September 20, 2019
Mainstream Western newspapers would never brand Israel as a racist state, a reality which says more about the nature of Western newspapers than about the character of Israel. But occasionally newspapers in the West do make observations which reveal the racist character of Israel, if the observations are placed within the context of liberal democracy and are compared with what is formerly tolerable within such countries as the United States and Canada.
In a September 19 report on the Israeli election, The Wall Street Journal observed that “Mr. Netanyahu and other politicians have framed Arab-Israeli politicians as enemies who would undermine Israel’s…Jewish character.”
While the statement may clearly reveal Netanyahu’s narrow racism, the broader racism of the Israeli state may not be immediately apparent. But it becomes evident if it is placed within the framework of US or Canadian politics. Imagine the parallel of white US politicians framing black US politicians as enemies who would undermine the United States’ white character, or of a Roman Catholic Canadian politician framing a Muslim politician as an enemy who would undermine Canada’s ‘commitment to Western (i.e., Christian) values.’
Formally, the United States is a state of all its citizens, not a state of white people. Formally, Canada is a state of all its citizens, not a state of the English or of Christians. In contrast, Israel is not a state of all its citizens, but one in which Jews have priority. Netanyahu makes no apologies for this, and nor do most Jewish Israelis.
Netanhyahu’s equivalent in the United States, namely, US politicians who would identify their ‘whiteness’ as a significant political category, brand black politicians as enemies, and seek to defend the ‘white character’ of the United States, would quite rightly be denounced as racists. They would almost certainly be open or covert members of the KKK, or open or covert admirers.
Likewise, the notion that the ‘white character’ of the United States must be preserved would be clearly recognized as a white supremacist concept and anyone who spoke of, or even hinted at ‘the white character’ of the United States as a normative idea would be justifiably censured as an intolerable racist whose views must be immediately renounced and corrected. Why then would the parallel view of the Jewish character of Israel as a normative concept, when expressed by Israelis or their supporters, not be denounced as racist?
The New York Times has often dismissed as unthinkable the prospect of Palestinian refugees exercising their right, under international law, to return to the homes from which they were driven or fled on what is now Israeli-controlled territory. The “refugees number in the millions, and their return,” explained David M. Halbfinger in a 2018 article, “would probably spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state.” In other words, Palestinians cannot be repatriated otherwise the ethnic character of Israel as a Jewish state will be undermined.
This is not unlike justifying an immigration policy that bars the entry of non-whites into the United States on the grounds that the influx of millions of dark-skinned people would threaten the United States as a white state, or bars Muslims in order to preserve ‘the Christian character’ of the country. Such a policy would be recognized as racist in the US or Canadian contexts, so why would the parallel policy in the Israeli context not be branded as racist as well?
The case is made stronger, if we acknowledge that the parallel is imperfect. Unlike prospective immigrants to the United States, the Palestinians are natives of the territory to which they seek entry, not aliens. They have a right to be there, and many of them are not there, because the founders of the Jewish state organized a program of demographic engineering to create an artificial Jewish majority (that is, to create a state with a Jewish character) by ethnically cleansing a large part of the Palestinian homeland. The current caretakers of the state preserve the outcome of the founders’ demographic aggression by denying the Palestinians’ their UN-mandated and UN-enjoined right of repatriation.
Hence, the Israeli policy of denying natives repatriation to their own land in order to preserve the ethnic character of Israel as a Jewish state is indefensible on multiple grounds.
- It defines the natives (Palestinians) as aliens and the aliens (Jewish immigrants who carried out the ethnic cleansing and their descendants) as the natives.
- It violates international law.
- It preserves the outcome of a program of ethnic cleansing.
- It is racist.
Calling out Israel as a racist state is countered by Israel and its supporters by the levelling of accusations of anti-Semitism against anyone who dares to proclaim the obvious. Indeed, in some circles, defining as racist the notion that Israel ought to have a Jewish character is defined as anti-Semitic. This exercise in casuistry rests on the logical error of equating Zionism with Judaism, so that criticism of Zionism becomes construed as criticism of Judaism and Jews.
But by this logic anyone who decried the racism of apartheid South Africa or white supremacist Rhodesia, or decries the KKK as white supremacist, is anti-white. And by the logic that undergirds the Zionism equals Judaism formula, all whites are supporters of the KKK and apartheid South Africa, so that anyone who denounces the KKK or racist South Africa denounces whites as a category.
Imagine a definition of anti-white racism as denial of the Afrikaners’ right to a white settler state in southern Africa on the stolen land of the natives. If you can imagine this, then you’ve imagined the growing practice of formally defining anti-Zionism as an element of anti-Semitism. Denial of the Afrikaners’ right to a white settler state in southern Africa on the stolen land of the natives is also the denial of apartheid South Africa’s right to exist, and is equivalent to denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state on the stolen land of Palestinians. To deplore racism while at the same time proclaiming Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is to deplore racism except when it is exercised by Zionists. By what logic is the racism of Zionism uniquely exempted as an instance of racism? By no logic at all, and instead by:
- The illogic that holds that because Jews were the victims of a crime of great enormity perpetrated, not only by the Nazis, but by their European collaborators, that the actions of a state claiming to talk in the name of the Jews are beyond reproach.
- The politics of power by which the United States defends Israel and allows it a free hand because it collaborates in the defense and promotion of US economic and strategic interests in the petroleum-rich Middle East.
- Calumniating as an anti-Semite anyone who insists that Zionism is a form of racism.
Pointing out that Israel is a racist state that does not have a right to exist as an ethnic state for the Jews, nor as a settler colonial state whose Jewish majority is a product of demographic engineering, is not anti-Jewish racism; on the contrary, denunciation of any kind of ethnic privilege is not inherently hostile to the ethnic communities that seek it. It is, instead, inherently inimical to the assignment of rights, obligations, and privileges on the basis of ethnic hierarchies; that is, it supports universal equality and freedom from racist oppression.
Political Zionism, the ideological basis of the Israeli state, originated in an attempt to find a solution to anti-Jewish racism through separation. The trouble is that it did so by mimicking nineteenth century European nationalism, with all its racist underpinnings, and rejecting the growing movement for universal equality, which saw the solution to racism, including that of an anti-Jewish stripe, in the building of non-ethnic states of equality for all, regardless of one’s race, religion, language, and ethnicity, as well as one’s sex or possession of property. Jews were an important part of the movement for universal equality, and remain so today.
Indeed, Michael Oren, formerly an Israeli ambassador to the United States, identifies the Jewish community in the United States as belonging to the latter tradition of universal equality in contrast to Israeli Jews, who have embraced the former, Jewish nationalist solution to anti-Jewish racism. The Jewish nationalist solution is an anti-Arab racist solution to anti-Jewish racism of European origin, or of getting out from beneath one’s own oppression by oppressing someone else. The idea is inherently supremacist in defining the welfare of Jews as superior to that of Palestinians so that the welfare of Palestinians can be sacrificed in the service of the welfare of Jews. In this view, Jews and Palestinians are not equal; instead, Jewish rights trump Palestinian rights.
“The American Jewish idea is fundamentally different from the Jewish Zionist idea,” Oren told The Wall Street Journal. “The American Jewish idea is that Judaism is a universal religion, that we are not a nation or a people, that our duty is to all of humanity, and that America is the promised land, and that the Land of Israel is not the promised land,” he said.
“That fundamental gap, he added, has prompted many Israeli right-wing politicians to essentially give up on liberal American Jews and focus on friendlier constituencies such as evangelicals.” Significantly, US evangelicals, including US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, embrace Christian Zionism, the idea that the ingathering of Jews to Israel fulfills a biblical prophesy. In their view, by supporting Israel as a state with a Jewish character—that is, by colluding in racism—they’re abiding by their deity’s will.
Zionism is largely misunderstood as an exclusively Jewish ideology, when it has always also been strongly a Christian ideology, whose principal supporters have been officials of imperial states who read their bibles. This was as true in the early twentieth century when such statesmen as Arthur Balfour in England and Woodrow Wilson in the United States found support for the fledgling political Zionist movement in their reading of the bible, as it is today. Last year, Pompeo told a reporter for The New York Times Magazine that the Bible “informs everything I do.” The reporter noticed an open Bible in his office, with a Swiss Army knife marking his place at the end of the book of Queen Esther.” In the bible’s telling of the tale, Queen Esther saved Jews from being massacred by Persia (Iran’s forerunner.)
At the same time, historically, the movement for universal equality attracted Jews at a rate far in excess of their numbers in the population. As Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi wrote, Jews who fought alongside non-Jews in the struggle against racism and for universal equality “refused to limit their concerns to their own tribe. Theirs was a grander, purer dream. Salvation not just for Jews, but for the whole of humanity, and that would eliminate the ills of the Jewish condition once and for all.”
On the one hand, a pure and grand vision, dating from the French Revolution, of Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité, and the universalist idea of a state of all its citizens; on the other, the particularist idea of the ethnic state for Jews, made possible by the demographic engineering of a Jewish majority, obtained by the expulsion of the natives and denial of their repatriation, and the exercise of a racist regime over the natives who weren’t dispossessed; in short, the idea of universal equality versus the conservative tradition of hierarchy, racism, colonialism, and religious bigotry. To criticize Israel and Zionism is not to hate Jews, but to deplore the conservative tradition of ethnic privilege, racism, and colonialism from which Israel sprang and which it continues to exemplify.