimes of the 20th century against their opponents.
But what does all this have to do with Zionism? Since it appeared on the stage of history in the 19th century, Zionism strove to achieve self-determination for a persecuted, homeless people. During the period when the Ottoman Empire, the remnant of which is presently led by Erdogan, ruled the Middle East even the most political of Zionists was prepared to make do with regional Jewish autonomy in the Land of Israel within an imagined multinational Ottoman state.
Even after the Turks were thrown out of the Land of Israel, Zionism remained faithful to a restrained right to self-determination. This restraint stemmed from the complete aversion to the idea of ruling over other peoples which Zionism regarded as an unbearable blow to the principle of equality among nations – a principle upon which the national aspirations of the Zionist movement itself was based.
"We that present.to the entire world a demand for our complete national equality are obligated to present this demand to ourselves as well," Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion said in 1926. "If this demand is to determine the world's relationship toward us, it must also determine our relationship toward others."
Erdogan's equating of Zionism with fascism thus reflects a degree of ignorance that screams to the heavens. But what is the source of this ignorance? The State of Israel itself is directly responsible for creating the dubious and baseless equivalence between "Zionism" and a policy that is as far from the its beliefs as Zionism is from the phenomenon of fascism. For five decades Israel has promoted a repressive civil and national one-nation policy that essentially negates the essential principles of Zionism and is instead characterized by the totalitarianism practices. Yet, Israel presents itself again and again as a state that has implemented in practice the ideological vision of Zionism. As a result, Zionism is identified less and less with its original intent as the national liberation movement of an oppressed people and more and more with its abominable opposite: a cross between military colonialism and overlord nationalism – a regime that takes from its subjects their freedom and dignity and thus invites comparisons with fascist regimes.
Thus, for all those who hold the future and dignity of Zionism close to their hearts it would be best that they not direct their protests toward Erdogan, but rather against the Israeli destruction of Zionist values. It is this destruction that enables Erdogan and those like him to make their baseless comparisons.
And if in the foreseeable future it proves impossible to end the regime of national subjugation of the Palestinians, at the very least those behind this regime should not be allowed to clothe the shamefulness of their semi-fascist policy with the flag of Zionism. It should be said loud and clear to the entire world that Israel the occupier, whether it is or isn't a fascist state, is certainly not a Zionist state.