Opinion Submission: It is time we fight every nationalism
The problem with white nationalism is twofold: First, white racial identity is constructed to oppress others, and second, nationalism (wherever it is found) structurally privileges some group of people in an unjustifiable manner. When white nationalists defaced campus in December, too many students were only primed to discuss the first part. When WUSTL Black and Palestinian Liberation (BPL) posted a critique of the Jewish nationalist program Birthright (rightly pointing out that Birthright manufactures consent for Israel and settler colonialism more broadly), the backlash from otherwise progressive students made it clear our campus needs discussion about the second. Nationalism, white or otherwise, is indefensible, and it is time for our student body to give it up.
Many responses to BPL pointed out that it is inappropriate to use whiteness and Jewishness interchangeably, but these turned into demands that no comparison be drawn between white nationalists and nationalists of a different kind. Certain students attempted to invalidate any critique of the Jewish national movement by misappropriating radical language, relying on a layman’s misunderstanding of indigeneity to lay claim over land two oceans away. Others insisted that Birthright does not manufacture consent, which is blatantly false, and that the trip only is meant to help young Jews connect with their culture, as if Jewish culture is geographically limited.
Among all of this was a common thread: an undeniable right of the Jewish people not just to self-determination but to a nation-state, and that it would be antisemitic to deny that nation-state’s unquestionable status. When the intercampus group Jewish on Campus responded, bringing an undue amount of attention to what could have been a WashU-specific dialogue, they too insisted on the mandatory acceptance of the Jewish national project, calling Palestinian narratives disinformation. Our campus American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) affiliate president posted a response attempting to paint the Jewish nation-state as a beacon of liberalism, drawing on Islamophobic ideas of a backwardness to the rest of the region.
I cannot sit by and watch campus groups promote contradictory ideas as if they are cohesive. There is no liberal nationalism. For my Jewish peers who have renamed nationalism as it applies to our people: There is no liberal Zionism. You cannot support human rights in full, then draw lines on a map and give political privilege to some group within those lines. No magnitude of demographic majority can make the practice palatable. Where the majority of the privileged group is questionable, the violations of minority rights will only become more abhorrent.
America cannot be the only place in which one supports multicultural ideals. If you are going to be cosmopolitan, hold that view across all geographies. If you can see the racism and xenophobia which come with American nationalism, can you not see the same across all nationalisms? Do you really believe shared ethnic origin is necessary to statecraft when we can see the success brought by diverse communities all around us? With a campus full of budding environmentalists, where are the students supporting ecosovereignty as the way forward? With the ongoing threat of climate change, why are we not promoting models of government which support sustainable land use over ethnic jingoism?
Present material reality might change the immediate options available to us in creating political change, but it does not have to limit our vision for the future. We can organize and build solidarity in new ways to create the world we want to see. We can connect through our neighborhoods instead of parties, meet at community centers instead of church basements, listen to the most oppressed instead of think tanks and their grandstanding politicians. We do not have to join the ranks of projects started by short-minded reformers, the type that continue to pitch two-states or are petrified by the word “abolition.” We owe nothing to the programs which sit in the way of real progress, from Birthright to Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh to Boys’ State, no matter our past relationships to them. We can give up nationalism and work towards something better.