Anti-Zionism is a rejection of racism and imperialism, not just criticism of Israel

, by  Eyad Kishawi, Liliana Cordova-Kaczerginski, Max Ajl

We applaud Jewish Voice for Peace’s (JVP) recent statement, “Our Approach to Zionism,” for its “unequivocal opposition to Zionism.” We share the values and goals of justice, equality, and freedom that JVP outlined in its statement.

Marc Rudin, source: Palestine Poster Project Archives

We wish to register, however, some of our concerns with parts of JVP’s statement, “Our Approach to Zionism.” First, the statement links its discussion of Zionism to collective Jewish pain and trauma. Second, it gives credence to the idea that Zionism is a nineteenth century ideology that emerged from Jewish life, not a colonial ideology developed to expand western imperialism in Palestine. JVP segments Zionist ideology into its cultural, religious and political strains. While they oppose the “political” Zionism that led to the establishment of the Zionist state in Palestine, they do not spend significant effort tackling the other two strands, and as such imply tacit approval of the latter strains. Moreover, the statement goes further to redefine “anti-Zionism” as a “loose term referring to criticism of the current policies of the Israeli state, and/or moral, ethical, or religious criticism of the idea of a Jewish nation-state.” Meanwhile, ever since the general strike of 1936 and the great Palestinian revolt against the British mandate, anti-Zionism has been defined as the rejection of Jewish-only colonies, created on Palestinian land through expropriation and forced expulsion of indigenous Palestinians for the purpose of building the economic and demographic conditions for establishing a colonial nation-state in Palestine. It was only natural that massacres, genocide, and eventually apartheid would inevitably ensue where the colonizer has sought to establish dominance over the colonized.

A quick reading of history, as Ghassan Kanafani and others have done, reveals Zionism preceded the nineteenth century and had always been a partner of colonialism and Western imperialism. After the occupation of Egypt, Napoleon marched over 30,000 troops onto Jaffa and Acre. A French report published after the military attack of 1799 stated that Bonaparte wants “to restore to the Jews their Jerusalem.” We agree that Zionism has established an apartheid state. But we would go further and state that the apartheid relationship – the colonial distinction between different kinds of humans – is at Zionism’s core. This racist movement’s colonial roots were no secret, nor were they exogenously imposed. As the biographer of Herzl wrote, he knew that he would be “going further than any colonialist had so far gone in Africa,” and would “temporarily, alienated civilized opinion” as they, in Herzl’s 1896 words, would “occupy the land.” As he continued, “By the time the reshaping of world opinion in our favor has been completed, we shall be firmly established in our country, no longer fearing the influx of foreigners, and receiving our visitors with aristocratic benevolence.”

We therefore see the historical sequence differently. Zionism did not merely emerge as one amongst many Jewish responses to antisemitism, but as part-and-parcel of European imperialism. It received British support precisely because it would create a colonial outpost at the crossroads of Asia and Africa, and on the shores of the Mediterranean, a body of water nestled between three major continents. The idea was always to give strategic access to the Mediterranean coast while denying it to Palestinians, with the exception of the Gaza ghetto, while expelling Palestinians to British-created Jordan. This colony would perpetually tie that outpost, with existential dependency, to imperialism. Thus, whatever the subjective intentions of non-political Zionists during the era of colonization and settlement, they were taking part in and contributing to a broader colonial project. A rejection of all forms of Zionism, not just political, is thus critical to true solidarity grounded in justice, anti-racism, and anti-imperialism.

We agree that the creation of Israel and Zionism has led to a racist hierarchy amongst the Jews living in Palestine and has been a recurrent tool to break the ties of Jewish communities living in Arab lands – from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen to Iraq. We see this as an organic outgrowth of the Zionist project of denigrating the whole of the “Orient” and the cultures and ways of life which live in the region. One of the biggest proponents of anti-Semitism has been the Zionist movement. It bombed synagogues in Iraq and Tunisia. Later in the 1980s, in the midst of the Lebanese civil war, in which both Israel and the US were directly implicated, the Palestine Liberation Organization stood guard in front of Lebanese synagogues in the Jewish quarter, only to be obliterated later by Zionist bombs targeting these buildings to ensure that Jews had no safe havens in their native countries and outside of Palestine. And as Hannah Arendt described in detail, during WWII Zionists allied with Nazi leaders and conspired against the Jewish resistance leaders in Warsaw to guarantee complete rupture of Jewish continuity in Europe and outside of Palestine.

Anti-Zionism, then, is a politic founded on the denial of the colonial relationships of oppression in Palestine, and by extension rejects the continued existence of the European Jewish state in Palestine. It is a stance which rejects the right of people from Europe to invade and take over those lands and set up a hierarchy of peoples within them. Anti-Zionism is not merely criticism of current Israeli policies or even the idea of a Jewish nation-state. It is a rejection of an imperially-imposed, racist, settler-colonial state.

Zionism is also not limited to Palestinian dispossession and occupation. Zionism has carried out multiple and ongoing attacks on surrounding and further afield Arab states, from Egypt, to Syria, to Lebanon and Tunisia, including decades-long occupations of the Levantine region and extensive assaults on Lebanon. It has helped assassinate Arab radical leadership, including the Moroccan Marxist militant Mehdi Ben Barka, George Hawi, and Mustafa Ali Zibri. It has provided arms and training to right-wing, fascistic, anti-Communist, racist, and antisemitic regimes, from apartheid South Africa, to the dictatorships of the Southern Cone and Central America in the 1970s and 1980s, to ongoing and massive arms sales to the right-wing US allied Indian government, to cozying up to the crypto-fascist Bolsonaro regime in Brazil. It also partnered with the military junta in prosecuting a genocide in Guatemala that resulted in the murder of 200,000 people, mostly indigenous Mayans. Zionists aided and trained the Lebanese Force and Falanges, the Southern Lebanese Army, and Al Qaida factions, and even coordinated directly with the Islamic State. In this, Israel has carried out an agenda which it has been loyal to from its founding: turning itself into the spear’s-tip of empire across the Third World and against Third World national and social liberation struggles. We consider these facts highly relevant to constituting an anti-Zionist politic, which has historically been inseparable from a broader internationalist and anti-colonial position which rejects the influence of Europe and the US empires in the affairs of the countries of the Third World.

Of course, we recognize and applaud JVP’s efforts in finally joining the ranks of the anti-Zionist movement after many years of incoherence that functioned to strengthen the Zionist colonial project under the mask of “liberal Zionism.” However, historical and ideological clarity are important. Anti-Zionism is an internationalist politic, one to which our own predecessors, Palestinian and Jewish, have made important contributions. We uphold that legacy, and warmly embrace this important step from Jewish Voice for Peace in developing an ever-sharper analysis of Zionism as part of a shared struggle to rid the region of Israel and all the reactionary precipitates of the Zionist project. Thus, we wish to push our ally even further, so that JVP may understand anti-Zionism for what it is, a liberationist ideology grounded in anti-imperialism and anti-racism. This view of anti-Zionism has only one logical conclusion, a total rejection of all forms of Zionism and the embrace of true decolonization.