A response to “Zionism is not racism” by Joshua Fattal. http://columbiaspectator.com/opinion/2014/12/04/letter-editor-zionism-not-racism.
“Zionism is not racism” is quite a surprising title for an article that claims to counter a so-called “ahistorical, misinformed, and bigoted” discourse. Such a statement lacks substantial awareness of the historical developments and reality of Zionism: an ideology that has entailed the ethnic cleansing and displacement of millions of Palestinians, a catastrophe necessary for the success of the Zionist project of creating (and expanding) a Jewish state.
The modern form of Zionism (not to be conflated with Judaism), as conceived by the Ashkenazi Jews, has always proclaimed itself to be a racial ideology of settler-colonialism. From the days of its conception until now, this ideology upholds Theodor Herzl’s idea that Jews should be the “masters of their land not the slaves”. As Edward Said reminded us 35 years ago, “It is important to remember that in joining the general Western enthusiasm for overseas territorial acquisition, Zionism never spoke of itself unambiguously as a Jewish liberation movement, but rather as Jewish movement for colonial settlement in the Orient.” Obviously, we can see that Zionism has been successful in its original project of mastering the land of Palestine by either expelling or enslavingthe Palestinians. Israel’s founding ideology draws directly upon the European imperialist system, especially the French racially-based mission civilisatrice (‘civilizing mission’) that consists of “enlightening” the “savage natives.” In reality, this marked the utmost darkness for the occupied people. It subsequently translated into the endless persecution of the “natives”, discrimination against them, and economic and geographical segregation, each accompanied by brutal military occupation and massacres.
Ahad Ha’am, the pre-state Zionist thinker mentioned in the article “Zionism is not racism”, is described by Fattal as giving an alternative view of Zionism – one that recognizes equality between Arabs and Jews and supports the idea of a spiritual center in Israel rather than a political one. However, Ha’am claims the superiority of the Jewish nation over other nations and suggests its duty to “civilize” inferior “others.” He claims that “such a nation should exist, whose intellectual character makes it more capable than the other nations, more inclined to develop moral teaching and entire lifestyle, based on loftier morals than all the others”. Ha’am’s view participates in what drives Zionism as a racist settler-colonialist ideology, one which asserts Jewish superiority over “natives” and legitimizes the depopulation of the Palestinians. Ha’am hence joins Herzl in conceptualizing a Jewish state populated by European settlers as a potential ‘portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism’. The implications of this dichotomy in the treatment of non-European people, including non-European Jews, in such a state are observable today. This might explain why Zionism was not supported by the majority of Jews before 1948. As Jewish intellectual Karl Popper once said, “all nationalism or racialism is evil, and Jewish nationalism is no exception”.
Additionally, the modern Zionist ideology gradually transcended the notion of racial inferiority of the “natives”. As Fattal says, Zionism was a “movement to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine” which often referred to Palestine as “a land without a people for a people without a land”. Such a definition denies the very existence of Palestinians on that “homeland” and frames the “spatial logic of ethnic cleansing and occupation as material phenomena”. It suggests that, while Jewish lives matter, Palestinian lives do not. As the conditions on the ground are asymmetrical (a powerful state and a stateless people), to claim “neutrality” is to allow impunity for the perpetuator of injustice. The cataclysmic results of Zionism, as a historical construct, have ranged from the planned ethnic cleansing and displacement of 700,000 Palestinians around 1948 – as Israeli historian Ilan Pappé illustrates in his book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” – to the eradication of any hope for a viable and sovereign Palestinian state today. The brutal and illegal expansion of Israeli settlements, disproportionate and inhumane collective punishments, the indiscriminate and cyclical destruction of Gaza (called “mowing the lawn” by Israeli strategists), mass arrests and assassinations of Palestinians, Netanyahu’s legitimation of all the above through sanctioning Israel as a “Jewish-only” state, as well as the unbending ideological and financial support from the U.S are some current ramifications of the Zionist ideology.
As for Fattal’s ahistorical statement that “there is no doubt that much of Israeli racism derives from the terror attacks that Israelis have been facing for decades”, it is crucial to contextualize racism in Israeli society today not solely as a response to terror attacks but as a major reason for such outrageous violence.
In an institution as prestigious as Columbia University, we should be very careful when portraying favorably an ideology of ethnic cleansing which has a historic record of perpetuating cultural, political and human genocide against millions of Palestinians—in other words, the ideological root of one of the most tragic injustices in today’s world.
 Edward W. Said, ‘Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims’, Social Text, 1 (1979), p. 23.
 Stephan Goranov, “Racism: A basic principle of Zionism” in Proceedings of an International Symposium: Zionism and Racism, The International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (New Brunswick: North American, 1979), 30.
 David Lloyd, “Settler Colonialism and the State of Exception: The Example of Palestine/Israel” (University of Southern California) Published online: 28 Feb 2013.