We are posting three pieces following the Labour Party’s adoption of the IHTA statement on Anti-Semitism. the first is by Moshe Machover, founder member of the socialist Matzpen Party in Israel, who successfully resisted a joint Zionist and Labour Right attempt to have him expelled from the Labour Party. The second is by a Shahd Abuslama, a Palestinian artist at Sheffield University. The third is a statement from Radical Independence Campaign’s Edinburgh branch.
1. WHY ISRAEL IS A RACIST STATE
That Israel is a racist state is a well-established fact. On July On July 19 2018, it enacted a quasi-constitutional nationality bill – ‘Basic law: Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people’ – which has been widely condemned as institutionalising discrimination against Israel’s non-Jewish citizens. As many have observed, this law merely codifies and formalises a reality that long predates it.(1)
Within its pre-1967 borders, Israel is an illiberal semi-democracy. It defines itself as “Jewish and democratic”, but, as its critics point out, it is “democratic for Jews, Jewish for others”. In the territories ruled by it since 1967, Israel is a military tyranny, applying one system of laws and regulations to Jewish settlers and an entirely separate one to the indigenous Palestinian Arabs.
The ways in which Israel exercises racist discrimination are too numerous to list here. Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, lists over 65 Israeli laws that discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). In addition to these laws there are countless unofficial bureaucratic practices and regulations, by which Israeli racist discrimination operates in everyday life.
The conclusion cannot be denied: the state of Israel is structurally racist, an apartheid state according to the official UN definition of this term.
In Israeli public discourse, racist speech is extremely common even at the highest echelon of politics. Some of this high-level racist discourse is almost casual, such as Benjamin Netanyahu’s infamous “Arabs voting in droves” video (2) on election day, March 17 2015; or the “we are not Arab lovers” declaration of Isaac Herzog, leader of Israel’s Labor Party. (3) At the most obscene end of the range there are statements by senior politicians containing barely concealed calls for ethnic cleansing.
Some of the harshest condemnation of Israel’s racism is voiced by two Israeli academics, who, as recognised experts on the history of fascism and Nazism, speak with considerable authority.
Professor Zeev Sternhell is emeritus head of the department of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and one of the world’s leading experts on fascism. In an article published earlier this year, he referred to statements made by two senior Israeli politicians, members of the ruling coalition, Bezalel Smotrich (deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament) and Miki Zohar (chair of one of the Knesset’s most important committees). These statements, Sternhell writes (4), “should be widely disseminated on all media outlets in Israel and throughout the Jewish world. In both of them we see not just a growing Israeli fascism, but racism akin to Nazism in its early stages.”
This shocking comparison with Nazism is endorsed by Daniel Blatman, professor of history at the Daniel Blarman Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whose book The death marches: the final phase of Nazi genocide won him in 2011 the Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research. In an article published last year he commented: “deputy speaker Bezalel Smotrich’s admiration for the biblical genocidaire, Joshua bin Nun, leads him to adopt values that resemble those of the German SS.” (5)
Blatman returned to this topic in a more recent article:
Deputy Knesset speaker MK Bezalel Smotrich … presented his phased plan, according to which the Palestinians in the occupied territories (and possibly Israeli citizens, too) would become, in the best case, subjects without rights with a status that reminds us of German Jews after the passage of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. To the extent that they do not agree to the plan, they will simply be cleansed from here. If they refuse to leave, they will be uprooted violently, which would lead to genocide.
Another elected official from the ruling coalition, Likud’s Miki Zohar, did not hesitate to state that the Arabs have a problem that has no solution – they are not Jews and therefore their fate in this land cannot be the same as that of the Jews .… Prof Zeev Sternhell wrote in this paper earlier this month that this racism is “akin to Nazism in its early stages.” I think it is Nazism in every way and fashion, even if it comes from the school of the victims of historical Nazism.
He concludes that “if a racism survey were held in western countries like the one on anti-Semitism, Israel would be near the top of the list.” (6)
Role of racism
Exposing Israel’s racism is all too easy. Mere denunciation, without explanation of its underlying context, may actually be misleading if not counterproductive; it may appear as singling Israel out for some peculiar and exceptional moral defect of its leaders or, worse, of its Jewish majority. In fact, racist structures and attitudes, wherever they occur, are part of the legal and ideological superstructure and cannot properly be understood in isolation from their material base.
In the case of Israel, that material base is the Zionist colonisation of Palestine – a process of which Israel is both product and instrument. That the Zionist project is all about the colonisation of Palestine by Jews is, once again, an indisputable fact. It is how political Zionism described itself right from the start. Thus, the second Zionist Congress (1898) adopted the following resolution (supplementing the Basel programme adopted at the first Congress a year earlier):
This Congress, in approval of the colonisation already inaugurated in Palestine, and being desirous of fostering further efforts in that direction, hereby declares, that:
For the proper settlement of Palestine, this Congress considers it is necessary to obtain the requisite permission from the Turkish government, and to carry out such settlement according to the plan, and under the direction of a committee, selected by this Congress ….This committee to be appointed to superintend and direct all matters of colonisation; it shall consist of ten members, and have its seat in London. (7)
The Congress also resolved to establish a bank to finance the activities of the Zionist movement. The bank was duly incorporated in London in 1899; its name was the Jewish Colonial Trust.8) Well into the 20th century, Zionists continued to describe their project unabashedly, in a perfectly matter-of-fact way, as one of colonisation. Later in the 20th century this usage became a public relations liability, and the term was replaced by various euphemisms. But the practice of colonisation of Palestinian land has continued unabated and is going ahead at full steam to this day.
This context makes Israel’s racism quite ‘natural’, in the sense of conforming to a general law. Every colonisation of an already inhabited territory is accompanied by racism. This is the case whether or not the colonisers arrive with preconceivedracist ideas. Colonisation invariably meets resistance by the indigenous people. This was clearly understood, for example, by Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880–1940), the founder of the Zionist current that has been politically dominant in Israel for the last 41 years. In his seminal article ‘The iron wall’ (1923) he wrote:
“Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised. That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of ‘Palestine’ into the ‘Land of Israel’ .…
Colonisation can have only one aim, and Palestine Arabs cannot accept this aim. It lies in the very nature of things, and in this particular regard nature cannot be changed.
Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power [ie, Britain – MM] that is independent of the native population – behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach”. (9)
In their conflict with the ‘natives’, the settlers tend to develop a racist ideology as self-justification.
We can say more. Racism in general comes in many different variants, and colonisers’ racism takes different forms, depending on the type of colonisation. In colonisation based primarily on exploiting the labour-power of the indigenous people, the latter are usually depicted by the colonisers as inferior creatures deserving no better fate than working for their conquerors.
But in colonisation based on excluding and displacing the ‘natives’ rather than incorporating them into the colonial economy as workers, they are usually depicted as dangerous wild and murderous people who ought to be ethnically cleansed. Zionist colonisation belongs to this category. In this respect, it is not unlike the colonisation of what became the United States, except that the Zionist organisation insisted explicitly and deliberately on denying employment to non-Jews. (10)
In the US Declaration of Independence, the freedom-loving founding fathers – only some of whom were slave owners – complain that the king of Great Britain “has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” In today’s terminology they would no doubt be described as ‘terrorists’. The Palestinian Arabs are Israel’s “merciless Indian savages”.
When viewed against the background of the history of this type of colonisation, Israeli racist ideology and practices are par for the course. The annals of colonisation certainly have grimmer chapters, such as the total extermination of the people of Tasmania, to mention an extreme example. Zionist colonisation is, however, exceptional in being anachronistic: it continues in the 21st century the kind of thing – settler colonialism – that elsewhere ended in the 19th.
To conclude: apart from its anachronism, there is little that is exceptional about Israel’s racism. It is rooted in its nature as a settler state. Uprooting colonialist racism requires a change of regime, decolonisation – which in the case of Israel means de-Zionisation. (11)
1. ↑ Thus, for example, Bernie Sanders remarked in passing that “the recent ‘nation state law’ … essentially codifies the second-class status of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens”. (‘A new authoritarian axis demands an international progressive front’, The Guardian, 13 September 13 2018).
2. ↑ “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/17/binyamin-netanyahu-israel-arab-election
3. ↑ ‘We are not Arab lovers – Israeli Labor’s bankrupt efforts to stave off decline’, Middle East Eye, 25 April 2016, https://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/when-israels-main-opposition-party-has-problem-countrys-palestinian-citizens-1878921672
4. ↑ ‘In Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism’, Ha’aretz January 19 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-in-israel-growing-fascism-and-a-racism-akin-to-early-nazism-1.5746488?=&ts=_1537002401268
5. ↑ ‘The Israeli Lawmaker Heralding Genocide Against Palestinians’, Ha’aretz May 23 2017, https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-the-israeli-mk-heralding-genocide-against-palestinians-1.5475561. The biblical reference is to the book of Joshua, which contains a mythical account of the conquest and ethnic cleansing of the land of Canaan (Palestine) by the Israelites. The account is of course purely fictitious, but is taken as inspiration and virtual blueprint by the likes of Smotrich
6. ↑ ‘International Holocaust Remembrance Day: An Israeli Hypocrisy’, Ha’aretz January 28 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-international-holocaust-remembrance-day-an-israeli-hypocrisy-1.5768945
7. ↑ www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/2612-basel-program
8. ↑ www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jewish-colonial-trust
9. ↑ ‘The iron wall’ (O Zheleznoi stene), published November 4 1923 in the Russian-language journal Rassvyet (Dawn); English translation https://tinyurl.com/m8dp3le
10. ↑ See the 1929 constitution of the Jewish Agency, https://tinyurl.com/ycq3nqpo
11. ↑ See my article ‘The decolonisation of Palestine’, Weekly Worker June 23 2016, https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1112/the-decolonisation-of-palestine/
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2. THE IHRA ANTI-SEMITISM DEFINITION WON’T PROTECT ISRAELI APARTHEID
History will judge Israel’s apologists the way Theresa May is now judged on apartheid South Africa.
The International Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Semitism code in full, including its list of 11 examples, means it now considers calling Israel “racist” a potentially racist act.
But the reality is that since the foundation of Israel – beginning with David Ben-Gurion’s “Drive them out!” order to the Palmach in the 1948 Nakba – racial oppression of Palestinians has been the norm.
As Palestinian freedom fighter Ahed Tamimi has observed, Israel is afraid of this truth being known. And by adopting the full IHRA definition, Labour is helping to stifle it.
But we shouldn’t be surprised: UK politicians have a long and inglorious history of protecting states practising apartheid. Notably, they have never been held to account for their support for white rule in South Africa.
We were reminded of this recently when Prime Minister Theresa May visited Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and many other anti-apartheid activists were imprisoned for decades.
When asked what she had done to hasten Mandela’s release and the end of minority rule in South Africa, she squirmed awkwardly, before claiming “what was important is what the United Kingdom did”.
What the British government – and May’s Conservative Party – did was not only fail to support Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) but actively support the apartheid South African regime for years.
Following the 1970 UK election, Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath pledged to end the arms embargo on South Africa and resume military equipment sales to the apartheid government.
In the 1980s, Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher resisted global pressure to impose sanctions on South Africa and labelled the ANC “a terror organisation”.
In the same era, an aspiring young politician – future Prime Minister David Cameron – went on an all-expenses-paid trip to South Africa courtesy of an anti-sanctions lobbying firm, while members of the Federation of Conservative Students went as far as wearing”Hang Nelson Mandela” stickers.
The UK is as deeply complicit in Israel’s apartheid system as it was in South African apartheid, if not more so.
Adoption of the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism by the Labour Party – and the Conservative government, nine months ago – is just the tip of the iceberg.
From its historical role in smoothing a course for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by issuing the Balfour Declaration to its contemporary arms sales to Israel, when it comes to Palestine the UK stays true to its colonial past.
Israel is afforded impunity despite its multiple crimes, such as the killing of over 160 Palestinians in Gaza since the Great March of Return began. The UK seeks to protect Israel from accountability in global forums like the United Nations, for example by refusing to vote for an independent investigation into the killing of 60 Palestinians on May 14 this year, a massacre dubbed the “Palestinian Sharpeville” after the 1960 murder of 69 black protesters by South African apartheid security forces.
Regardless of Israel’s long-standing disregard for international law and grave human rights violations, Britain even gifted it a royal stamp of approval in June when Prince William made a symbolic visit to the country, contravening seven decades of British policy against official royal visits to Israel.
History is repeating itself. Just as the UK government shielded South African apartheid in the past, it is giving political, economic and military support to Israeli apartheid today. In 2017 alone, the UK government granted more than 289 million British pounds-worth ($375.3m) of licenses for the export of arms and military technology to Israel.
But in the end, British support didn’t protect South African apartheid from the reach of justice and equality. Similarly, the IHRA won’t protect Israel’s ethnocracy.
Palestinians and their allies will continue to name the racial oppression they face under Israel for what it is – a system of apartheid. And history is already beginning to repeat itself in another, more positive, sense.
Just as a powerful global boycott movement helped make South Africa a pariah state – in the process making a vital contribution to ending apartheid – the Palestinian BDS campaign is following in its footsteps.
The BDS movement understands that freedom, justice and equality will not be handed down from above by the very same politicians who have tolerated Israeli apartheid for so long. It can only be won by pushing from the grassroots up.
Thirty years from now, British politicians will be asked what they did to end Israeli apartheid. And though the UK’s complicity will no doubt be similarly whitewashed, history will judge Israel’s apologists the way Theresa May is judged now on South Africa.
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3. RIC-EDINBURGH STATEMENT ON THE IHRA DEFINITION OF ANTI-SEMITISM
The Labour Party has accepted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism. This represents a significant blow to anti-racists. The IHRA is an interstate organisation with a membership of only 31 out of the UN’s 193 states. Several of these are allies and arms suppliers to Israel. Other IHRA member states with a past and current record of domestic anti-semitism, such as Hungary and Poland, use their international support for Israel as a cover for their own racism. This is something quite acceptable to the Israeli state. Israel’s PM, Benjamin Netanyahu backs Hungary’s PM, Victor Orban. He openly supports “a Christian Europe”, to which the even further Right add a “White” prefix.
Israel an apartheid-type racist state – the Palestinians an oppressed people
In the 1930s and ’40s, many Jewish people living in Europe increasingly saw Palestine as a haven from the mounting anti-semitism that culminated in the holocaust and the death of 6 million Jews and many others in Nazi death camps. The UK and other governments’ lack of concern for Jewish people was highlighted when it severely clamped down on Jewish asylum seekers fleeing Nazi Germany in the aftermath of Kristallnacht in 1938, the mass killings following invasion of eastern Europe in 1941 and then the death camps set up after the Wannsee conference in 1942. Not able to gain entry into the UK or the USA, some tried to make it to British-controlled Palestine, only to be drowned at sea. This is similar to the situation facing today’s mainly Muslim refugees and migrants, who try to cross the Mediterranean. Many thousands have lost their lives. The UK has naval bases at Gibraltar and Cyprus, but these are there to back British military force in the region, not to rescue the victims of imperial actions and corporate greed.
But the explicit aim of Israel’s founders was to create a Jewish supremacist state, in complete disregard for the overwhelming majority of people already living in Palestine. That is racist to its core. The method adopted was colonial settlement, backed by force. In 1948, Israel was founded through terrorism and the mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians – the Naqba. Ever since Israel’s foundation, Palestinians have been systematically discriminated against, expelled from their homes, imprisoned, shot at, tortured and killed.
All Israel’s discriminatory actions, laws and now the latest nationality law, which gives state racism a constitutional status, highlight its reality as an apartheid-type state. The murder on one day this year, May 14th, of 60 demonstrators in Gaza has been termed the Palestinian ‘Sharpeville’. This is in memory of the 69 black protestors killed by South African apartheid security forces in 1960. The parallels are only too clear. Would Labour have tolerated a Labour Friends of Apartheid South Africa? Yet the Israeli state was also one of the strongest supporters of Apartheid South Africa. This explains why, ever since the overthrow of Apartheid, South Africa has been to the forefront of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS). This is designed to emulate the Boycott Apartheid South Africa campaign, which contributed to the ending of the old regime there. RIC-Edinburgh, on the basis of our Scottish internationalist principles, supports the BDS campaign.
By accepting the IHRA’s definition of anti-semitism, rejected by 40 different Jewish organisations in 15 countries, a Labour Party member could now be expelled for declaring Israel to be what it is – a racist state. However, this is not just an issue for the Labour Party. It is part of the continuous Israeli state offensive to give it a free hand in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, or their confinement to the ‘bantustan’ of the much-reduced West Bank and the ‘ghetto’ or mass prison camp of Gaza.
People who have spoken up against Israeli state crimes have been targeted by various Jewish supremacist or Zionist organisations, which in the Labour Party include the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI). Not all Zionists are Jews. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are prominent members of LFI. Non-Jewish Right-wingers find much to support in Israel. However, neither are all Jews Zionists, despite the claims of the Tory dominated Board of Deputies and the Labour Friends of Israel to speak for all Jews. We admire the Jewish Friends of Palestine and other Jewish organisations, which have shown their opposition to the racist nature of the Israeli state and its many crimes against the Palestinian and neighbouring peoples.
Scottish unionist Lord Balfour’s record of anti-semitism and the UK’s handling of refugees fleeing repression
Neither can we ignore the UK state’s role in the founding of Israel. It was the Scottish Conservative and Unionist, Lord Balfour who drew up the Balfour Declaration 1917. This cynical exercise promised a ‘Jewish Homeland’ in a Palestine, which had already been promised to Arabs for their support in the First World War against the Ottoman Empire. Nobody consulted the people living in Palestine.
Balfour had a record, both when it came to clearing people off the land and promoting anti-semitism. In 1885 as Scottish Secretary he sent gunboats to Tiree to quell crofters seeking security on their land. The following year, Balfour became the Irish Secretary. Once again he used force, this time to quell Irish tenant farmers, earning the name ‘Bloody Balfour’. In 1905, Balfour, as Home Secretary, introduced the Aliens Act, which targeted Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms in Tsarist Russia. British supporters of the Balfour Declaration often wanted poor Jews to leave the UK and settle in Palestine. Again the link between anti-semitism at home and support for a Jewish state elsewhere is clear.
Today amongst the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing repression are Palestinians. Israel has created a ‘hostile environment’, which Theresa May can only envy. And the UK government remains a major supplier of arms to the Jewish supremacist state of Israel and the Islamic supremacist state of Saudi Arabia adding to the misery. We support the work of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has Moslem, Jewish, Christian and non-religious members and promotes Palestinian self-determination on democratic, secular and anti-racist grounds.
British racists welcome Israel’s ethnic self-definition
Racist loudmouth, Katie Hopkins, Islamophobic Tory MP, Zac Goldsmith, suspended DUP MP Ian Paisley Junior, and neo-fascist Tommy Robinson support Israel’s self-definition as an ethnocracy. They clearly see this as a precedent for their own versions of an ethnic Britishness. Both Gordon Brown and Michael Gove worked on ethnic/ cultural tests before migrants can become British. David Cameron’s restricted franchise for the EU referendum revealed the extent of the UK’s acceptance of ethnic criteria for British nationality. On 12th September, all but one of the Tory MEPs voted at Strasbourg against Orban’s Hungarian government being sanctioned. Both Orban and May support apartheid Israel.
Defending a civic nation in Scotland
In Scotland we have another important reason for rejecting the IHRA’s acceptance of racial or ethnic nationalism. During IndyRef1 the ‘Yes’ campaign championed a civic Scotland, open to all who choose to live here – including Muslims and Jews. The franchise for IndyRef 1 included all EU residents and 16-18 year olds. This was in marked contrast to the ethnic franchise for the Tories’ 2015 EU referendum. On the 6th September, as the Labour Party accepted Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish ethnocracy. Nicola Sturgeon announced that any future IndyRef2 will be open to all residents who choose Scotland as their home. We welcome this. In rejecting the IHRA and its apologists, we support the idea and reality of Scotland as a civic nation.
RIC-Edinburgh seeks to break free from the clutches of the UK state, its British imperialist delusions, and its support for ethnic or religious supramacist regimes. Another Scotland is possible; another Europe is possible; and another world is possible.