By Bayan Founas & Suha Najjar, LSA Sophomores at the University of Michigan
“The fading-out of a cruel and shameful period of world history has coincided with the emergence…of a new offshoot of European Imperialism and a new variety of racist Colonialism,” otherwise known as Zionism.1 As defined by founders of the movement, Zionism is a political movement based on the belief of the creation of a Jewish Homeland in present day Israel. It is falsely believed that Zionism surfaced during the Nazi era, but in fact, it has its roots in the late 19th century. Since then, it has evolved into a movement of conquest, characterized by its racist conduct, expansionist stance, and violent disposition. Due to Zionism’s colonial and imperialistic nature, it is fallacious to conceive that the struggle against Zionism is only a Palestinian struggle; rather it is a struggle that ought to encompass all of humanity.
The first Jewish settlements in Palestine began in the 1870s by early proto-Zionists “Hovevei Zion” (Lovers of Zion). Anti-Jewish riots in Southwest Imperial Russia in 1881, termed pogroms, lead to a greater influx of Jewish immigration into Palestine. Protesters of the pogroms blamed Jews for Tsar Alexander II’s assassination as well as the economic competition that Jews presented. The new Tsar Alexander III directed these pogroms to highlight blame on the Jewish community for the riots. Those that immigrated to Palestine to escape these harsh rulings and accusations segregated themselves from the Palestinian natives. It is believed that this was partly due to a sense of European superiority, where Europeans believed that Europe was the only advanced and truly civilized society. The segregation was also thought to have been attributable to a belief in Jewish superiority over non-Jews as God’s chosen people. This superiority was stressed by Moshe Ben Maimon (Maimonides) to not mix with gentiles (non-Jews), which immigrants took with them to Palestine.
These settlers created the establishment of ethnic segregation between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine, but journalist Theodore Herzl, the “father” of political Zionism, did not stress the ideology of having a Jewish Homeland until the 1890’s. Herzl was assigned to cover the legal case of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French Army who in 1894 was falsely charged with treason. These accusations fueled the theme of anti-Semitism, which led Herzl to write Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, 1896), outlining his vision of a Jewish state to escape anti-Semitism. The British offered Herzl Argentina or Uganda as possible Jewish Homelands, but Palestine was officially chosen at the first Zionist Congress of 1897 because it had a growing settler population and contained Zion (Jerusalem). At the congress, the World Zionist Organization was established with Herzl as the President, where it was highly likely the slogan was created, “land without people for a people without land,” in reference to Palestine. By 1917, Zionists were “officially” granted a Jewish Homeland in Palestine through the Balfour Declaration. Lord Balfour wrote in 1919: “In Palestine, we do not even propose to consult the inhabitants of the country. (Zionism’s) immediate needs and hopes for the future are much more important than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who presently inhabit Palestine.” 2,3
Zionism has gained its reputation as a descendant of European colonialism by virtue of three principal components. The first is its inherent racism. With its racial exclusiveness, supremacy, and self-segregation, Zionism demands political, legal and economic power for Jews over those of the indigenous population.4 Zionist imagination and subsequent internalization that the land of Palestine was uninhabited and desolate justified the demolition of Palestinian life in the same way that the annihilation of Native Americans was vindicated in racism. The view that more radical forms of Zionism have only recently emerged is also false. Indicating Zionism’s inherent colonialist nature, Herzl once said, “If His Majesty, the Sultan were to give us Palestine, we could in return undertake to regulate the whole finances of Turkey. We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.” This view of Zionism as a racist entity is not restricted to any one group. The UN General assembly passed resolution 3379 in 1975 that “determined that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” The resolution was revoked in 1991 because of pressure by the U.S. president, George H.W Bush, due to the undeniable strength of the pro-Zionist lobby within the states.
The second characteristic is Zionism’s expansionist stance. In 1938, David Ben-Gurion, the eventual first prime minister of Israel, made it clear of his support for the establishment of a Jewish state on parts of Palestine only as an intermediary stage. “[I am] satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state–we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel.”5 The map below depicts the ongoing territorial expansion of the state of Israel into Palestinian land. Today, Israel is on the forefront of expansionism through its creation of illegal settlements in the occupied territories.
The last contributing factor is Israel’s tendency to resort to violence in their efforts to expand and conquer. This was most prevalent in 1948 with Al-Nakba (the Catastrophe), the year that saw the mass deportation of over 700,000 Palestinians from their cities and villages, massacres of civilians, and the razing to the ground of hundreds of Palestinian villages.6 In a continued expansionist effort, Israel creates an overwhelming amount of environmental damage and physical destruction of Palestinian landscape, such as by uprooting trees. By doing this, Israel hopes Palestinians will succumb to leaving their homes. Also in Gaza, Israel holds access to food, water, electricity, humanitarian aid, and medical supplies as a weapon that targets human life. Through violence and damage to living entities, Israel’s conquering efforts are seen through such intimidation.
Some may argue that Zionism is worse than other European colonial movements. In regards to isolationism and exclusiveness, Zionism is worse in that it did not wish to just turn the population into a servant one, like the British did in India, or the French in North Africa, but rather they hoped to expel the indigenous population as a whole (Al-Nakba). Also, unlike the South African imperialists who “brazenly proclaim their sin, the Zionist practitioners of apartheid in Palestine beguilingly protest their innocence.”7 Benjamin Pogrund argues, “In any event, what is racism? Under apartheid it was skin colour. Applied to Israel that’s a joke: for proof of that, just look at a crowd of Israeli Jews and their gradations in skin-color from the ‘blackest’ to the ‘whitest’.” But Jews define themselves as not simply a religion but also a race. Therefore, classifying a state as consisting of a single race creates a platform for racism by not considering the indigenous people that are not of that single race. In the case of Zionism, non-Jews, especially the indigenous Arab population, are targeted as an inferior race.
Like every past struggle against colonialism, it is indisputable that it was the duty of every human being with the ability to make a difference to end the injustices. Israel is tyrannizing over a native people and infringing upon their territorial and human rights. The endeavor against Zionism did not simply begin after Herzl or Al-Nakba; rather it is a continued struggle against a larger operation, colonialism. Combating Zionist colonization must be brought to the forefront of the world’s agenda, as Palestinians’ daily struggle against the occupation should be a struggle for all. Mila Pernice, a journalist and member of the Palestine Forum, said, “If I speak of Zionism as a colonialist ideology supported by imperialist countries, then the struggle against Zionism is not only a Palestinian struggle. It is mine, yours and ours.”