Back in June, Matti Friedman published an article at Mosaic titled "Mizrahi Nation" contrasting the prevalent Eurocentric narrative of the rise of the State of Israel with a narrative centered on Middle East-Jewry. While I don't have anything to add to his history of Mizrahi Jews, there was one item missing in the parallel between the two narratives. In describing the Eurocentric narrative, Friedman related that many respond to the narrative of oppressed European Jews reestablishing themselves in their ancient homeland by likening European settlement of the Levant to white colonization of Rhodesia. However, there is no external reference for the Mizrahi-centric narrative. I would like to suggest that the appropriate external comparison should be Reconstruction following the American Civil War.
Making such an effort would require two things. One, it would be necessary to have a chance to convince people that the Jewish reclamation of the Land of Israel resembles Reconstruction. Second, convincing people of that notion would have to have an effect on their perceptions of the conflict. The second component is the simpler one. While there is a risk that such an association would alienated some of our right-wing allies who cling to the old Confederacy, the gains among liberals could be substantial. For any liberal who is convinced that supporting the Palestinians against Israel is equivalent to supporting the Klan in its efforts to undermine Reconstruction, it would be game over with us winning that liberal. For the Jew-hatred über alles crowd, there are only two responses to a comparison between Reconstruction: they could assert that while enfranchising the freed Negroes post-Civil War was a positive goal, disenfranchising the whites in service of that goal went too far, or they could circle the wagons to try to prevent the notion that Zionism is like Reconstruction from gaining traction.
This raises the issue of how bring traction to the Reconstruction-Zionism nexus. A start would be to note what is in common between all three of Reconstruction, Apartheid and present-day Israel: they all feature(d) one group that is/was empowered and one that is/was disenfranchised. The task would be to highlight the differences between Reconstruction and Apartheid and pose the question as to whether present-day Israel is more like Reconstruction or like Apartheid. A few examples. Under Reconstruction, the empowered group was previously disenfranchised and the group that became disenfranchised was previously the overlords of those disenfranchised whereas under Apartheid the empowered group only shared the same space with the disenfranchised as the overlords. In Israel, if you take the perspective of the Mizrahi community, the empowered group was previously disenfranchised and the presently disenfranchised were their overlords back then. During Reconstruction, the disenfranchised began a full-press campaign of terror. While the ANC did occasionally commit acts of terror, there was nothing on the scale of the Klan. Needless to say, Israel is faced with a full-press campaign of terror. During Reconstruction, the southern whites never saw anything wrong with any savagery committed in resistance to Reconstruction, only in the North's calling attention to those crimes. In Israel today, the Arabs and their water-carriers never see any crime in any Arab act of savagery against the Jewish population, only in Jews' calling attention to what the Arabs are doing. A further comparison between Reconstruction and Zionism with no analog in Apartheid is the combination of the formerly locally disenfranchised with outsiders. In Reconstruction, this consisted of Northern carpetbaggers helping to enforce the newly established rights for the ex-slaves. In Zionism, this consisted of European Jews, not all of them Ashkenazic, developing a space where Mizrahi had the full rights of free men.
While there are similarities between Zionism and Reconstruction, the lack of any living memory of Reconstruction will make it difficult to make Reconstruction come to people's minds when they think of what is happening in the Levant. Further, it will take more than the sketchy connections I have outlined to withstand the attacks of those who would deny any connection at all cost. A more robust comparison will requiring delving more deeply into the history of Reconstruction. A few examples I could suggest would include The Bloody Shirt: Terror After the Civil War and After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace.