An American journalist and writer is of the opinion that it’s absolutely logical and fair to maintain that Israel is a racist and apartheid state that abides by no internationally-recognized rule or convention.
Ben Norton said in an interview with Fars News Agency that Israel is unrestrainedly suppressing the Palestinian citizens, and because of its strong political, economic ties with the United States, it’s never held accountable over its war crimes and violations of international law.
According to Mr. Norton, the United States is complicit in the atrocities of Israel. “Israel has violated at least 70 UN Security Council resolutions, but the US has prevented any punishment. Israel has committed crime after crime after crime, but the US has prevented the UN from taking any disciplinary action.”
Ben Norton believes that along with the military campaign in the Occupied Territories, Israel is also carrying out an intense, racist campaign of demonizing and dehumanizing the people of Palestine to justify their killing. “To perpetuate the violence upon which it thrives, a state ultimately must convince its soldiers to pull the trigger. If it humanizes those whom it wants dead, it becomes hard for soldiers to blindly follow orders and kill—the soldiers see how much they have in common with their supposed enemy.”
“But if it dehumanizes those whom it wants dead, those same soldiers will not think twice. Racism is the most effective means of practicing dehumanization, and Israel is the master of both,” he added.
Ben Norton is a freelance writer and journalist based in the United States. A well-informed commentator on the Middle East current affairs, his work has been published in Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada, CounterPunch, Common Dreams, Think Progress, and ZNet, among other publications. His website can be found at BenNorton.com.
On the politics of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel’s racial discrimination against the people of Palestine, its contributions to the growth of Islamophobia and the international community’s responses to the criminal actions of the Israeli regime, FNA spoke to Mr. Norton. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: Do you find any similarities between the apartheid regime that reigned South Africa from 1948 to 1994, and the Israeli regime that has been putting in place derogatory laws of racial discrimination against the people of Palestine for more than 6 decades? Many scholars have drawn an analogy between Israel and the apartheid South Africa in terms of their treatment of the people under their rule. Do you consider it a logical analogy?
A: The apartheid Israel-South Africa analogy is a rather common and useful way of introducing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to those who may not be familiar with it. To answer the question, yes, I think the analogy is logical. That said, in some regards, it is rather limited.
First and foremost, I should say that we need not ask my opinion on the matter; we can simply turn to one of the most prominent leaders in the movement against South African apartheid, Desmond Tutu.
“I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid,” Tutu has said. “I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.”
Tutu has been a vocal supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Correspondingly, he has too advocated drawing an analogy between the boycott movement against apartheid in South Africa and the BDS movement against apartheid in occupied Palestine.
Supporters of apartheid Israel often cite F. W. de Klerk, the last president of apartheid South Africa, a white son of Dutch colonialists, who called such an analogy “unfair.” This conservative leader, who oversaw an apartheid regime, and who still today lives in an all-white neighborhood, in a lavish house with five servants of color, was in Israel to receive an honorary doctorate from Haifa University when he claimed, on Israel’s Channel 2, “you have Palestinians living in Israel with full political rights,” and “you don’t have discriminatory laws against them.”
For starters, de Klerk’s statements, factually speaking, are simply incorrect. Whether or not one agrees with the apartheid Israel-South Africa analogy is one thing. That Israel is an apartheid state, on the other hand, is not up for debate. In 2007, David A. Kirshbaum, of the Israel Law Resource Center, published a report titled “Israeli Apartheid – A Basic Legal Perspective,” meticulously detailing the many ways in which—according to its very own laws, not just the ways in which they are implemented—Israel is an apartheid state.
There are myriad examples of this apartheid in practice. In perhaps the most recent instance, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon officially banned Palestinians from traveling on Israeli-run public transportation. In 2012, renowned Israeli journalist Gideon Levy published the results of a scholarly statistical study in Israel’s most prominent newspaper, Haaretz. The poll “exposes anti-Arab, ultra-nationalist views espoused by a majority of Israeli Jews,” noting that 49% of Israeli Jews explicitly want their government to treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones. It found that 69% would object to giving 2.5 million Palestinians the right to vote if Israel were to annex the West Bank and that 74% are in favor of separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians. Even in this hyper-nationalist and jingoist society, 58% of Israeli Jews admit their government practices apartheid against Arabs.
That Israel apologists point to de Klerk in an attempt to deny this reality is most telling. Zionists cite a white president of apartheid South Africa, the man who controlled the apartheid regime, in an attempt to rebuke the apartheid Israel-South Africa analogy; Palestinian solidarity activists cite a leading black South African activist, the man who led the anti-apartheid movement, who approves of the apartheid Israel-South Africa analogy. One hardly needs to look any further.
In the US, denial of this reality runs deep. In April 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry—while obsequiously acquiescing to most of Israel’s demands and happily supporting most of Israel’s illegal actions, including expansions of Jewish-only settlements the UN has continuously insisted are illegal—warned that Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state” as if it weren’t already one. He quickly recanted his statement, after the media chewed him up and spit him out. In the US political establishment, one cannot dare utter such a comparison, because one cannot dare criticize Israel. The truth tends to be rather controversial.
Part of this refusal to acknowledge Israel as an apartheid state is rooted in an ignorance of the definition of the term apartheid. Some try to argue apartheid refers only to a specific form of institutionalized racism, one in which a minority population rules over a majority—as was the case in South Africa. In terms of international law, they are mistaken. Apartheid is a more general concept.
In November 1973, the United Nations General Assembly instituted the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, defining apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” As examples of apartheid in practice, it lists “murder, torture, inhuman treatment and arbitrary arrest of members of a racial group; deliberate imposition on a racial group of living conditions calculated to cause it physical destruction; legislative measures that discriminate in the political, social, economic and cultural fields; measures that divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate residential areas for racial groups; the prohibition of interracial marriages; and the persecution of persons opposed to apartheid.” All of these are practiced in Israel. Literally all of them.
Many try to speak of South African apartheid as if it were some uniquely evil form of injustice that did not exist elsewhere and will never return again. The unfortunate truth is that, under Jim Crow, the US was too an apartheid state. Still today, systemic racism in the US satisfies the legal definition of apartheid. It is for this reason that, in August 2014, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who herself endured the brutality of apartheid in South Africa, likened the systemic racism in the US against black Americans, and more specifically the violent police crackdown on the recent nonviolent uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, to the violence she saw under the horrific white supremacist system in her home country.
Unfortunately, there is a small yet vocal movement in the US, consisting mostly of young, nationalist liberals, that criticizes any attempts to liken the South African and black American struggles to that of the Palestinians. They claim that drawing these parallels is merely “exploiting” the struggle of people of African descent in order to advance another cause. Such a position is hopelessly misguided. Drawing analogies between other examples of apartheid should by no means be interpreted as a means of diminishing the horror of South African apartheid. The racist South African regime was grotesque and despicable; pointing to other instances of grotesque and despicable regimes only strengthens the understanding that these sickening injustices are products of larger global systems of oppression.
Internationalist and intersectional struggle is not the “Oppression Olympics,” if you will. Not only does this questionable movement silent the voices of countless South Africans and black Americans who have firmly drawn parallels between their struggles for liberation and that of the Palestinians, it is fundamentally anti-intersectional and anti-internationalist. It is imperative that we recognize that the fight for justice in Palestine is not an isolated one. It is inextricably linked to the US’ own history, and continued present reality, of racism and settler colonialism; it is part of the global ills of imperialism and white supremacy.
All of this said, I am sympathetic to the position that the apartheid Israel-South Africa analogy breaks down when one considers some important factors. For one, Israel’s policies toward the occupied territories is very different than those directed toward Israeli Arabs. In the words of Noam Chomsky, “In the Occupied Territories, what Israel is doing is much worse than apartheid. To call it apartheid is a gift to Israel, at least if by ‘apartheid’ you mean South African-style apartheid. What’s happening in the Occupied Territories is much worse.”
More simply, Palestinians living in Israel live in an apartheid system. Palestinians live in the occupied territories live under something far worse.
Zionism is an explicitly racist and explicitly settler colonialist ideology. The “Father” of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, openly spoke of “the idea of Zionism, which is a colonial idea,” calling it “something colonial.”
Consequently, if one had to pick a historical parallel to the Zionist project of ethnic cleansing in Palestine, perhaps the best option would be the European colonialists’ own project of settler colonialism in what we call the “Americas.” This is particularly true in the US and Canada, where the preponderance of the population is not of Indigenous descent.
The land we now inhabit was ethnically cleansed in an intentional project. European colonialists used African slave labor in order to build their country. There were indeed indigenous slaves, but, to speak generally, the European colonialists’ preferred strategy was to ethnically cleanse natives by forcing them off of their land into smaller and smaller settlements, or by simply killing them.
Similarly, in 1947-1948, the agenda of Zionism was to ethnically cleanse the land of Arabs in order to create a Jewish state. Distinguished Israeli historian Ilan Pappé has painstakingly detailed these blatant policies in his 2006 book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. This is the Nakba.
In Israel-Palestine, on the other hand, not only does Israel not need Palestinian labor, it does not want it. Many modern Zionists are motivated by an extreme nationalist, frankly fascist, and often religious fundamentalist, ideology. The reason they do not give equal rights to Palestinians is because they do not want Palestinians in what they see as “their” land. They want a Jewish state in the literal definition of the term—what Israeli scholar Oren Yiftachel refers to as an “ethnocracy.” Many Zionists believe God gave them all of the land West of the Jordan river – or even beyond, in the case of Kahanists, including parts of modern-day Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq as well. Many non-religious Zionists believe the same. As Pappé once joked, “Most Zionists don’t believe that God exists, but they do believe that He has promised them Palestine.”
The apartheid regime in South Africa was indeed a colonialist project, but it was not necessarily a settler colonialist project, in the same sense of that in historic Palestine and that in what we today call the Americas. In these regards, the apartheid Israel-South Africa analogy does break down, because Israel’s project of colonization, ethnic cleansing, and what Pappé calls “incremental genocide” in the Occupied Territories is even worse than apartheid.
None of this should be controversial. These are incontrovertible historical facts.
A critical parallel between the South African and Israeli apartheid regimes that must not go unmentioned is the question of US support. Steadfast US support is common to both.
For many years, the US government officially considered South African leader Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress “terrorists.” In fact, it was not until July 2008 that Mandela’s name was removed from the US’ “terrorism” watch list. On Larry King Live in 2000, Mandela recalled “I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one.”
Reagan was an enormous supporter of South Africa and its system of institutionalized white supremacy. In a 1981 CBS interview, the US president asked, in earnest, “Can we abandon a country that has stood beside us in every war we’ve ever fought, a country that strategically is essential to the free world in its production of minerals we all must have?” The International Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) had been so successful by the 1980s that even the UN General Assembly demanded that countries divest from and impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa. Reagan refused to do so, preferring what he called a policy of “constructive engagement.”
Ergo, in this way, yes, the apartheid Israel-South Africa analogy is appropriate. The leading international force that sponsored both systems of “domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons” was the US. Without unfaltering US support for apartheid South Africa, justice would have been achieved many years before; without indefatigable US support for apartheid Israel, justice would have already been achieved. As celebrated historian Rashid Khalidi has insisted, “the United States is precisely the enabler of all of this.”
In short, once again, yes, I would argue the apartheid Israel-South Africa parallel is indeed a logical analogy. As with any analogy, it has flaws, and there are perhaps better historical analogies from which to choose namely, the European settler colonialist project in what we now call the Americas, but, for those unfamiliar with the history behind the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the South African example is informative and effective.
Q: What do you think is the root for the racially-driven, egregious hate crimes against the Palestinians by the Israeli settlers and other residents of the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem (Al-Quds)? There are reports of Israeli citizens approaching the Palestinian people on the streets, shouting “Death to Arabs” on them and insulting them aggressively. Why do the Israelis, who have actually occupied the homeland of the Palestinians and displaced thousands of them, hate the Palestinians such vehemently?
A: It should be recognized that, for centuries, Jews and Arabs lived in lived in relative peace in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a religious conflict, but it should also be recognized that, for centuries, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and those of other belief systems lived in relative peace in the Middle East as well.
Those ignorant of the historical roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claim Jews and Arabs have been “fighting forever.” Such a position is blatantly un-historical and incorrect. The problem is not that Jews are inherently racist against Arabs or that Arabs are inherently racist against Jews. Jews and Arabs are both Semitic peoples who speak Semitic languages and share a common history. The problem is simply the racist, colonialist movement of Zionism.
The “Father” of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, openly spoke of “the idea of Zionism, which is a colonial idea,” calling it “something colonial.” He appealed to British colonialists including genocidal mining magnate Cecil Rhodes for support. Ohio State University Presidents’ Club Professor of Law John B. Quigley documents the colonialist origins of Zionism in his 2005 book The Case for Palestine: An International Law Perspective. Quigley cites the correspondence between Herzl and Rhodes, noting how explicitly the Father of Zionism referred to his nationalist ideology as a form of a colonialism.
In the 1947-1948 war that founded the state of Israel, Zionist militias forcibly expelled 800,000 Palestinians from their homeland. Even before the war began, fascist Jewish militias such as Irgun and Lehi indiscriminately bombed Palestinian civilian areas. Both of these groups modeled themselves after European fascist movements. Lehi in fact aligned itself with the Nazis and Italian fascists. Its goal was to help Nazis deport Jews to historic Palestine and to create what it called a purely Jewish state based on “nationalist and totalitarian principles.”
The Jewish Agency and leaders of Jewish organizations around the world regularly condemned Irgun and Lehi as terrorist groups. In April 1948, the two militias carried out the infamous Deir Yassin massacre, slaughtering over 100 civilians, including women and children. In June 1948, Irgun was disbanded; former Commander Menachem Begin created the Herut party out of its ashes. In the wake of this bloodbath, leading Jewish intellectuals, including Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, published a letter in the New York Times, warning about “the ‘Freedom Party’ [Herut], a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and fascist parties.” Einstein, Arendt, et al. were particularly concerned about the visit of Menachem Begin to the United States in order “to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States.”
That Zionism has explicitly colonialist and fascist origins is indubitable. A movement that is rooted in such obscenely racist ideologies, therefore, does not suddenly become progressive and peaceful. Even so-called “left”-leaning Israeli Prime Ministers still exhibit unmitigated bigotry. While publicly insisting that there “were no such thing as Palestinians,” that they “did not exist,” Meir regularly espoused overtly racist beliefs, going so far as to say that peace “will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
In 1947, in the midst of proto-Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine, David Ben-Gurion, the supposedly “leftist” founder of Israel, and later the ethnocracy’s first prime minister, ordered the military to no longer worry about differentiating between “innocent” and “guilty” Palestinians. “Every attack has to end with occupation, destruction and expulsion” of the indigenous Arab population, Israel’s Founding Father commanded. He later maintained that “[w]e must do everything in our power to ensure that they never return.”
Once again, Zionism is an explicitly racist and colonialist ideology, so “left”-wing Zionism is oxymoronic; it does not exist.
Not long ago, it was not controversial to point out that Zionism is overtly racist. In 1975, with the ratification of General Assembly resolution 3379, the United Nations determined “that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” With the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the US wrestled back hegemony over the UN and forced the revocation of the resolution—yet the fact that the preponderance of the international community voted on the statute (72 to 35) attests to its accuracy.
The racism that we see today, therefore, is not exactly new. One might argue that the level of racism has reached a new high, but it has been present since 1947 and before. Israeli mobs shout “Death to Arabs” because the Israeli state is fundamentally structured upon the death of Arabs, and because the hyper-nationalist ideology of Zionism says that Arabs must be killed in order to maintain the ethno-religious purity of that state.
This form of institutionalized racism is a self-feeding cycle, an Ouroboros, if you will. In its seven decades of existence, Israel has gradually continued to expand, annexing more and more Palestinian territory, in flagrant violation of international law. Such has been the case with every settler colonialist project. The settler colonialist will never be content; as long as the settler owns less than 100 percent of the land, it will want more. Consequently, in order to continue expanding, the Israeli settler colonial project, like those of the US and Australia, has relied on violence. The easiest way to motivate this violence is with racism, and with religious extremism, but I do not want to overstate the importance of religion in this conflict.
The problem is, if you ethnically cleanse a people for 67 years, and militarily occupy them for 47, and treat them as “human animals”—to quote present Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu—they are not going to like you. And if you kill and imprison that people’s leading nonviolent activists, they are going to eventually turn to violent forms of self-defense and resistance.
Israel, like any aggressor and oppressor, creates false pretenses to justify its continued aggression and oppression. If Palestinians violently resist their incremental genocide, they are “terrorists,” sub-human “snakes” – in the words of Member of Knesset Ayelet Shaked – who supposedly “do not value human life.” Instead of pointing out the real root causes of Palestinians’ violent resistance, namely, colonization and occupation, Israel claims that is it “part of their culture,” of their religion, of their own DNA.
Racism is among the strongest of potential false pretenses. If a government is trying to fight, let alone exterminate, an entire people, racism is the most powerful weapon—more powerful than even bullets themselves. It is not a coincidence that US media and popular culture go to great lengths to depict “enemies” of the US government with grotesque, racist, orientalist stereotypes and caricatures.
To perpetuate the violence upon which it thrives, a state ultimately must convince its soldiers to pull the trigger. If it humanizes those whom it wants dead, it becomes hard for soldiers to blindly follow orders and kill—the soldiers see how much they have in common with their supposed “enemy.” But if it dehumanizes those whom it wants dead, those same soldiers will not think twice. Racism is the most effective means of practicing dehumanization, and Israel is the master of both.
Q: How do you think Israel has contributed to the growth of Islamophobia and discrimination against the Muslims by spreading a fear of them, as represented by the Arab Palestinians, who are denied their most basic religious rights in the Occupied Territories, including the right to worship and say prayers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque? Why has Israel embarked on a project of systematic abusing, torturing and persecuting the Muslim people of Palestine? Is it part of a larger project spearheaded by the US government?
A: It should be established, firstly, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a religious conflict. As with many conflicts, it may appear to be religious, at surface level, but the conflict is fundamentally a political one. There is a religious element, because most of the people on the two sides of this political conflict are of different religions, yet the Palestinians are ultimately fighting for freedom, human rights, and control over their own lives and land.
Religious nationalists, including religious Jewish Zionists, and especially Christian Zionists in the US, often like to speak of the conflict as if it were religious, because then they can use extremist interpretations of Christianity and Judaism to justify the crimes against humanity Israel has committed against the indigenous Palestinians. But this still does not make it religious at its core.
Israel also sometimes employs this strategy, exploiting Islamophobia as a tool to increase support for its project of settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing. It is, frankly, in Israel’s interest to spread anti-Muslim bigotry. The majority of Palestinians are Muslim. By playing off of religious prejudices, Israel can further dehumanize the population it ultimately wishes to see ethnically cleansed from what it claims is “its” rightful land.
Israel is indeed engaging in a “project of systematic abusing, torturing and persecuting the Muslim people of Palestine,” but this is not because they are Muslim; it is because they are Palestinian. Israel engages in the same campaign against Christian Palestinian – in fact, Israel often goes out of its way to target Christian Palestinians, as a way of fomenting division.
There is no “larger project spearheaded by the US.” Israel’s oppression of Muslims existed long before the US stepped in. Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine began in 1947 and, unofficially, before. Although the US supported Israel at this time – according to a popular historical anecdote, immediately after Israel announced its founding, White House staff woke up President Truman, in the middle of the night, so that he could recognize it – the US did not become Israel’s closest ally, and did not begin pumping US tax dollars into Israeli state coffers, until Israel demonstrated its military might and annexed the Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, and West Bank in the 1967 war. Israel is not the US’s “puppet” in a “crusade” against Islam, contrary to the conspiracy theories some propose. Some extremist Christians in the US sometimes speak of the conflict in this way, but this view of US foreign policy is naïve, and frankly incorrect.
The role of the Christian Zionist movement is important, but I feel it is often overstated, to be honest. Yes, the Republican Party in the US is filled with Christian fundamentalists, but, at the end of the day, in spite of the religious inclinations of its bureaucrats, the US is a capitalist state, not a theocratic one. Religion plays a minor role in decision making; real decisions are made in regards to the interests of the propertied class. Corporate power trumps political power. This is how capitalism works. The US supports Israel not because it is waging a war on Islam; the US supports Israel because the ethnocracy supports its imperial interests in the region.
Saudi Arabia has the second-largest oil reserves in the world –18 percent of the entire planet’s reserves. Iraq has the fifth-largest. The tiny countries of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have the sixth- and seventh-largest, respectively. The Middle East is a treasure trove of oil, and the US needs oil. It really, really needs oil.
The US economy would come to a screeching halt, in mere moments, in a blink of an eye, were it to run out of oil. In the contemporary global economy, in contemporary global industrial society itself, it is absolutely impossible to function without oil. It would be very hard to overstate the importance of oil.
Those who find it far-fetched that a country would go to war over oil simply do not understand the role oil plays in the contemporary world. Since its illegal 2003 invasion, the US has essentially turned Iraq into an oil colony. By supporting Israel, no matter what it does, no matter how heinous its crimes, the US is simply befriending the most powerful country in the region with the largest oil reserves in the world. Steadfast US support for Israel is part of a larger imperialist strategy in the Middle East.
Because the interests of the bourgeoisie and Christian Zionists happen to coincide on the issue of Israel-Palestine, at the surface, it may appear as though it is a religious conflict. It is not, however. As with most conflicts in human history—even apparently religious ones, such as the Crusades—it is fundamentally materialist at its core. It is about economics, power, and control over capital.
Q: How is the reaction of the hardline white supremacist Israelis to the emergence and empowerment of the progressive, leftist movements in the Occupied Territories and the fact that a growing number of Israeli citizens are waking up to the atrocities committed by the Tel Aviv leaders in defiance of the international law, Security Council resolutions and calls by the community of nations that demand Israel to live up to its commitments as an occupying power?
A: The reaction of Israel to any form of resistance in Palestine is always the same: violent repression.
I would not say that leftist movements in the Occupied Territories are growing. On the contrary, support for Islamist resistance forces, namely Hamas and Islamic Jihad, is growing. Israel is exploiting this fact and relying on ignorant anti-Muslim bigotry to further demonize Palestinian resistance, claiming Hamas is the “same” as ISIS, Boko Haram, and other violent, reactionary groups. It matters not to Israel that Hamas – and Hezbollah, as it often adds to its Naughty List – is an unambiguous enemy of ISIS, nor that ISIS has publicly vowed to destroy Hamas because Hamas, in its words, “defends democracy.”
The question of Hamas is complex. Hamas is a large and diverse organization. For starters, it was democratically elected, and two thirds of its branches are devoted to providing social services for Gazans. The other third is a resistance force that acts in self-defense against a country that bombs its children, hospitals, schools, and places of worship including not just mosques but also Christian churches. Hamas is Islamist, but Islamism is an exceedingly heterogonous political ideology. ISIS, on the other hand, is a fascist movement that contradicts the most basic tenets of Islam. There is no comparison whatsoever. Israel tries to lump all Islamist forces together, in order to demonize resistance.
This has not always been the case, however. Just a few decades ago, Israel was supporting the very same Islamist resistance organizations that is seeks to crush today.
It is most telling that, for decades, the leading Palestinian resistance forces and the leading resistance forces in much of the Arab and Muslim world were secular and socialist. The marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, of which it is a part, was the primary vehicle of resistance against Israeli oppression—and against the attempts of Western imperialist powers to support this oppression.
So, back to my original point, I would not say that leftist movements in the occupied territories are growing, but this is because of Israel’s policies. And, beyond that, it is because the PLO, dominated by Fatah, has proved itself to be complicit with Israeli oppression. Abu Mazen has actively worked with Israeli security forces in order to suppress Palestinian resistance. In 2010, the PFLP voluntarily suspended its participation in the PLO, protesting chairman Abbas’ collusion with the government that is waging a “war against the Palestinian people.” The PFLP explained the PLO “does not meet the needs or aspirations of the Palestinian people” and has “accepted the logic of the slave master and do[es] not seek to change the reality.” By betraying the Palestinian people it purports to represent, the PLO has given its secular, nominally left-leaning ideology a bad reputation.
In response to the other half of your question, I, unfortunately, do not think that a “growing number of Israeli citizens are waking up to the atrocities committed by Israel.” In fact, the facts show that the opposite is true. 95 percent of Israelis supported their government’s most recent slaughter in Gaza, euphemistically dubbed Operation “Protective” Edge. 95 percent—this is about as close to a national consensus as you ever get.
Israeli leftists are at a point where many simply want to leave their country. Most have given up on trying to change a society that lurches further and further to the far-right. Esteemed Israeli journalist Gideon Levy is now openly describing Israel as “fascist,” in his Haaretz articles and in news interviews. Israeli fascist mobs brutally beat not just Arabs and African refugees, but also leftist and anti-Zionist Jewish protesters. Police just stand by watching them—sometimes even giving the fascists a hand. All the signs show that Israel is a fascist society, and there appear to be no indicators demonstrating that it is going to get any better. It looks as though things are going to continue getting worse. And that is beyond terrifying.
Q: For a long time, the Israeli politicians have been using the cover of “anti-Semitism” to obstruct any criticism of their actions and discriminatory policies against the Palestinians. They automatically brand as anti-Semite and Jew-hater anyone who condemns their brutalities, regardless of the essence and content of the criticism that has been leveled. Is the excuse of anti-Semitism going to work for a long time and help the Israeli leaders evade accountability and facing justice?
A: Zionists use many obscene and vile tactics to defend their racist, settler colonialist ideology, yet the ubiquitous anti-Semitic slur may very well be the most repugnant of them all.
The unfortunate reality is that many people do not know the difference between Judaism or Jewishness and Zionism. Zionism is an explicitly racist and explicitly settler colonialist ideology. The “Father” of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, openly spoke of “the idea of Zionism, which is a colonial idea,” calling it “something colonial.” Zionists exploit this ignorance of the definition of Zionism in order to whitewash Israeli crimes.
In many ways, it can in fact be argued that Zionism is itself an anti-Semitic movement. Many Zionists have gotten to the point where they are so extreme in their jingoist hyper-nationalism that they try to argue that anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic, because it opposes a movement that fights for “Jewish self-determination,” they claim. This position is grotesquely anti-Semitic, as it suggests that all Jews have the same conception of “Jewish self-determination,” let alone that all Jews believe a homogenous, apartheid, ethnocratic Jewish state is the expression of “Jewish self-determination.” In short, when Zionists claim anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, what they are actually saying is that all Jews have the same political ideas and believe the same things. Now that is anti-Semitism.
What is worst of all about this abominable practice is that it is often directed at Jews themselves. According to many Zionists, Jews who oppose Zionism – read: a racist, colonialist movement – are “self-hating,” or even “not” Jewish. This is anti-Semitism in its most blatant form. Zionists construct an essentialist view of Jewishness that says that “this is what it means to be a Jew.” This is already a racist act. Then, Zionists call Jews who do not conform to their essentialist conception of Jewishness “self-hating” or “not Jewish.” Sometimes, the Zionists who are calling anti-Zionist Jews “self-hating” or “not Jewish” are not even Jewish themselves! This is racism in its rawest form.
This problem is not limited exclusively to Zionism. This is a problem with nationalism itself. A quick caveat here: Nationalism is not necessarily always a reactionary ideology. There are certainly historical examples in which nationalism was an important way of united members of oppressed groups in order to resist oppressor groups. Most of the time, however—and all of the time when it is nationalism practiced by an oppressor group, as in the case of Israel—nationalism is a fundamentally reactionary ideology.
Leading anti-imperialist scholar Eqbal Ahmad constantly warned of its dangers, explaining “Nationalism is an ideology which always has the Other. And therefore, it’s a double distortion. You distort by glorifying your own, and you distort by darkening the other’s history.” Zionism, like any form of nationalism, constructs a false binary of the world, seeing the Palestinian as the “Other.” This binary is predicated on racism.
In a discussion about nationalism with Mubashir Hasan, Ahmad’s colleague and comrade, the former cautioned nationalism “unites the exploiters and exploited to fight united exploiters and exploited of other nations. And thus it prevents social change.”
Accordingly, Zionists often use anti-Semitism as an excuse to disguise the real reasons why Palestinians engage in resistance against the state that is ethnically cleansing and colonizing them. Zionists reiterate ad nauseam the preposterous notion that “all Palestinians are anti-Semitic.” For starters, this ignores the fact that Palestinians are Semitic themselves. The term “anti-Semitic” was created by racist 19th-century German pseudo-scientists. Like most racists, they were asinine, and used “Semite” as synonymous with “Jews,” without realizing that both Jews and Arabs are Semites.
Beyond that, this cheap tactic also explicitly silences what the Palestinian resistance itself has to say. In her autobiography, Palestinian revolutionary Leila Khaled writes “The supreme objective of the Palestinian liberation movement is the total liberation of Palestine, the dismantlement of the Zionist state apparatus, and the construction of a socialist society in which both Arabs and Jews can live in peace and harmony.” Creating a state “in which both Arabs and Jews can live in peace and harmony” is the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it is one that many Palestinians have been calling for for decades.
It is rarely mentioned, but it must be said. The fact of the matter is that Zionism is one of the primary instigators of anti-Semitism in the world. Zionism, by constantly claiming that Israel represents the Jewish people, and by constantly silencing and persecuting Jewish voices who oppose this racist narrative and challenge Israel’s crimes against humanity, is one of the principal reasons anti-Semitism continues to be a problem. This is just one of the many ways in which the Palestinian solidarity movement is a fundamentally anti-racist movement.
Q: The Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has been in effect since 2006, has caused a true humanitarian disaster in the besieged coastal enclave. As you wrote in one of your recent articles, more than 90% of the people of Gaza live in extreme poverty, over 65% of the population is unemployed, and 95% of Gaza’s water is undrinkable. Why doesn’t the UN take action to change this calamitous situation and help the defenseless people of Gaza? Who is responsible for the plight of more than 1.5 million Palestinians entrapped in Gaza?
A: The role of the UN in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is important, yet often misunderstood. For not just years, but for decades, the UN has played a leading role in speaking out against the Israeli occupation, ethnic cleansing, and oppression of Palestinians.
In its November 1967 resolution 242, the UN Security Council, including even the US, demanded that Israel withdraw from the territories it militarily occupied only five months before. Since this time, Israel has only withdrawn from the Sinai Peninsula; it still illegally occupies the West Bank and Golan Heights.
With UN Security Council resolution 446, adopted in March 1979, the UN also explicitly maintained “that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The US abstained from this vote.
Countless UN resolutions and statements have since stated, in no uncertain terms, the same thing: Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian land, and the settlements are illegal. Moreover, every few years when Israel “mows the lawn,” massacring Palestinian civilians, UN officials consistently accuse Israel of war crimes.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has also been an important force in assisting the Palestinians. In some ways, UNRWA is problematic, as it outsources Israel’s legal responsibilities. As an occupying power, Israel has an obligation, under international law, to ensure the well-being of the population it occupies. Instead, Israel starves, tortures, and murders that population, and UNRWA and international aid ensures that it does not die. Yet UNRWA still provides an incredibly important service to Palestinian refugees whom many of the surrounding Arab states ignore and even oppress themselves.
Indeed, there are many things to criticize about the UN. There has been collusion between UN and Israeli officials; this is documented. Thanks to Wikileaks reports, in just one of the many examples of backdoor dealing, we now know that UN officials, all the way up to the Secretary General himself, were working with US officials to censor the Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, known colloquially as the Goldstone Report. Even the Goldstone Report, nonetheless, with all of its flaws, was quashed by President Obama.
The problem is not necessarily with the UN. The UN does have a lot of problems on a lot of issues, and it is much too kind to Israel, but the primary problem is not with the UN. The problem is with the US. Israel has violated at least 70 UN Security Council resolutions, but the US has prevented any punishment. Israel has committed crime after crime after crime, but the US has prevented the UN from taking any disciplinary action. The US constantly vetoes resolution that would hold Israel accountable for its crimes.
Distinguished historian Rashid Khalidi has written entire books about how the US has intentionally obviated peace in occupied Palestine. In a November 2014 interview on Democracy Now, Khalidi explicitly said “the United States is precisely the enabler of all of this.”
On some issues, the UN, bullied by the world’s hegemonic countries, is on the wrong side. In the case of Israel-Palestine, the UN is on the right side, because the vast, overwhelming preponderance of the international community is on the side of justice. The UN is very, very, very far from perfect; it is as imperfect as the countries that comprise it. Yet, as Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, has said, “you only have to be 10 percent objective to come to the same critical conclusions that I came to in relation to Israel’s violation of fundamental human rights in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, the three segments of occupied territory.” The UN is by no means objective, but, on the issue of Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestine, it is at least 10 percent objective.
The party responsible for the plight of the 1.8 million Palestinians trapped in an open-air prison in Gaza, and the further 2.7 million Palestinians brutalized in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, is not the UN. The party responsible is indeed a two-letter acronym that begins with “U,” but it is not the UN; it is the US.
Q: A large number of US academicians have joined the wave of academic and cultural boycott of Israel, which includes a variety of mechanisms for embarrassing Israel on the global level and showcasing its isolation and loneliness, including pressing the presidents of American universities to refrain from visiting Israel, asking the American universities to stop their student exchange programs with Israel and cut any investment in the Israeli companies run from the settlement regions. Will such measures really yield significant results and compel the Israeli leaders to change their behavior toward the Palestinian people?
A: The BDS movement is, hands down, the most important movement in the struggle for justice in Israel-Palestine, outside of resistance in occupied Palestine itself.
For starters, BDS was called for by leading Palestinian intellectuals and activists as the ideal means by which the international community can express solidarity with the Palestinian people. In any movement against oppression, racism, and settler colonialism, it is imperative that activists wishing to stand in solidarity with an oppressed group in its struggle for justice do what that oppressed group has actually asked of them. The BDS movement is precisely that. Yet, even beyond this most significant factor, the BDS movement is so important because it is effective. And its efficacy is already being seen on campuses across the US, and across the world.
Israeli universities are doubtless complicit in Israel’s crimes. In the wake of Israel’s summer 2014 slaughter in Gaza, Israeli scholar Amir Hetsroni, who before the attack, had been opposed to BDS, wrote in Haaretz of “the undeniable attempts by academic management to prevent students and faculty from speaking their minds and punishing those who protest against the war.” “A college that prohibits students from taking part in political protest is not an academic institute. A university that vetoes its faculty’s right to publish non-Zionist – not to say anti-Zionist – scholarship is not a university. In such cases an academic boycott might be an acceptable response,” he said.
In October 2014 I published an article in Mondoweiss titled “Academia, the ‘battleground’ in the Palestinian solidarity movement,” detailing how Israel has outlined an intentional policy of targeting and repressing Palestinian solidarity activists on US campuses. During the Second Intifada, head of Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and former Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky went on a tour of US and Canadian college campuses. Upon returning to Israel, he told Prime Minister Sharon “the most important battleground for the future of the Jewish people is campuses.” Israel and closely linked Zionist organizations have since gone so far as to work with US university administrators, police – including local police and the FBI, and even politicians to engage in a McCarthyist campaign of repression.
The real ground being gained in the BDS movement is indeed happening on US campuses, but it is not gained merely by cutting ties between universities; rather, it is being gained by divesting from corporations. A cultural and academic boycott is important, and cutting university ties is a step, but these are not enough. The real power of the BDS movement lies in its economic potential.
We live in a global capitalist system. If one wants to effect change, therefore, one must target powerful economic institutions—namely, corporations. The BDS movement’s call for divestment from and boycotts against large corporations, such as Caterpillar, HP, Lockheed Martin, and more, is where its power really lies.
BDS has already scared Israel’s Justice Minister, who noted that the movement is growing “exponentially,” warning that his fellow denizens in an oblivious Israel are living in a “bubble, … disconnected from the international reality.” Sodastream’s stock is plummeting. The corporation, whose principal manufacturing facility is situated in an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, has virtually become synonymous with apartheid profiteering. Europe’s boycott movement is already taking a hefty economic toll. Now, peace organization CODEPINK is leading an exciting new movement, Boycott RE/MAX: No Open House, calling for a boycott of RE/MAX, the world’s largest real estate company. RE/MAX Israel, a franchise of the US-based corporation, sells properties in illegal Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. This brand new campaign already has the corporation trembling in its pecuniary boots.
Universities have already played an important role in this movement, and will only continue to do so. That said, universities are still, in many ways, enclaves of privilege. Not everyone can go to college, and, given the enormous financial burden required to do so in the US, many students do not have time to participate in activism. The goal should hence be to extend BDS into all communities in civil society. No one should support Israel’s policies of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and settler colonialism, and no corporation or institution should profit off of these crimes. In the words of a popular chant, “When Palestinians are oppressed, boycott, sanction, and divest!”