Zionism is an ideological prison for social change in Israel. It is an ideological prison that separates Jews and Arabs. Even “soft Zionism,” which is said to be moderate and conciliatory, is not able to guarantee equal rights and full participation for twenty percent of the population. There is no partial equality. No such thing as “a little bit equal.” And who can say that 20% of the population (including 50% of children below the poverty line) are full and equal partners, when they are excluded from any movement for social change or revolution?

Those who do not acknowledge that the state must recognize full and equal rights (individual and collective) – for its citizens, between the two peoples, between all of the various religious communities and cultural groups that exist within it – are probably seeking to preserve their privilege, the illusion of superiority. This cannot be reconciled with serious social reform.

Jewish upper-class community Omer as seen from Bedouin 'Amra

Zionism is of course a prison for Palestinians, sons and daughters of this land, because it literally imprisons them behind walls and fences - but it also imprisons itself behind those walls and fences, striving to create spaces that are “clean” of the presence of Arabs. (has anyone asked him/herself why a kibbutz is always surrounded by a fence, with a gate at the entrance, while Palestinian communities are not?) Zionism imposes a glass ceiling over the heads of Arab men and women. Zionism spoke and "still speaks the colonial language of the Iron Wall, of "the villa in the jungle.

However, Zionism is an ideological prison as well, because it creates strange distortions in the minds of some social justice activists. It created a strange equation, as if our civil rights are conditioned upon fulfilling duties and behaving well toward the authorities. So certain sectors of society become outraged that there are other sectors of society that do not fulfill their obligations. They see themselves as “suckers,” duped by the system. Others are outraged that they have been discriminated against, having fulfilled, and even excelled in, their duties to the state (for example, “After all I did in the army!” “How could an excellent soldier in a combat unit not be able to study after three years?” “Druze are faithful servants, and yet the state did not meet its promises to close budget gaps.” “We are Jews and served in the army, so how is it that we are treated this way because of our black skin?”)

In this twisted Zionist equation there is no space to claim rights, not in the sense of simply deserving them because we were born here or lived here for a significant period of time. This distorted approach causes us to look for justifications as we seek our rights, in order to try to match and be like (and therefore, always bow down to) those above us. It creates a hierarchy of relative and contingent holders of power: those who did not serve their country and deserve almost nothing; those who served it, minimally, in the national service, and therefore deserve some crumbs (a grant, a loan, two points for a mortgage, a college dorm, free courses); women who served in the army for two years (and of course, the more privileges you had to begin with, the more this will benefit you); men who served, but not in elite units (the same as above, but a bit more); men who served in combat units (even more rewards); and men who have served in elite units (who in addition are guaranteed access to a lot of respect, opportunities, favors, etc).

Of course, it only works partially, so the “suckers” complain a lot. However, as long as the logic behind this pyramid is accepted by the majority of society, there will be no revolution or even social reform. This logic prevents a partnership between major stakeholders in changing this reality – the lower and middle strata of society. Instead of a broad movement for social change, the struggle would be renewed to rearrange the levels of the pyramid. The tycoons, the holders of capital, continue to rule from above, born on the shoulders of those that they has kept divided and subjugated.

The prison of Zionism causes most Jews not to fight for their rights to adequate housing in the places where they were born or lived in for decades – but rather to relocate to settlements, which will improve their conditions at the expense of others. So, the oppressed living in the crowded slums of Jerusalem become settlers in Ma’aleh Adumim or Modi’in Illit (at the expense of Palestinians), the penniless student born in Ramat-Gan comes to the subsidized students’ project in Lod at the expense of its longtime residents. This is how it is in Lod, in Dimona, in south Tel-Aviv, in Jaffa…

If we don’t fight for the right to housing in our own communities, we are given solutions at the expense of another who is considered more inferior. In this context, alienation and hatred between us will flourish.

So, if we really want to pursue social change we must escape the prison of Zionism. Only when we do this can we begin to talk about rights – equal, unconditional rights, for everyone. If one removes the lenses of Zionism, it becomes immediately clear where the centers of power are, something which has until now been avoided in the mainstream of the protest, despite the vast socioeconomic injustice. Millionaire foreign donors invest in politics, settlement, and culture, and determine much of the agenda. Foundations such as the Jewish Agency exert powerful control over the country, overlooking companies, institutions, and huge budgets, while other institutions directly and indirectly are governed by the World Zionist Organization

In order to realize the goal of distributive justice and to reconcile injustices that exist, many structures must be reshaped to benefit all citizens. A large percentage of the funds needed for social programs are there; what keeps it from everyone is those in power: a system of huge organization (such as the JNF), large corporations, of landed interests and power positions - all of whom have a name and address: the Zionist movement. All the political organizations who are members of the Zionist movement share the spoils and would not dare to undermine its foundations.

Of course dismantling Zionism is not enough. It will not save us from having to deal with the global capitalist order, with the neo-liberal and destructive policies of local tycoons and international corporations. However, it will untie our hands and will enable us to move forward.

In short, it is essential to leave the prison of Zionism in order to bring about social change in Israel. It’s clear that many will find it difficult to break free. It is clear that many will not want to break free, and will find their prison safer and more familiar. After all, a prison is also a sort of a home. It is also clear that one cannot expect a sudden mass political exodus, and that in the meantime, change will be gradual and go on for some time. This does not alter the fact that it is very important to point out root causes, talk about them, and invite more people to break free from Zionism in order to strengthen the movement for social change and come closer to realizing our vision for the future.

Translated from the Hebrew by Amirah Mizrahi and Itamar Haritan