A non-racist Zionism?

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The World Conference Against Racism is scheduled to be held in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 7 September. However, the Americans and the Israelis have threatened to boycott the conference if statements linking Zionism to racism are not removed from the draft documents. The United States and a number of former European colonial powers are also opposing calls by many former colonies that the conference address the question of reparations for the suffering they endured at the hands of their colonial masters and their demand that its closing statement include an apology from the concerned Western powers.

Mary Robinson, secretary-general of the conference and UN high commissioner for human rights, has justified these stands, arguing in respect of the Zionism-equals-racism issue that regional conflicts should not be imposed on the agenda of the conference, and in respect of the reparations question that the conference should not get sidetracked into issues related to the past but should focus on the burning problems that will face us in the years to come, especially now that sufficient progress in the drafting of the agenda has been achieved to avoid an American boycott.

Observers believe that Israel’s determination to oppose any reference to, let alone a re-tabling of, UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism, which was adopted on 10 November 1975 and annulled on 17 December 1991, has been instrumental in determining the US position. If it is true that the acts of violent repression to which the Palestinians are being subjected by the Israeli occupation forces has lent new urgency to the idea of reviving the resolution, it is no less true that these acts have made Sharon still more adamantly opposed to its revival.

We are thus faced with a dilemma here: should the Arab and African states insist on the inclusion of these items on the agenda, even at the risk of provoking an American boycott or of having the conference called off altogether, or should they back down to ensure its convocation and the participation of the Americans? In respect of establishing a link between Zionism and racism, even if we are willing to go along with Ms Robinson’s assumption that Zionism is not a racist ideology, history itself attests to the contrary.

A number of incontrovertible facts belie the assumption, but before passing to substance it is worth noting that, from the procedural point of view, the very fact that Israel is lobbying so strenuously to have any statement identifying Zionism with racism removed from the conference documents is in itself a tacit acknowledgement of Zionism’s racist connotations. Let us now pass to the more important substantive arguments:

First, Zionism is by definition racist in the sense that it is an ideology based on the singularity, not to say superiority, of one racial group. It is hard to see how Israel can reconcile its claim that it is a non-racist society with its raison d’étre as the state of all the Jews in the world. Under Israeli law, any Jew coming from anywhere in the world automatically acquires Israeli citizenship as soon as he sets foot on Israeli soil. He immediately enjoys all the rights of citizenship enjoyed by his fellow Israelis — that is, by his coreligionists — but not by the Arab citizens of Israel, who are denied many of the rights enjoyed by their Jewish compatriots. Is this not the essence of racial discrimination?

Second, Israel might be the state of all the Jews in the world, but has yet to define just who is a Jew. The Jews are divided among themselves as to who is eligible, i.e., racially pure enough, to join their exclusive club and who is not. Those who are denied access are obviously victims of racial discrimination.

Third, every Jew, wherever he lives, has the right to “return” to Israel. This right is not available to Palestinians, who may not return to the homes they left behind in Palestine, especially if their property lies in the 80 per cent of the historical land of Palestine now under Israeli sovereignty. Surely this is discrimination with racist connotations, even if we concede that both parties have rights in historical Palestine.

Fourth, discrimination against Palestinians extends to all fundamental issues. Security problems concerning Palestinians are not treated on an equal footing with security problems concerning Israelis. Thus Sharon proceeds from the premise that what has top priority in his relations with the Palestinians is Israel’s security concerns. These concerns and, more precisely, Sharon’s personal interpretation of these concerns, have priority over the issues of peace. If genuine peace requirements are perceived by Sharon as detrimental to Israel’s security, peace will have to be sacrificed.

In other words, Palestinian security has to be subordinated to the requirements of Israel’s security; the former is to be adapted to the latter. We are not proceeding from the idea of “collective security,” which aims at satisfying both parties’ security requirements simultaneously so that the consolidation of the security of one party is a boost for the security of the other.

Fifth, the same applies to the issue of land. Israel has yet to declare its final borders while at the same time insisting on its right to live within secure borders, an oxymoron if ever there was one. There can be no talk of “secure” borders when the location of those borders is still an open question.

Moreover, UN Security Council Resolution 242, accepted by all the parties as the key to a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, calls for the return of “land for peace;” that is, it requires the Arabs to accept Israel’s existence (peace) in exchange for the evacuation by Israel of the Arab territories it occupied in 1967, defined as those lying beyond Israel’s recognised borders. The fact that these borders are still undefined leaves the Arabs holding the short end of the stick. Israel’s share of the trade-off has been effectively realised while the same is not true of the Arab share.

The Zionist state, unconstrained as it is led by any mutually recognised borders, has overflowed into Arab territory, depriving the Palestinian people of their inalienable right to self-determination within secure and recognised borders. Once again, Zionism has had the final say, securing for the racial group it represents a privileged right to assert its presence and impose its dominion over the Biblical land of Israel, regardless of such minor considerations as sovereignty, international law and the lapse by prescription (in this case, two millennia) of any territorial claims. Here too we are looking at a flagrant case of racial discrimination.

Sixth, if the function of the Israeli state is to embody and give expression to Zionist aspirations, the function of the Palestinian state, if ever it comes into being, will be to keep Palestinian aspirations in check and ensure that they do not threaten Israel’s stability and security.

In response to hard-core Zionist aspirations, Israel has given itself the right to establish settlements wherever it pleases, making no distinction between land lying under its sovereignty and Palestinian land that it is currently — and illegally — occupying.

All of this confirms that Zionism is not, as its adherents would have the world believe, merely the national expression of Jewish self-determination, but an intrinsically racist ideology that justifies the most brutal acts of repression against the Palestinians as necessary for the security of one specific racial group. How can the United Nations, which has issued countless resolutions condemning doctrines of racial differentiation and superiority as morally reprehensible and socially unjust, refuse to even consider a resolution equating Zionism with racism?

Mary Robinson might be forgiven for thinking that any conference, even one that is severely compromised, is better than no conference at all. But how can a conference held for the specific purpose of combating racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance hold back from discussing a doctrine that displays all these features? Racism can only be eradicated if right comes to prevail over might. The course of history should be corrected in terms of established principles, and not the opposite; that is, not by distorting those principles to justify de facto developments.

Take the historical condition of imperialism, which transformed many peoples of the world into slaves of the imperialist powers, stunting their economic and political development and violating their most basic human rights. What should our reaction to this aberration be today? Should the descendants of its victims simply shrug off this dark chapter in their history and let bygones be bygones, or should they ask their former overlords to apologize and make reparation for the harm they inflicted — that is, to recognize that the past impinges on the present and that present generations are entitled to material compensation?

Former US President Bill Clinton apologized to the Japanese-Americans who were interned and ill-treated during World War II for no reason other than their Japanese ancestry, which, it was believed, could turn them into a fifth column acting for the enemies of the United States. More important are the apologies addressed to the Jews because of the Holocaust and the persecution they endured under Hitler. There is a clear case of double standards here. For right to prevail over might, correcting mistakes of the past must not be selective. The rules of the present should prevail over those of the past.

And when it comes to equating Zionism with racism, the criterion cannot be what Israel, or the US for that matter, has to say on the issue, but what the parties suffering from the racist practices of Israel have to say, notably the Palestinians, particularly with the present escalation of violence in the occupied territories, where Israel’s systematic war of extermination and expropriation against a native civilian population displays all the characteristics of a policy of ethnic cleansing — which the United Nations has defined as a war crime.

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