Monday, 2 May 2016

In Defence of Anti-Zionism

Perhaps I ought to start this article by saying that this is not a defence of Ken Livingstone, Naz Shah, Malia Bouattia (the new NUS President), or any other public figures recently accused of anti-Semitism. Rather, I simply hope to defend my own position: that of opposing the policies of Israel and the ideology of Zionism in its current form. Through this article, I want to demonstrate that, despite what many suggest, my views do not in any way equate to anti-Semitism.

I’ll start by outlining my basic objections to Zionism. I was having a conversation recently with a friend of mine about the state of Israel and the role of the Holocaust in its foundation: “No wonder they want a homeland,” she argued, and she had a point: we must sympathise with the desire for a group of people to found a homeland and form a nation, particularly a group of people that have, throughout history and throughout the world, been persecuted. I recently visited Auschwitz Concentration Camp and I was harrowed by the brutal suffering of those who lived and died under Nazi rule.

But one question ultimately arises: where will this homeland be founded? Well, when Zionism began as an ideology in the late 19th century, Palestine was the obvious choice: it was the birthplace of Judaism, once controlled by the Israelites, and referred to in the Torah as the ‘Promised Land’. But according to the Ottoman census of 1878, there were over 400,000 Muslims living in Palestine during this period, comprising 87% of the population. Jews, on the other hand, comprised only three or four per cent. What is more, Justin McCarthy estimated that by 1946 there were 1,339,763 non-Jews living in Palestine. Despite what many Zionists claim, Palestine was not an uninhabited land.

Now, though, Arabs only constitute 18.5% of Israel’s population, and an astonishing one in three refugees worldwide is Palestinian. In 1947, Israel was given 56% of Palestine and since then the state has expanded to over 80% of what was once Palestinian land. What is more, there are almost half a million Jews living in occupied territory, and there are 121 settlements officially recognised as illegal by the United Nations. It seems that Israel is determined to continue its expansion indefinitely, hence Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent announcement that the Golan Heights will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty.

Now, I’d like to pose a few questions to the reader. If a homeless family want a home, of course that desire should be fulfilled; but would you be content with that homeless family kicking your own family out of your home and killing one of your children in the process? Let me pose another question: if a book was “found” that said the UK belonged to the Mormons, would they be justified in taking over our country and forcing so many of us to flee? Of course not, and it worries me that the absurd it-says-so-in-the-Torah argument is used by Zionists so frequently.

This Zionist ideology of settler-colonialism has led to constant violence and brutality in the region, stemming also from the desire to ethnically cleanse Palestine, hence the 1948 Nakba which saw 700,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes and hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages destroyed. Since then, though, things have only grown worse: Gaza, described by many as “the world’s largest open-air prison”, has been reduced to piles of rubble, and as bombs go off in Palestinian land, Israelis cheer and applaud (literally applauding: watch the video here). The Israeli Government say that they act in self-defence, but between 2000 and 2013, a Palestinian child was killed every three days on averagedid these children pose a threat? You only have to look at the death tolls to see who is most in the wrong: in 2014, for example, 86 Israelis were killed compared to 2262 Palestinians.

Perhaps, though, one could argue that Israel is in fact fighting in self-defence. After all, Hamas militants do often fire missiles over the border into Israeli territory. But not only does Hamas support a two-state solution in accord with international consensus, they also agree to and respect ceasefires over and over again. As Noam Chomsky writes, "The regular pattern is for Israel, then, to disregard whatever ceasefire is in place, while Hamas observes it - as Israel has officially recognised - until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer [Israeli] brutality." So in reality, Israel seems to be acting less for self-defence and more for their ideology. This is why, on July 9th 2014, about two thirds of those killed were innocent women and children and only a few Hamas targets were hit - the idea that this was 'self-defence' bemuses me.

Arabs are discriminated against in every branch of life, and from an early age many Israeli children are encouraged to see their Arab counterparts as “other”. In her book “Palestine in Israeli Schoolbooks: Ideology and Propaganda in Education”, Nurit Peled-Elhanan states that in Israeli schoolbooks Arabs are only represented as “refugees, primitive farmers and terrorists” and that, in “hundreds and hundreds” of books, there was not one photograph that showed an Arab as a “normal person”. A shocking 36% of Jews believe that non-Jews in Israel should have no right to vote.

Indeed, many have drawn parallels between the way in which Palestinians in occupied territories are treated and the way in which black people were treated in South Africa during apartheid. To an extent, the Israelis control the lives and movement of all those living in the West Bank through a system of ID cards, military checkpoints, and the West Bank barrier. What is more, around some settlements there are separate roads for Palestinian citizens, and in occupied territories, Palestinians are discriminated against in terms of infrastructure, legal rights, and access to land and resources. Perhaps this is why in 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 (now replaced by later resolutions), which concluded that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination,” epitomised by the racist annexation wall. Though Zionism itself may not be a racist ideology, the policies that stem from it certainly are. 

So it's not just the fact that Palestinians have been driven from their homes and their countries, it's also that they are still subject to violence and discrimination. But does the suffering of the Jewish people in the past justify the suffering of the Palestinian people in the present? The answer is, unequivocally, no. This quotation from Jewish anti-Zionist Norman Finkelstein should suffice to defend my position:

“My late father was at Auschwitz concentration camp, my late mother was at Majdanek concentration camp. Every single member of my family, on both sides, was exterminated. Both of my parents were in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and it is precisely and exactly because of the lessons my parents taught me and my two siblings, that I will not be silent when Israel commits its crimes against the Palestinians. And I consider nothing more despicable than to use their suffering, and their martyrdom, to try to justify the torture, the brutalisation, the demolition of homes, that Israel daily commits against the Palestinians.”

And that brings me to my next point. This week, many Zionists have claimed that those who oppose Zionism also oppose Judaism: they say that anti-Zionists are anti-Semites, and the word Jew has simply been replaced by the word Zionist. Does that mean, then, that those Jews who oppose Zionism are anti-Semitic? Ilan Pappe, Norman Finkelstein, and all those Jewish men and women who turn up to pro-Palestinian rallies – are they anti-Semites too? Or do they, as I do, simply oppose the brutality of Zionist ideology?

I hope I have outlined here my reasons for opposing the state of Israel in its current form: because its actions are racist, violent, and, perhaps most importantly, illegal. I could give hundreds more examples about violence and discrimination against Palestinians, but I don’t want to bore you. The facts and statistics I have given speak for themselves and are, I hope, representative of the whole. I’m sure that many will call me a terrorist-sympathiser and all that, so I ought to say that I condemn all unnecessary violence (whether it is Israel, Hamas, or Hezbollah), even if it is for a cause that I believe in.

I was surprised and shocked to be called an anti-Semite and a racist this week, despite having consistently and unequivocally opposed all forms of racism throughout my life. I cannot speak for everyone who supports Palestinian rights and opposes Israel, but I can say with certainty that being anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic are not one and the same – the two must not be conflated. Opposing Zionism, as I do, does not in any way make you an anti-Semite.

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