Anti-racists who question Zionism
are not racists
Keith Landy, the head of the Canadian Jewish Congress says that
those who question the Zionist underpinnings of Israel as racist,
are racists themselves, and are no better than Hitler. Yet a look
at the Zionist face of Israel, suggests that those who question
it, are hardly motivated by anti-Semitism, but are troubled by its
double-standards, its brutal disregard for Palestinians who were
displaced by the birth of Israel, and its inability to come to terms
with the problems it has created.
At the center of criticism of the Zionist character of Israel is
the Palestinian diaspora. When hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians
fled Kosovo to the safety of Macedonian refugee camps at the height
of the 1999 NATO air war against Yugoslavia, the United States and
its allies said that the Kosovars must be allowed to return to their
homes, otherwise the ethnic cleansing they alleged the Serbs had
engineered, would become a fait accompli. UN prosecutors charged
that Kosovars fled the embattled province because they were driven
out of their homes by Serb forces intent on "purifying"
the area, at the behest of Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic's defenders
say Kosovo's ethnic Albanians didn't care to stick around in the
middle of a civil war in which they might become "collateral
damage," and so fled to the safety of Macedonia. But driven
out involuntarily or not, the refugees right to return home remained
intact. And NATO saw to it.
But a half a century earlier, in 1948, thousands of Palestinians
fled what is now Israel, a country Zionists had anointed "a
land without people for a people without land", in the convulsions
that led to the birth of the Jewish state. Zionists celebrate the
birth of Israel as the creation of a refuge from the persecution
Jews have historically faced. But Palestinians call it Al Nakba,
the disaster. Some say the Palestinians were driven from their homes,
and, in a cruel twist, became victims of persecution themselves,
forced into squalid refugee camps, where hundreds of thousand still
live. Others say the Palestinians left voluntarily, driven out by
irrational fears. But either way, the question of the Palestinian
diaspora became unavoidable. What was to be done with the refugees?
For the international community, the answer was plain. The refugees
must be allowed to return to their homes. But for Israelis, the
primacy of Israel as a Jewish state, made the answer equally plain.
Palestinians must never be allowed to return. Return would dramatically
change the ethnic face of Israel, transforming the country from
a Jewish-run refuge against persecution into a multi-ethnic state,
where Palestinians, by their numbers, could dominate the life of
the country. How could Jews maintain a safe-haven, if they hadn't
control of the country? And so countless UN resolutions calling
on Israel to allow the refugees to return to their homes were --
and are -- stubbornly ignored. "The Palestinian right of return,"
says Globe and Mail columnist Marcus Gee, "is just not
Whatever its motivations, it's hard not to label a country that
has rebuffed innumerable UN resolutions a rogue, especially one
that's been thumbing its nose at international law for over 50 years.
But sure as Israel has been able to cement the Palestinian diaspora
by refusing to budge on the right of return, it's been able to escape
the infamy that regularly blowing raspberries at the international
legal order would bring to other countries less firmly under the
protective wing of Washington.
Iraq, its neighbour, hasn't. For the transgression of invading
Kuwait, Iraq has paid the price of being reduced to medieval backwardness,
while simultaneously being strangled by a decade of cruel, inhuman,
sanctions, that have left well over a million dead and the country
without the resources to repair the civilian infrastructure razed
by an American military ever eager to flex its ample military muscles.
Like some pumped up, steroid-enhanced behemoth pummelling bespectacled
cadaver look-a likes at the beach to impress preening young blondes
scantily bedecked in revealing thongs, the United States struts
the globe with its ever fawning coterie of preening journalists
seeking out new opportunities to display its massive pecs. Iraq,
unfortunately, was an easy target, one of many easy targets Americans
have, over many decades, taken delight in trampling, and preening
journalists, ever eager to be in the thick of what they call "the
boom-boom," have taken equal delight in covering.
And yet, what are Iraq's crimes compared to Israel's? Israel continues
to occupy the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, as it has done
for over 30 years, in violation of international law. It occupied
Lebanon illegally for more than two decades. It allowed, in the
person of its current Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, the slaughter
of refugees at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, home to homeless
Palestinians, one in a list of many massacres that bear Sharon's
name. The IDF, the Israeli army, has killed hundreds of civilians
in the current uprising, or Intifada, often for the offense of throwing
stones. Israel's heavy-handed response has been censured by the
UN, and condemned by the International Red Cross and Amnesty International,
the latter of which accuses Israel of actions that border on war
crimes. And despite the censure, Israel has escalated its violent
response to the uprising, meting out collective punishment, carrying
out extrajudicial assassinations, razing Palestinian dwellings to
the ground, and refusing to allow international observers in occupied
territories it has no right to be in.
Consider the parallels. Iraq has been brutalized by a decade of
sanctions to enforce compliance with a UN resolution to destroy
weapons of mass destruction. The sanctions, political scientists
John and Karl Mueller note, have "contributed to more deaths
during the post Cold War era than all the weapons of mass destruction
throughout history." And Scott Ritter, a former UN arms inspector,
says Iraq is effectively disarmed, and yet sanctions continue. Meanwhile,
Israel is estimated to have a stockpile of 200 nuclear weapons,
but there are no sanctions against Israel and no UN arms inspections.
Why the double standard? Apologists say Iraq must be treated harshly
because it violated international law by invading and occupying
Kuwait. But Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon, and has shown no
signs of quitting the occupied territories.
Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia, languishes
in a Dutch prison at The Hague, awaiting trial for persecution,
deportation, and the murder of over 600 (about the same number of
Palestinians who have been murdered by the IDF in the Al-Aqsa Intifida.)
Milosevic's offence was to order a crackdown on Albanian guerillas
operating in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, similar to what the IDF
is doing to Palestinians, except Kosovo wasn't invaded by Serbia,
and illegally occupied. It's part of Serbia. Nor were Serb security
forces gunning down civilians who threw stones. And Milosevic allowed
international observers into Kosovo. Ethnic Albanians have returned
to their homes. Yet Sharon, with a long string of massacres behind
him, allows the IDF to run roughshod over a resistance that's taking
place in territories that Israel invaded and refuses to relinquish.
And he refuses to allow refugees to return to their homes, and he
won't countenance international observers in the occupied territories.
If there's a case to made for Milosevic to be in The Hague, there's
a infinitely more compelling case for Sharon to be there. But Israeli
leaders have spent the last half century brazenly trampling international
law with impunity, safe under the protective aegis of the United
States. Don't expect Sharon to get, what tireless researcher Rick
Rozoff calls "the Milosevic treatment."
A shield encircles Israel. Criticizing the country, its leaders,
and its Zionist underpinnings, is a task not to be entered into
By tacit agreement we're all to define the bounds of legitimate
discussion on the Zionist state as follows:
- all Israeli actions are legitimate and perfectly understandable
responses to the hostility of its neighbours;
- all criticism of Israel is motivated by anti-Semitism;
- Israeli lapses can be excused because the Jews have faced horrible
persecution in the past;
- the world's grim history of pogroms, of anti-Semitism, of the
Jewish holocaust, confer upon Israeli Jews rights that supersede
those of Palestinians who have not been similarly persecuted throughout
Landy underscores the dangers of straying beyond these boundaries.
Those who declare Zionism equal to racism, says Landy, "pick
up where Hitler and the Nazis left off," while the declaration
that Israel is "a new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity
and a serious threat to international peace and security,"
is the handiwork of racists and anti-Semites. Clearly, Israel, with
its arsenal of 200 nuclear weapons, with its bloody minded refusal
to bring a just resolution to the Palestinian diaspora, with its
contemptuous disregard for numberless UN resolutions, with its helicopter
gunships that fire missiles into apartment buildings, with its penchant
for invading and occupying its neighbour's territories, is a very
real threat to peace and international security. A dispassionate
review of Israel's record, not anti-Semitism, leads to that conclusion.
But Landy is making it known that openly questioning Israel has
its penalties. You'll be denounced as a racist, an anti-Semite,
a Nazi. This is bullying of the highest order, and it's effective.
Those whose anti-racist credentials are impeccable, who are troubled
by the second-class citizenship of Israeli Arabs, the continued
growth of the settlements in occupied territories, the racial slurs
hurled at Palestinians by some Israeli leaders, immediately back
off. They don't want to be called anti-Semites anymore than they
want to be unjustly accused of being pedophiles. And as for Jews
who criticize Israel, some of them among the most ferocious critics
of Israel, there's always the put down: "he's a self-hating
Jew. " It's like being sent to a Soviet insane asylum for questioning
Stalin. Only the insane would question Stalin, therefore, anyone
who questions Stalin is insane. Only anti-Semites would question
Israel, therefore anyone who questions Israel is a racist, an anti-Semite.
It would be racist to say that racists can't be found among all
the peoples of the world, that some race or group of people have
somehow escaped the worst traits of humanity, that one group is
Racists can be found everywhere, among all people, Palestinians,
Jews, and no less in Israel, or in the Canadian Jewish Congress,
than in Gaza or the PLO.
And so too bullies.
Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in
Threat from Within: Jewish Opposition to Zionism
doesn't define Jews -- it divides us
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