By Karma Feinstein Cohen
Karma Feinstein Cohen is the executive director of World Herut, a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, a member of the Israel Victory Project, and my close friend.
The Palestinians have taken the old adage, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” and expanded it to “If you can’t beat them, copy them, and then try to beat them.”
Muslim armies conquered the Land of Israel in the 7th century. They occupied and colonized the territory and forced their language, culture, and religion on the land’s indigenous peoples, including Jews. Ever since Islamic expansionism has targeted the lands and ideologies of others.
Nonetheless, Islam largely forgot the Land of Israel and its capital of Jerusalem, only expressing interest when the Crusaders and other Christian armies took the land for themselves.
Jerusalem had little religious significance in Islam. It was not mentioned once in the Quran, although some Islamic commentators eventually associated it with Al-Masgid Al-Aqsa, the furthest Mosque.
It was only with the advent of modern Zionism that Muslims started to care about the Land of Israel and to covet Jerusalem.
Over the 2,000 years of occupation and colonization that followed the Jewish people’s expulsion from their indigenous homeland, the Land of Israel was never a distinct territorial entity. Jerusalem was never the capital of any other people except for a short period during the Crusades.
When the Jewish people began to reclaim their land, however, the effort was appropriated by the Arabs of the region, most of whom had immigrated to the Land of Israel during the 19th century under Ottoman occupation.
Not only was Zionism appropriated, but it was also mimicked and then turned on its head.
Since then, Arab propagandists have portrayed an indigenous movement as a colonizing movement. Not only this, but they have portrayed a colonizing movement—their own—as an indigenous movement.
Palestinian leaders like Mahmoud Abbas like to paint the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty as akin to Western imperialism, but it is not.
The Jewish people did not wake up in the 19th century with the ambition of acquiring a territory rich in natural resources. The Jewish yearning for and attachment to Zion is thousands of years old, and even during an oppressive Diaspora under the cross and crescent, it never abated.
Israel and Jerusalem are part of thrice-recited daily prayers. They are mentioned at every life-cycle event. Even a joyous wedding has moments of sadness because it is happening outside of the fully rebuilt Jewish homeland.
There has never been a time when Jews didn’t actively return to the land. These returns were led by religious leaders like the Ramban and Judah Halevi. There were attempts at gaining political autonomy, such as the Kabbalists of Safed who sought to reinstitute the Sanhedrin or Dona Gracia’s mini-state in Tiberias in the middle of the 16th century.
The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa kept strong, close physical ties to the Land of Israel. They saw themselves as living in the same geographic entity. They visited regularly, sent rabbis for instruction, and traveled there to live out their final years.
In fact, there were numerous communities where a couple could not be married unless they made a signed commitment to live in the Land of Israel.
Hebrew, born in the Land of Israel, was always a national language of Jewish communication. It was spoken and written for daily, political, diplomatic, communal, and spiritual purposes.
The physical, spiritual, political, linguistic, and cultural connection between the Land of Israel and the People of Israel has been absolute, fundamental, and permanent throughout history.
Thus, Herzlian Zionism was not something new. It stood on the shoulders of all that came before. What was different about Herzlian Zionism was in its political astuteness, timing, and success.
It is this Zionism that the Palestinians have plagiarized.
German analyst Khalid Durán noted that the Palestinians’ propagation of their love for Zion is an “attempt to Islamize Zionism … in the sense that the importance of Jerusalem to Jews and their attachment to it is now usurped by Palestinian Muslims.”
This “Islamic Zionism” is dangerous because it can tolerate no other Zionism. It is supremacist at its core and will accept nothing but absolute victory. It cannot abide by any compromise on its core belief that Arabs and Muslims alone have a right to rule the Land of Israel.
However, “Islamic Zionists” understand the power of Zionism very well and mimic its successes.
For example, Ron Schleifer, a senior lecturer at Israel’s Ariel University, noted that in 2011 the Palestinians attempted to imitate a 1945 publicity coup by the Zionist defense force, the Haganah.
The Haganah sent the ship Exodus to challenge a British naval blockade and embarrass the Mandatory authorities for refusing to permit Jewish immigration to Palestine. The international media supported the Jews in this case. The Palestinians tried to repeat the Haganah’s success in the 2011 Mavi Marmara incident.
The Palestinians can defame Zionism as much as they want, as Abbas recently did at the United Nations. They can falsely accuse Zionism of perpetrating a “nakba” or “catastrophe” on the Palestinians. But they have adopted and appropriated Zionism from beginning to end—religiously, politically, strategically, and tactically.
This “Islamic Zionism” is the greatest threat to Jewish Zionism because for “Islamic Zionism” to succeed, it must appropriate and defeat its older and more authentic counterpart.
Just as the original Muslim conquerors coopted other peoples’ shrines and holy places, they are attempting to coopt Zionism as well. This battle is being fought on the battlefield, in diplomatic forums, in international institutions, and in the global court of public opinion.
It is a battle of the “Zionisms” to the very end. This is a war that Israel dares not lose.