Crying ‘antisemitism’ and embracing racism in Israel
By Ramzy Baroud, Palestine Chronicle
In a recent article, columnist Yaniv Halili described British author Ben White as ‘anti-Semitic’. He also denounced Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi for writing a forward to White’s latest book, Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy.
Those of us who can see through such distorted thinking know that White is a principled writer who has never displayed a shred of racism in his work. Zoabi is very well-known civil rights leader with a long-standing reputation of courage and poise.
How could anti-racist endeavors themselves become the subject of accusation by Halili and others like him?
It goes without saying there should be no room for any racist discourse – Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, or any other – in the Palestine solidarity movement, which aims at achieving long-denied justice and rights for the Palestinian people. A racist discourse is predicated on racial supremacy, which is exactly what Palestinians are resisting in Israel and the occupied territories.
But the “Jewish and democratic state” of Israel is riddled with so many contradictions, the kind that no straightforward narrative can possibly capture.
Many scholars and rights groups have discussed the way in which irreconcilable values defined the very character of Israel from the onset. According to Adalah (meaning “justice” in Arabic), the legal center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, “Israel’s Declaration of Independence (1948) states two principles important for understanding the legal status of Palestinian citizens of Israel. First, the Declaration refers specifically to Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ committed to the ‘ingathering of the exiles.’ (Second)…it contains only one reference to the maintenance of complete equality of political and social rights for all its citizens, irrespective of race, religion, or sex.”
Adalah further asserts that there is a ‘tension’ between the two principles. Perhaps this is the case, intellectually, but in practice the Israeli political establishment has resolved the seeming quandary whereby the Jewishness of the state prevails above every other humanitarian, democratic or legal consideration. Racially discriminating legislation is being churned out in the Israeli Knesset at an alarming speed, and new laws are constantly being proposed. These include “one that would end the status of Arabic as one of Israel’s official languages and another that would punish Israeli citizens, including Arab Israelis, for refusing to pledge their allegiance to ‘Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,'” according to columnist Linda Heard (Arab News, Jan 24).
As for Palestinians living in the occupied territories, their legally enshrined political inferiority has been felt in much harsher and often bloodier ways than their brethren living in Israel. For nearly four and a half decades, the Palestinians living in these territories have been losing their land, livelihood, freedom of movement and even their very lives in the name of the racial superiority of their occupiers. Jewish settlements are illegally constructed on Palestinian land to host Jewish settlers, who use Jewish-only roads to travel between their heavily fortified colonies and the “Jewish state.” While numerous intellectuals, activists and ordinary members of Jewish communities around the world have strongly protested Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, as well as Israel’s misuse of the Jewish religion to attain political goals, Israel relies greatly on the support of Jewish communities, organizations and individuals for vital funds, political support and lobbying.
While many Jews identify with Israel as a ‘Jewish state’, “younger American Jews are more likely than their parents to be acquainted with the Palestinians and their story,” reported TIME magazine on September 29.
The TIME story references one such youth, Benjamin Resnick, 27, who decries the fact that Jewish state and American liberal democracy represent two views that are ‘irreconcilable’. On the other hand, he “continues to consider himself a Zionist,” who “quotes the Torah in support of his view that American Jews should press Israel to end settlement expansion and help facilitate a Palestinian state.” Even Resnick’s political dissent is riddled with inconsistencies, where national identity (as an American) clashes with ideology (Zionism) and religion (the Torah) is referenced as a means to resolve the discord.
The Torah is put to good use repeatedly among mainstream and ardent Israeli rabbis, whose edicts to kill Arabs are commonplace in Israeli media (although rarely discussed in US media). The so-called King’s Torah – which is endorsed by some prominent Israeli rabbis – has made it permissible to kill Palestinians of all ages, including those who don’t pose a threat. “You can kill those who are not supporting or encouraging murder in order to save the lives of Jews,” it states in the fifth chapter, entitled “Murder of non-Jews in a time of war.” The BBC elaborates: “At one point it suggests that babies can justifiably be killed if it is clear they will grow up to pose a threat” (July 19).
This becomes particularly problematic when the lines between politics, ideology and religion become so conveniently blurred. Israeli and Jewish leaders borrow from the corresponding text as they find suitable to achieve policies to further occupation, war and illegal settlement. Alan Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, came to represent the latter model. His style lacks diplomacy and logic; however, it is effective in some circles because it centers on the idea of smearing anyone who dares to criticize Israel. The greater tragedy is that Dershowitz is provided with platforms in mainstream and rightwing Israeli media, thus giving his smear campaign the means to turn any genuine discussion of Israel into a controversial hate speech.
While critical non-Jews are often smeared as ‘anti-Semites’, jurist Richard Goldstone, who led the UN investigation into the Israeli war on Gaza, was not a mere anti-Semite for concluding that Israel and Hamas had both potentially committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Dershowitz told Israeli Army Radio that Goldstone is a ‘traitor to the Jewish people’. ‘The Goldstone report is a defamation written by an evil, evil man,’ Dershowitz said (Haaretz, October 31).
While the case for Palestinian rights and statehood can be clear-cut – not many true-to-self intellectuals could justify ethnic cleansing, defend Apartheid and rationalize murder – delving into the political identity of Israel and its ideological and religious supporters becomes immediately ‘controversial’. The controversy is embedded in the purposeful intellectual and political elasticity by which Israel defines, or refuses to define itself. It claims to be Jewish as well as democratic. It claims to embody religious ideals but also to be secular. It claims to be liberal, while it is militarily oppressive. It claims to uphold ‘equality’ for all, while it is racially exclusive.
And if you dare to challenge these irreconcilable contradictions, you are termed an anti-Semite or a traitor – or both.
Palestinians in Israel
Ben White, Palestinians in Israel. Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy, Pluto Press, London 2012, 128 pp., £13
By Ludwig Watzal, Review, Palestine Chronicle
With the signing of the Oslo Accords that led to the outbreak of the so-called peace process between Israel and the occupied Palestinian people, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) abandoned its initial political goals (to realize the right of return of Palestinian refugees and to liberate Palestine from Zionist colonization) for some privileges and turned itself into an obedient servant of the colonizers. Whereas the PLO under the leadership of Yasser Arafat tried to get back some territory from Israel to establish a Palestinian state, Palestinians living in Israel, although suffering under discrimination as second-class citizens, demand Israel to become finally “a state for all its citizens” instead of staying a “Jewish State”. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the non-Jewish inhabitants have been subject to a second-class status in most walks of life.
Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer specializing in the subject of Palestine/Israel. In his previous book “Israeli Apartheid” he showed that Israel established its special kind of “Israeli apartheid” that differs in its sophistication from the petty apartheid in South Africa under the white racist regime. His current book deals with the Palestinians living in Israel and their plight. It was overdue, that someone as competent as White would shed some light on Israel’s discriminatory treatment of some 20 per cent of its citizens. In comparison to their fellow countrymen in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), who live a life in extreme oppression; Israeli Palestinians might be designated as “Palestinians de luxe”.
The well-known Israeli Palestinian Knesset member Haneen Zoabi contributed a fine foreword in which she demanded full citizenship rights and added; “These taken for granted demands, for the indigenous people and for ‘full citizenship’, are suffice to undermine the moral and political legitimacy of the entire Zionist project, and to relegate it to the status of a racist, colonialist venture.” Israeli Palestinians demand from the State of Israel no less than to become the “state of all its citizens”. According to Zoabi, this demand “has forced the Jewish state to admit the primacy that it grants to Jewish-Zionist values over democratic values and to recognize the impossibility of coexistence between the two”. Currently, Israel is a democracy sui generis.
For making such demands, MK Zoabi and also the author came under attack by Zionist propagandists in Israel and Great Britain. Yaniv Halili wielded in “ynet” the worn Zionist “argument”, accusing both of “anti-Semitism”. Zionist defenders of Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity, violations of human rights, contempt for international law and the United Nations, can only “justify” the morally bankrupt policies of the “only democracy in the Middle East” by slandering people who merely describe the horrible reality. The infamous Zionist lobby in Great Britain attacked the British branch of amnesty international, because it had dared present White’s book, and called for a “balanced” debate. The problem with Zionist slanderers is not their meanness – any rational person will immediately discount their arguments – the real problem lies with the non-Zionist citizens or politicians who are afraid of standing up to such intimidation, because they fear being accused of “anti-Semitism” or threatened in their career.
Ben White brings the discrimination of the forgotten minority of Israel´s colonization project in Palestine, to light. The author pursues two aims: First, he wants to show how Israel relates to its Palestinian citizens, and second, he attempts to demonstrate that “denying democracy has been part of the Zionist colonization of Palestine from the very beginning”. For White, Israel’s definition as “Jewish and democratic” is the central contradiction and the heart of the conflict.
In seven chapters White describes the manifold discriminations against what some Israelis call “Israel’s fifth column”. To preserve their status of second-class citizens, Israel developed a sophisticated set of laws that apply to Jews only. This Palestinian minority is seen by Israel’s power elite as a “demographic threat” to “Jewish majority rule”. The author shows that the Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which solemnly promises to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” is not considered by the Israeli High Court as “constitutional law”. White quotes Ari Shavit’s article “Formative words” in the daily “Haaretz” saying: “The state it declared was not a state of all its citizens. It was not even a Jewish-democratic state, but a Jewish state, pure and simple.” In the last phrase of this sentence lies Israel’s ongoing dilemma and its inherent contradictions. That is why many Israelis and Jews around the world call Israel an “ethnocracy” rather than a “democracy”.
The rest of the book deals with the implementation of Israel’s institutional discrimination. One of these discriminatory laws is the “Absentee Property Law” passed in 1950. This law regulates the exclusion of Palestinians from land acquisition and the “mechanism of expropriation” to realize the permanent alienation of (Palestinian absentees) land in favor of the Jewish state”. (24) According to White, there are numerous other laws to be used to confiscate land, such as the “Emergency Land Requisition of 1949″, or article 125 of the Emergency Regulations of 1948. This law enabled an area to be declared “closed” and then, using the “Land Acquisition” law of 1950 to designate the land as “uncultivated” and expropriate it for Jewish-only use, writes the author. It should come to no one’s surprise that current Israeli President Shimon Peres called this judicial sophistry a means of “directly continu(ing) the struggle for Jewish settlement and Jewish immigration”. (25) The Israeli land regime was finally completed in 1960, with the passing of Basic Law: Israel Lands 1960.
The campaign entitled “Judaising of the Galilee” overlaps and echoes and “judaisation” of occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. This strategy goes along with “day-to-day racism”, a phenomenon widely cited by White. (54) Israeli newspapers periodically, including recently, report the most outrageous racist statements by rabbis, who do not mind to cite biblical texts in justification. It should be noted, that there has been no outcry by Zionist politicians against such overt racism. The author cites opinion polls showing “deep-seated levels of anti-Arab racism” in the population. (56) Such racism is reflected, among other things in the “judaisation program” against the Bedouins in the Naqab desert and the refusal to “recognize” certain Arab villages.
Systemic discrimination is described by White in areas such as education, budgetary allocations to Palestinian communities in the Galilee and petty discrimination at all levels of society. Just being an Arab disqualifies a person of serving in the Israeli military, except for members of the Druze minority. With these disqualifications goes the loss of privileges granted to Jewish soldiers and veterans.
Summing up his findings, the author tries to remain objective by writing that there might be some “logic” to the Israeli argument in “justifying” its racist policies towards the Palestinians in the OPT by pretending that the occupied territories might be “disputed” or that there might be “security concerns”. The fallacy of these arguments is revealed when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians in Israel. Israeli politicians and their friends in the U. S. and Western Europe often point out as evidence for Israeli democracy the presence of Israeli Arabs in the Knesset. However, they ignore the fact that these Arab MKs are subjected to regular slander and threats by their right-wing Jewish “colleagues” to have their parliamentarian immunity lifted or their citizenship withdrawn. It is true that “Arabs and Jews” in Israel share the same beaches, work at the same hospitals, and may travel on the same buses. The relative absence of such petty racism hides, however, the more fundamental and pernicious discrimination against Palestinians enshrined in legislation and administrative practices.
White ends his book by quoting a revealing statement of Shmuel Dayan, General Moshe Dayan’s father, who admitted in 1950: “Maybe (not allowing the refugees back] is not right and not moral, but if we become just and moral, I do not know where we will end up.” The ongoing Zionist colonization dilemma could not be better phrased.
For democrats, who are interested in the reality and the functioning of the “Jewish and democratic” State, this book can be an eye-opener.
Ludwig Watzal is based is a journalist based in Bonn, Germany. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at:firstname.lastname@example.org.