Opposition to the state of Israel is not racist

Picture of Ahed Tamimi, a white teenage girl with wavy light brown hair wearing a red and black patterned top under a black and white patterned jacket with a black and white Palestinian keffiyeh tied at her waist, standing next to Cyril Ramaphosa, a large Black man in late middle age wearing a shirt without a tie under a black blazer.Why anti-Zionism is seen as antisemitism | Letters | World news | The Guardian

This is a letter in today’s Guardian from Joseph Pearlman (who appears to be an economist at City of London University, judging by a Google search for his name), claiming that a previous letter-writer “makes the charge that UK governments have been unclear about the difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism” before claiming:

Most Jews in the UK would challenge the idea that there is much difference between the two. In recent years, anti-Zionism has manifested itself as opposition to the existence of a specifically Jewish state. In a 2015 survey, The Attitudes of British Jews to Israel, “90% of British Jews support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state”, the implication being that current anti-Zionism will be experienced as antisemitism.

Most of us who are opposed to the existence of Israel do not particularly mind whether the Jews have a state somewhere in the world. The idea of a Jewish state originated in Europe as a result of persecutions they were experiencing there, at the hands of other Europeans. Our concern is to end the occupation of Palestine and the oppression of the native people, known as the Palestinians although, as Zionists never miss an opportunity to remind us (“who was the leader of the Palestinians before Arafat?”), that name is of recent origin and derives from the name of the former League of Nations mandate. He then ‘splains us that “there has been a continuous history of Jewish settlement there for 3,000 years, so the demand for a Jewish state was not inconsistent with demands for their own state by ethnic groups in other countries”; the difference is that those other ethnic groups were not gifted a tract of someone else’s land by a colonial power. In fact, some of them still do not have their own state today and many are more oppressed than the Jews are in most western countries now — African Americans, for example, have no self-determination other than as a minority in a white-dominated democracy.

He continues:

This does not, however, continue over as unmitigated support for the Israeli government. In the same survey, 68% of British Jews “feel a sense of despair every time Israel approves further expansion of settlements on the West Bank”. This is consistent again with the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which states that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”.

The problem is that Israel is not like other countries: it was founded on terrorism by settlers intent on expelling natives from their land and aided and abetted by foreign colonial powers. Criticism of other oppressive régimes does not call for the destruction of the country involved because usually dictatorships are of an élite over the mass of the population, usually supporting the interests of a particular class though sometimes of an ethnic group. It was of course possible to want to see the end of the Pinochet dictatorship without desiring the destruction of Chile. Zionists, however, regard the disenfranchisement of the Palestinian native population as vital to the Jewish ‘character’ of the state of Israel and treat calls for these people to be given citizenship and the vote in the polity which rules their lives to be tantamount to demanding the destruction of the state itself. Yet a country is not a democracy when not everyone has a say. Regardless of the differences in how the two scenarios came about, Israel is no more a democracy than South Africa under Apartheid was, and people campaigned for the end of that system not out of hatred for white South Africans but out of hatred for oppression.

Finally, Pearlman’s letter is somewhat presumptuous in telling us all whether British Jews considered anti-Zionism to be anti-Semitism or not, as if that was the only thing that mattered. Since when did the supporters of an oppressive system get to dictate to everyone else what was acceptable to say about that system? It’s highly likely that there is a large cohort of people who regard themselves as Jewish or who are of Jewish origin who were not included in the polls he was referring to; he is talking about synagogue-goers and Jewish Chronicle readers. Besides — I have found over the years that Zionists are among the most racist people, freely using derogatory language about Palestinians and other Arabs, as well as about eastern Europeans.

The facts are that (i) another nation has a claim to the land known as Israel and (ii) that Israel is a state of oppressors, a state of thugs, a state of criminals. If this criminal occupation can only be ended by the destruction of the state, that suits us and it does not trouble me to be called an anti-Semite by its supporters.

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  • James Henry

    “The problem is that Israel is not like other countries: it was founded on terrorism by settlers intent on expelling natives from their land” Actually, that sounds like most of history. In some cases the natives were allowed to remain as subjects of their conquerors, though, which might be an improvement. There’s also the question of the jews expelled from arab countries with most of their possessions confiscated and forced to move to Israel. That looks like practical recognition of Israel as a jewish state by the countries concerned. Perhaps they could compensate the Palestinians with the property stolen from their jewish communities - communities which had been there long before the countries became “arab” countries. If people whose ancestors lived in Palestine have the “right of return”, what of the right to remain in what is now their native land of those who were born there? I doubt if they would trust the governments of their ancestral lands enough to want to go back. Is there a statute of limitations for countries replacing other countries in the same territory? Should Egypt be returned to the Copts? Should European Turkey and Asia Minor go back to Greece? We saw only a few years ago in Bosnia-Herzevogina what happens when people try to correct the demographic errors of history - is that a precedent to be followed worldwide? The question of whether Israel “ought” to exist is irrelevant. It does exist. If the destruction of Israel is an acceptable - even a laudable - aim, then Israel is equally entitled to take drastic measures to ensure its survival. The alternative is an attempt to find the least unjust balance between injustices - not the absolute justice of god’s will, but merely a way to avoid people futilely killing each other.

  • George Carty

    In most white settler nations (the United States, Canada, Australia and the Southern Cone countries) the native population was minimal, either because it had always been small or because it was all-but-exterminated by epidemics before the bulk of the white settlers arrived.

    This wasn’t the case in Israel.