Opinion

A 'self-hating' Jew's guide to answering Zionist talking points

Jared Sacks

A growing number of Jews in Israel and around the world are standing with the Palestinians in their struggle for justice in the Gaza conflict.

The Israeli army has killed more than 1 000 Palestinians. Rocket fire from Gaza has killed two Israeli civilians and a Thai migrant worker. (Reuters)

I grew up being indoctrinated by Zionists throughout my life. As a child, I was told that the state of Israel is somehow “necessary” to prevent another Holocaust. I was also told that Palestine/Israel was empty and uninhabited when Jews began emigrating there in the late 1800s, and was still sparsely populated after World War II. I was taught that the Jews are a chosen people with the right to their own homeland.

Eventually, however, I started to see the contradictions and began questioning this ideology.

Every time I make my views on Zionism heard, there is a backlash from Zionist Jews who know me and who take it as their responsibility to educate me – as though I am somehow naive about the history of the colonisation of Palestine.

I often hear arguments such as, “… but Hamas uses children as human shields” or “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East”. Eventually, when these arguments are addressed, I’m inevitably dismissed or declared a “self-hating Jew”. But as someone born into a Jewish background, with the knowledge of thousands of years of persecution that this entails, it is also my obligation to identify with the persecution of others – especially if it is being done in the name of my ethnic identity.

When on the receiving end of Zionist-based arguments, I believe it is important to respond fully by putting the violence in the necessary historical context of a long history of Western colonialism and imperialism, rather than an exception to this story.

This is the only way to really understand why there are no two equal sides to the conflict, which is an issue of oppression and resistance to that oppression.

Rebutting Zionist arguments
Here is a condensed and oversimplified summary that one can use to answer an apologist for the Zionist occupation of Palestine.

1) At its core, we have to see Zionism as a nationalist ideology – the belief that a certain people or nation is superior; in other words “the chosen people”. It is not different to any other type of nationalism except that, in this case, the ideology is sometimes buttressed by religious justifications as well. All forms of nationalism that are based on a dominant culture that identifies a particular race or ethnic group as superior to another is by definition racist. Afrikaner nationalism in South Africa is a good example of this type of ethnocultural ideology and what happens when it gains state power.

2) We must also recognise that before the British took control of the area now named Palestine/Israel, it was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. So it is true that there was no such country called “Palestine”. However, it is also true that there was no country called South Africa before the Dutch arrived.

But just like in South Africa, there were lots of people there – the area was highly populated.

Who lived there at the time? There were a few Jewish and Druze communities who had lived there for thousands of years but, for the most part, the populace was almost entirely made up of Muslims and Christians who today identify as Palestinians. The combination of Jews, Druze, Christians and Muslims who lived in the area before the British took over can together be considered the indigenous population of Palestine as they had been there for thousands of years.

3) Zionism was begun in earnest in 1897 by a small group of European Jews organised around their leader Theodor Herzl. Herzl wanted a Jewish-only homeland. But in the aftermath of the Holocaust, Zionism took greater root and resulted in hundreds of thousands of European and Middle Eastern Jews, and later millions of Eastern European Jews, moving to Palestine. This mass influx of people was similar to the settler-colonialism of the Dutch and British as well as other European countries that colonised countries in Africa and the Americas. Settler-colonialism must be understood as the core of the conflict.

4) The British encouraged Jews to colonise the Palestinian protectorate to act as a buffer between the indigenous population and the British political system. This was done in the same way as Indians were used as a political buffer in many settler colonies such as Kenya. However, this backfired for the British when Zionist organisations began an armed campaign against the British, which included acts of terrorism against the local Muslim and Christian population.

5) The two-state solution must be recognised as a nationalist solution and therefore racist. It is the equivalent of South Africa being divided into a white state and a black state. These divisions were the aims of South African apartheid as well as settler colonialism in general. Anticolonial thinkers such as Frantz Fanon and Mahmood Mamdani have written in depth about the separate white and black colonial states operating together to serve the political and economic interests of whites. The two-state solution has been constructed to ensure that Israel maintains the land and natural resource gains of their colonialism.

6) The ideal solution, I believe, is for a single state – not based on religion and ethnicity, but with a constitution that guarantees equal rights for all. This single state would include what is now Israel and all of the occupied Palestinian territories. It must include the right of return for all Palestinians who used to live within those borders.

That is the only non-racist solution to the conflict, even though it accepts Jews who emigrated to and colonised Palestine as legitimate residents. This model was the ANC’s solution to colonialism and apartheid. It was also the Pan Africanist Congress’s solution (though the PAC always maintained that it reserved the right to the land for blacks first and foremost). The original Palestinian resistance through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s favoured a one-state solution.

Much of Palestinian civil society still favours this solution. Both Fatah and Hamas favour this solution. Israel as a racist Jewish-first state has no place in a world based on equal rights for all.

7) That said, while the one-state solution is the ideal solution, the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders might be a feasible compromise despite its acquiescence to racist nationalism. Much of Palestinian society and both Hamas and Fatah are willing to agree to a two-state solution because they may see it as the only viable option. However, the reality of massive and growing Israeli settlements in the West Bank are quickly making a two-state solution a practical impossibility.

8) The Israeli state is content to prop up Fatah as a representative of the Palestinians even as Fatah loses more and more of their popular legitimacy. Fatah is known to be a corrupt organisation, and much of its leadership has been co-opted by Israel. It only survives because Israel strengthens it financially, politically and militarily. Hamas is problematic in many respects and certainly isn’t a progressive organisation, but they do have popular legitimacy.

9) The Palestinian resistance against Israel’s occupation is not only up against the Israeli army, which by itself is one of the strongest armies in the world. Israel is allied with the United States and Egypt – and the fact that Fatah and Hamas are effectively ignored by the majority of Arab states, which do not dare risk their cosy relationships with the US, means they are economically and politically isolated. For instance, the eight-year blockade against Gaza would be weakened significantly if Egypt were not complicit.

10) The war in Gaza needs this background. Some months before the current fighting started, Hamas and Fatah put aside their differences and formed a unity government. They know that the only way to negotiate a solution – even a two-state solution – is to unite politically so that together they can represent all Palestinians in negotiations with the Israeli state.

11) The Israeli political establishment, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected this unity government and broke off the peace talks. It threatened to withhold all aid to the Fatah government in the West Bank if it did not break off the pact with Hamas – which Israel labels “terrorists” – to avoid genuine negotiations. To Fatah’s credit, it refused Netanyahu’s demands. The pact favoured Fatah and would essentially give it political control over Hamas in negotiations with Israel.

12) This is why Netanyahu used the killing of three Israeli teenagers, for which he falsely blamed Hamas, as a pretext for outright repression in the West Bank. This sparked the recent Gaza fighting. It should be noted that almost every time there is progress in peace negotiations, Israel typically attacks Gaza or Hezbollah-controlled parts of Lebanon.

13) Based on the fact that the West Bank and Gaza are occupied territories that are economically and politically controlled by Israel – and where there is no freedom for its residents – I believe they have the absolute right to fight for that freedom. I personally do not think Hamas’s rockets are a productive strategy of resistance, but it still has the right to respond in such a manner – as does any liberation movement against colonialism.

14) Based on this sociopolitical history, the argument over whether or not the Israeli army employs a disproportionate use of force is largely irrelevant. It is a situation of colonisation, where Palestinians are resisting the occupation of a coloniser, and therefore any act maintaining the occupation is by definition disproportionate and illegitimate. Yet it is still worth stating the latest statistics – at the time of writing – to show where most of the violence is coming from:

  • The Israeli army has killed more than 1 283 Palestinians. According to the United Nations, approximately 80% of those killed are civilians.
  • A UN agency is housing 167 269 displaced Palestinians.
  • Rocket fire from Gaza has killed two Israeli civilians and a Thai migrant worker.
  • About 43 Israeli soldiers have been killed in combat, all as a result of the army’s ground invasion.
  • More Gazan children were killed in the first week of bombing than the total number of Israelis killed by Hamas rockets in the past 13 years.
  • Israel has bombed schools, hospitals, a clinic for the disabled, a UN refugee centre and more.

15) The standards claimed by Zionists against the “terrorists” have no basis. Warning Gaza residents that their home or hospital or school is about to be bombed is a useless endeavour. It is a superficial way of making them look as though they’re conducting the war in a humanitarian way. But it doesn’t stop the increasing deaths because the residents of Gaza have nowhere to escape.

16) The argument that Hamas is using human shields has no weight. There is no evidence that this is actually occurring en masse. Gaza is tiny – about the size of the Cape Flats. It is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. There is no place where Hamas could stockpile arms away from a population centre. Furthermore, the Israeli army could also be accused of using human shields. Israel is so militarised that nearly every Israeli bus or fast-food joint has armed soldiers – soldiers are ubiquitous in Israeli society.

Yes, it is tragic that Palestinian children are growing up learning about the virtues of violence firsthand, but that is the nature of the occupation and the world in which we live. When I was a child, my family took me on tours of army bases in the US and in Israel so we could see the “amazing” military force they have. In retrospect, that too was disgusting.

17) The most disturbing part of this saga is the assertion that an Israeli life is worth much more than the life of a Palestinian. Zionists want to try to turn the tables and blame it all on Hamas. Yet who is really killing whom? The numbers of the dead and injured speak for themselves: at least 800 Palestinian civilians to only three Israeli civilians – 266:1.

18) Given all the above, supporting the political and economic isolation of Israel is the only way that people of conscience outside Palestine-Israel can pressure the Israeli government not only into stopping the massacre of Gaza but also into relinquishing its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

The issue is not really about extensive violence or lack of peace. When the Israeli army is not bombing Gaza, Israel and the occupied territories are relatively safe places to live when compared with much of Latin America or South Africa.

The call for peace negotiations is a decoy. Instead, the issue is oppression stemming from occupation and colonialism. Hamas’s supposed terrorism (the real terrorism actually comes from Israel) is a nonissue and merely an excuse for Israel to continue its occupation. Colonial subjects have every right to resist as every legitimate anticolonial movement has done so in the past.

It is up to Israel to relinquish its occupation. And it is up to people of conscience to support the Palestinians to force Israel to relinquish their occupation. It is that part of the conflict that is simple and there is no moral equivalence there.

19) If one is not able to see this conflict as one that is about colonialism and therefore not an issue of a two-sided conflict but about the resistance of people against occupation and oppression, then it is simply because one is emotionally connected to Zionist ideology.

It is sad that many Jews have not yet learned about the pitfalls of nationalism, particularly after it ravaged our people during the Holocaust. When the Nazis forced more than 400 000 Polish Jews into a tiny corner of Warsaw that became known as the Warsaw Ghetto, many residents of the ghetto began an armed resistance campaign.

Some of the Jewish survivors of this resistance, including Chavka Fulman-Raban, have denounced the occupation on a similar basis – comparing the open-air prison that Jews were forced into in Warsaw with the effective imprisonment of 1.8-million people in Gaza.

When we as Jews say “never again” to another Holocaust, it must hold for all people, not just Jews. I, for one, will never keep quiet while my people are complicit in the subjugation of anyone else, particularly when it is based on racist and nationalist ideology. It is, however, encouraging that an increasing number of Jews in Israel and worldwide are standing with the Palestinians in their struggle for justice.

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