Anti-Zionism versus Anti-Semitism

A boy riding a suspension mountain bike with a bright blue frame in front of the Israeli concrete wall which is about three times his height. A graffito "Peace 4 Palestine" appears to his left.I’m a Muslim and an anti-Zionist. The latter means I support the right of the Palestinian Arabs to their country: all of it. Right now, part of it is a settler state that allows some remnant of the former Palestinian population to remain as citizens, part of it is occupied by that same settler state, and parts of it are under a form of limited self-rule, mostly without access to their external borders and subject to incursions, curfews and other impediments to normal daily life at the will of the Israeli army. These facts are the reason there is a well-established movement to boycott the state which oppresses the native people of Palestine and the settler state of Israel, and to bring an end to the oppression as has been done with similar régimes, ‘democracies’ which exclude a large proportion from any say in their own lives or how the country they lived in was run, in southern Africa. The settler state, however, has powerful friends in the West which denounces this movement as inherently racist and accuse it of desiring to see genocide against the Jews, effectively another Holocaust. Both these accusations are groundless.

There’s a difference between saying that anti-Zionism is often a cover for anti-Semitism, or that a lot of anti-Semites claim to be “merely anti-Zionist” but then use the term ‘Zionist’ to mean Jew, or to articulate conspiracy theories about Jews controlling western governments, banks, the media and so on, and saying that to oppose a state of Israel in Palestine is itself anti-Semitic. The first is undoubtedly true. The second is not, because one might oppose there being a state of Israel not out of hatred for the Jews as such but because our sympathies are with the native Palestinian population. There are many populations in the world which do not have a state, including many in Europe; there are others who cannot live in their homelands but aren’t being given a chunk of someone else’s country, at the native people’s expense. We have seen thousands of refugees of Syria flood into Europe and some countries welcome them, but nobody is suggesting that part of Germany or Sweden be forever Syria.

A few weeks ago I saw a Twitter discussion between a Jewish disability activist acquaintance and one of the oiliest and most unreasonable radical feminists I know of (she blocked me a few weeks ago after I quoted her effectively blaming Vladimir Putin for Brexit, which was in fact stoked by lying British polticians and journalists with little or no help from him, even though he has much to answer for). One of the two alleged that “if Israel was held to a higher standard than comparable Countries, it was anti-Semitism” and that “it’s not acceptable to argue to dissolve a sovereign State, on the basis of its security policy” and a third person said that she had opposed the rule of Silvio Berlusconi (“what’s his name the big perv”) in Italy, but was never “anti-Italy”, just against that government. The obvious difference is that Berlusconi was elected by a majority of Italians, was re-elected several times and then left office when he lost elections, on two separate occasions. He was not an oppressor; he was in some ways corrupt. Italy is also not a settler state, and neither for that matter is it a state based on colonial boundaries rather than on where a people lives. Italy is the land of the Italians; they have lived there for centuries if not millennia. “Israel” was inhabited by Arabs and some Armenians until a programme of Jewish settlement started in the late 19th century and gathered pace in the mid-20th. The mere possibility of settling Jews from Europe there was not even on the table until the British took over after the First World War.

To refer to a system of thorough-going oppression as a “security policy” is to side with the oppressor against the oppressed. In any case, Palestinians do not enjoy security; they are subject to being locked up at will or on spurious charges by the state or army or killed with impunity by Jewish settlers. In western social justice circles we often hear the term “oppression” used with a sort of ideological definition, to refer to mere annoyance or disadvantage or any reminder that one’s tribe or group is not the most powerful in existence. This, I suspect, is why people look for stronger words, like “genocide” (which right now is not happening there) to refer to what is happening in Palestine. Palestinians are not the Oppressed, like white middle-class women sometimes reminded that they are “not the default human”. They are oppressed, and this is not a case of a small ruling class or the military oppressing the great mass of the population, but of one nation oppressing another.

Opponents of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and anti-Zionism contend that if Israel falls, the result will be another genocide, which is what it was set up to make sure never happened again. However, two other states ruled by European settlers which oppressed the non-European native population, namely South Africa and Rhodesia, have been forced to admit their former subjects as equal citizens in recent history, and neither immediately resulted in a massacre, much less a genocide. Whites in South Africa, although no longer the exclusive ruling class, retain their wealth; Blacks, although their party has governed the country for more than 20 years, often still live in poverty. Even if we imagine that such an outcome is inevitable given the oppression the Palestinians have suffered — that enough would want revenge to make a massacre inevitable — we should remember that there was oppression and exploitation in South Africa under Apartheid too: people expelled from their homes and lands, people forced into barren “homelands” and township ghettoes, people preventing from marrying whom they wanted, people killed unjustly (judicially or otherwise), people subjected to ‘banning’ regimes or locked up for political reasons, people tortured. The majority of perpetrators who confessed to their crimes were pardoned and there has yet to be a massacre, and if Black South Africans are capable of an orderly progression from oppressed subjects to equal citizens then so are Palestinians, unless you believe they are a bunch of uncivilised savages, which is one fairly good definition of racism.

Zionists oppose the idea of a one-state solution in which both Israelis and Palestinians have equal rights as it would end the state of Israel as a “Jewish democratic state”. Yet while it maintains an occupation of the Palestinian territories, it is not a democratic state. An occupation can be accepted as a temporary measure, but it has been 50 years since Israel seized the West Bank, Golan and Gaza from the surrounding countries and all of them except Syria have made peace. The reasons for why Palestine is occupied become more and more irrelevant as the occupation becomes older and older. It is as clear as it can be that Israel intends to maintain the status quo and there will be no “two-state solution”; there will certainly not be as long as Benjamin Netanyahu and his gang remain in charge, so ‘liberals’ in western countries who persist in considering Israel to be a progressive project should wise up: it’s a tyranny whose ruling class intends it to remain a tyranny.

Of course, the Jews were the target of a genocide in the mid-20th century. Everyone knows that. But the régime that perpetrated that is gone, and in fact was overthrown before they could finish it. Having been oppressed once does not give Jews the right to be oppressors now, especially to a people who were not responsible for their previous suffering, yet this is exactly what their deluded liberal and ‘sensible left’ friends demand, and their response to the question of Palestinian suffering is to blame the Palestinians for resisting. They call this “victim blaming” when women in their own countries are blamed for violence against them, but when it’s children being locked up for throwing stones at soldiers on a regular basis, it’s a “security policy”. In my observation, BDSers strenuously avoid association with anti-Semites and watch their language to avoid letting anything in which implicates Jews generally rather than Zionists, the Israeli army or whoever is to blame for the oppression of the Palestinians, but having that slur thrown at you is an occupational hazard.

But it’s not racist to want to see the back of a state which has perpetrated a tyranny lasting 50 years. It’s racist to think that one nation should have to tolerate it when others should not, or to blame them for it when you would not blame any other, or to extend to one nation (your own, or one you sympathise with more than another) the right to be an oppressor when you would not condone it of any other. And you cannot accuse anyone of “holding Israel to a different standard” when you will defend them knowing it is an oppressor with no intention of giving up that status. Are these people simply blind to their own racism (they would not be the only ones), or do they just believe that some people deserve it and others don’t?

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