Examining the Relationship Between Zionism and Racism
Examining the Relationship Between Zionism and Racism
This text is based on remarks delivered on 30 August 2001 by Abdelwahab El-Massiri, Professor Emeritus at Ain Shams University, Cairo, and Phyllis Bennis, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of The Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine (CPAP) or The Jerusalem Fund. This event was co-sponsored with the American Muslims for Jerusalem. This "For the Record" was written by Publications Manager Wendy Lehman; it may be used without permission but with proper attribution to the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine.
El-Massiri argued that in the US, "there are certain premises, certain cognitive maps in our minds" that are used as the backdrop for discussion on the Middle East. The Jewish experience is seen as the primary frame of reference. For example, the 1917 Balfour Declaration, advocating a Jewish homeland in Palestine, refers to "90 percent of the population of Palestine . . . as non-Jewish communities". This "cognitive map" affects US policy toward the Middle East. When policymakers refer to Palestinians, their approach becomes "pragmatic". They argue that Palestinians should settle elsewhere, accept what economic aid they may receive, and be content. But when US policymakers refer to the Jewish relationship to Israel, they speak about an "ancestral homeland". At the "center of the discourse there is an organic metaphor that sees [a] certain inevitability of union between the Jew and the 'promised land'".
Nonetheless, Zionism is "not a Jewish phenomenon. . . . Zionist thought was fully formulated" by non-Jews and even anti-Semites. This "sheds light" on the creation of Zionism-it is "actually a scheme to rid Europe of its Jews". When Arthur James Balfour was prime minister, he sponsored an act to prevent Jews from immigrating to England and later supported their immigration to Palestine through the declaration named after him. Balfour "admitted" that he was an "anti-Semite, that he hated Jews". He referred to Jews as a "'burden to western civilization.'" Moreover, El-Massiri pointed out, "the only member of the Lloyd George cabinet . . . to protest against" the Balfour Declaration was the one Jewish member, Edwin Montagu.
Jews did not begin to support Zionism until the end of the nineteenth century. At its heart, Zionism "is a western phenomenon. And we can understand it within the discourse of settler colonialism" in which "a block of people is transferred from Europe to somewhere else". The language used vis-à-vis Zionism is "typical of nineteenth century imperialist discourse". A country solves its problems "by exporting them". Therefore, "if you have 'surplus Jews', as they were referred to, then you export them". The colonialists are transferred to the new location with the "full awareness" that the move involves expelling people who live there. As one of the leading founders of Israel and the state's first Prime Minister David
As to the racism that exists within Jewish Zionism, El-Massiri said that "all societies have racial discrimination". However, countries generally attempt to protect against racism through their laws. "The distinctness of Zionist racism is the following: that [the] category 'Jew' is a legal
Bennis began by addressing how the US has responded to the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. The US decision not to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the conference because of the debate about Zionism's links to racism is not surprising, she said. This decision highlighted two key points: (1) The "United States continues to view itself as bound not by international law", although it holds all other countries to it, "but by a law of empire that applies only to the United States". (2) The "commitment of US policy" to provide support to Israel "trumps whatever claims it would like to make to the world, true or false, about its commitment to fighting racism".
Bennis argued that "it's a serious problem that the conference is not going to take up in a full way . . . issues of a whole host of racist
The argument that "Zionism equals racism is a sloppy formulation". The issue is more complex; "it's not solely racism". Bennis concurred with El-Massiri that "Zionism is essentially [an] issue of settler colonialism". Like all settler colonialist projects, she continued, it is "thoroughly racist, but it is not only racist". There are "absolutely important parallels" between racism and Zionism and apartheid South Africa and
Despite the discrimination Palestinians experience, Americans do not even know that Israel is militarily occupying Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. "And that's why I'm not thrilled that the debate over Zionism and racism is emerging the way it is, because I don't think it is something that most Americans can grasp". US citizens are not simply ignorant, but "mis-educated". They "not only don't know the history, but they think they know everything they need to know". They believe "Israel is like us, Israel is a democracy, the Palestinians are terrorists". These beliefs are "fundamental" and "infuse[d]" in the culture.
In order to challenge the inaccurate perceptions Americans hold, activists must say "we stand against occupation and for equal rights. . . . [T]hat's a way of talking that people can begin to come to grips with even in the midst of this propaganda war". They must explain "how
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