Monday 4 October 2010

Israeli Racism

Racism in Israel has a long and ignoble history.  This racism in fact long predates the bloody founding of the state and goes back to the origins of the state - the Zionist Project.  For Zionism is in essence a racist ideology.  Developed in central Europe in the latter decades of the 19th century, Zionism is based on two dubious and disturbing premises.  The first is that    assimilation or integration into European society is bad for Jews.  As Yosef Haim Brenner put it, these Jews were, “mentally, morally and spiritually disfigured.”  Alongside this view was the claim that discrimination against Jews was so rife and deep in European societies that anti-semitism would never disappear.  Both ideas came together to create the Zionist movement which claimed that the only way that Jews could be saved and find security was to “return” to Palestine and set up their own Jewish state.
Now all this seems to me to be doubly racist.  It asserts that contact with non Jews desecrates and defiles Jews and that all European and by extension all countries as irredeemably anti-semitic.  This would seem to fly in the face of reality.  There have been and continue to be thriving Jewish communities in many parts of the world, including Europe.  While anti-semitism does survive it is hardly the dominant force in the world.  In the UK, the Labour party has just elected a Jew as its leader, while the strength of the Jewish Lobby in the USA hardly indicates an enfeebled or weak community.
This explicit racism at the heart of the Zionist movement was to become the key feature of modern Israel.  The very creation of the state in 1948/49 involved the brutal expulsion of the Palestinian Arab population from the areas that were to become Israel.  For Israel to become a “Jewish” state, all non Jews had to be expelled.  As testimonies from Israeli leaders from this period make clear this was no accident or by product.  The expulsion of Arabs was the prime purpose of the war.  "Among ourselves, it must be clear that there is no place in the country for both peoples together.    With the Arabs we shall not achieve our aim of being an independent people in this country. The only solution is Eretz-Israel, at least the west part of Eretz-Israel, without Arabs . . . And there is no other way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries. Transfer all of them, not one village or tribe should remain . . ."  –Joseph Weitz, entry in his diary for 1940, quoted in his article: ‘A solution to the Refugee Problem: An Israeli State with a small Arab Minority’, published in Davar, 29 September, 1967.   
In this of course Israel failed - many Palestinians couldn’t or wouldn’t flee.  With the result that around 22% of the population of Israel has remained Palestinian.  In its treatment of this minority, we have further examples of Israeli racism.  Though on paper the Palestinian Arabs have full rights as Israeli citizens, in practice they remain a persecuted and discriminated against community.  Many, perhaps most Israelis would really prefer these Palestinians to leave or be expelled.  Or as in the proposals of Avigdor Liebermann, Israel’s foreign minister, the parts of Israel with large Palestinian populations should be transferred to a new Palestinian state in return for Israel keeping most of the West Bank.  This kind of proposal coming from a major politician clearly shows the depth of racism within Israeli society.  For this kind of extreme ethnic cleansing can only come about on the basis of a deep hatred for the Palestinians.

An example of the brutality that this racism against Palestinian citizens of Israel engenders was to be seen recently in Israel’s parliament (the Knesset) when a prominent Palestinian MP was violently threatened on the floor of the chamber.  A Parliamentary Mob on a Rampage is how Israeli campaigner Uri Avnery described the incident.  Here is part of what he wrote, “On the Knesset speaker’s rostrum stood MK Haneen Zoabi of the Arab nationalist Balad faction and tried to explain why she had joined the Gaza aid flotilla that had been attacked by the Israeli navy. MK Anastasia Michaeli, a member of the Lieberman party, jumped from her seat and rushed to the rostrum, letting out blood-curdling shrieks, waving her arms, in order to remove Haneen Zoabi by force. Other members rose from their seats to help Michaeli. Near the speaker, a threatening crowd of Knesset members gathered. Only with great difficulty did the ushers succeed in saving Zoabi from bodily harm. One of the male members shouted at her, in a typical mixture of racism and sexism: “Go to Gaza and see what they will do to a 41-year-old unmarried woman!”  One could not imagine a greater contrast than that between the two MKs. While Haneen Zoabi belongs to a family whose roots in the Nazareth area go back centuries, perhaps to the time of Jesus, Anastasia Michaeli was born in (then) Leningrad. She was elected “Miss St. Petersburg” and then became a fashion model, married an Israeli, converted to Judaism, immigrated to Israel at age 24 but sticks to her very Russian first name. She has given birth to eight children. She may be a candidate for the Israeli Sarah Palin, who, after all, was also once a beauty queen.  As far as I could make out, not a single Jewish member raised a finger to defend Zoabi during the tumult. Nothing but some half-hearted protest from the speaker, Reuven Rivlin, and a Meretz member, Chaim Oron.  In all the 61 years of its existence, the Knesset had not seen such a sight. Within a minute the sovereign assembly turned into a parliamentary lynch mob.”  You can read the whole piece here.
Though Haneen Zoabi emerged unhurt, at least physically unhurt, the same cannot be said of thousands and thousands of Palestinians who continue to suffer at the hands of Israeli brutality in the form of killings, house demolitions, beatings, imprisonment without trial, expropriation of land etc.  All this violence against Palestinians is done in the name of securing Israel for Jews.  In other words racism.  Jews are so special, their sufferings have been so unique that they are entitled to do almost anything in order to protect their state as a “Jewish only” state.   This of course is the official Israeli state policy, supported by Zionists.  However not all Jews support this position and not even all Israeli Jews.  Many Israeli Jews have taken and continue to take courageous action against this racism and speak out in support of their Palestinian neighbours.  One such is David Shulman who is a professor at the Hebrew University.  Here you can read his report on how settlers and local police in Sheikh Jarrah managed to destroy the Succah he and others had built to celebrate the Jewish festival of Succot.
Israel as this brief outline has shown is a deeply racist state.  Which is not to say that all Israelis are racists.  Just that the basis for the state of Israel is racist.  Evidence for this racism is clearly available on a daily basis both within Israel and in the Occupied Territories.  Much of this evidence has been brought out by Israeli Jews, so there is little reason to doubt its accuracy.  Which makes it all the more disturbing that so much of the Western world, in particular the UK and the USA still supports Israel in its ongoing land grab and violence against Palestinians.

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