by Ellen Isaacs, July 2016
Nowhere in the world today is there more evidence of the destructive nature of racism and nationalism than in Israel, a state that aspires to be exclusively Jewish. It is true that Jews were persecuted for many centuries, ostracized, isolated, and murdered, more so in Western countries than in the East. The culmination was the slaughter of 6 million by the Nazis. The mistake that Zionists (those who seek to build a Jewish state) make is believing that anti-Semitism is ineradicable and different from other forms of racism. Thus many have been won to believe that their security rests in isolating themselves and practicing racist persecution of Palestinians and other minorities within Israel.
The first mistake of Zionists is to believe that the slaughter by the Nazis, as indescribably horrible as it was, was unique in history. 12.5 million Africans were forcibly deported from Africa as slaves, to be either killed or made slaves for life. Native Americans were almost entirely obliterated by disease or murder and the remaining minority forced onto reservations. 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by the Turks. Australian Aborigines were largely eliminated and then continuously denigrated. The list is, unfortunately, endless. What is common to all these examples is that a ruling class needed scapegoats to blame for the misery of the majority of citizens and/or needed to clear out a native population to make way for colonization. The soldiers and sailors who carried out these murderous misdeeds were won to racism and nationalism in order to do so. Those who rebelled and joined with the victims to fight back are those we celebrate in this blog.
To everyone, we say recognize your common humanity with the workers, farmers, students and soldiers of the world. Join together against the ruling classes of all nations.
In Israel, a majority of Jews have rejected their commonality with other persecuted peoples. From the earliest days of Jewish immigration to Palestine in the late 1800s, the official Zionist position was to refuse to live or work with Arabs. In fact, Palestine was touted as “a land without people for a people without a land,” despite the presence of over 400,000 inhabitants. Nonetheless, from the 1920s to the early 1940s, Jewish and Arab workers did struggle together in trade unions. The ruling classes of both nationalities fought hard to build nationalism and destroy this unity, which has not been equaled since.
After WW2, tens of thousands of surviving Jews from Europe came to Palestine. Most would have preferred to go to the US or England but were unable to because of very restrictive quotas. Many would have gone back to their homes but were prevented by persistent anti-Semitism. The Zionist leaders in Palestine were anxious to have them, to build the population of their envisioned new state, and to form an army to fight Arab resisters. They also induced a million Jews to emigrate from Arab countries, such as Iraq and Morocco, sometimes sending secret agents to create fake anti-Semitic incidents and foment fears of persecution, which had not occurred during Nazism. Once in Israel, these darker Arabic speaking Jews were discriminated against, and their inequality persists today.
When the United Nations created the state of Israel in 1948, 55% of the land was given to the Jews even though they comprised only 30% of the population and owned only 6% of the land. Moreover, they received the most fertile areas with the most water. Beginning in 1947, even before statehood, the Zionists, under the leadership of Ben-Gurion, began a carefully orchestrated and brutal expulsion of about 750,000, six out of seven, Palestinians. They were forced into refugee camps in what is now the West Bank and Gaza or in neighboring countries. Since 1967, Israel has militarily occupied the Golan Heights, Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinians are subject to harsh restrictions of movement, shortages of food, housing, water, health care and employment. This brutal, military occupation is the longest in recent history, is illegal under international law, and has been punctuated by episodes of mass slaughter, as in Gaza in 2008 and 2014. Nonetheless, if Palestinians fight back they are branded as terrorists, despite the legality and unstoppable human impulse to resist occupation. The murderous Israeli army describes itself as the “most moral in the world.”
The irony is that life is not good for many Israelis. There is very high unemployment, housing shortages, and a debilitating atmosphere of militarization, hate and fear. Moreover, a small nation cannot be safe when it has engendered hatred by fully half of its own residents (in the occupied territories and within Israel proper), and all the surrounding countries. Only because the US provides over $3 billion a year in aid and has allowed Israel to become a nuclear-armed military superpower can it exist at all. In July 2016, Obama pledged another $3 billion for Israeli defense expenses. Hillary Clinton also supports the Israeli government and its occupation.
Unfortunately, since the first intifada, or rebellion, of 1987-91, the Palestinian resistance has been disorganized and ineffective. And it has always been nationalist, with a goal of a Palestinian state, not considering an alliance with working class Israelis or others. Despite being occupied, Palestine is also a very in-egalitarian society, with a small, greedy elite who cooperate with Israeli and other capitalists. In fact, Israel, Palestine and the US have approximately equal GINI (general inequality index) scores, near to the worst in the world. (see article on Flying the Nationalist Flag, http://mondoweiss.net/2015/02/flying-nationalist-progressive/)
Ultimately, Palestinian and Israeli workers, farmers and students must unite with each other to build a non-capitalist, anti-racist society. There are a few on both sides of the Wall who are trying to do that, some calling themselves the One Democratic State movement. Unfortunately its platform says nothing about the economic nature of the society it envisions. The elite capitalists of Israel and Palestine would be all too happy to unite together and exploit workers of both nationalities. This movement also does not have a program of on the ground struggle. We will continue to applaud and support those in the region and internationally who fight racism and nationalism in Israel/Palestine and around the world. We are happy to note the growing popularity of the BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) movement, but see it only as an educational tool. To achieve an egalitarian society in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere a program of international struggle is needed.
3 thoughts on “ISRAEL: A STUDY IN RACISM AND NATIONALISM”
Hi, thanks for this blog. I am a high school history teacher in newark, NJ and was wondering if you could recommend any good books on the subject.
I would suggest 2 books by Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and A History of Modern Palestine. For modern outrages without much analysis, there’s Goliath by Max Blumenthal. Ali Abunimah’s Battle for Justice in Palestine is the only place I ever read about Palestinian economics. Nussibeh’s Once Upon a Country is a Palestinians story of being involved in struggle, up to and including the first Intifada.
Great! Thank you