Racism and Zionism

Claims regarding racism and Zionism are made by some critics of Zionism and the state of Israel, particularly supporters of the Palestinians and anti-Zionists who reject the concept of Israel as a Jewish state.

Some commentators, particularly in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict consider aspects of Zionist ideology or Zionist practice to be racist. They refer to the way Palestinian Arabs were considered by Zionism in the period of Mandatory Palestine, to some implications of the creation of a Jewish State, and to discrimination against Arab Israelis that still exists in Israel.

Others, such as Robert Wistrich, have rejected this view, arguing that Zionism is a legitimate national liberation movement and claim that criticism singles out Zionists, Jews and Israel, while ignoring similar failings in other countries. Some argue that accusations that Zionism is racist are themselves antisemitic.


As the term racism carries references to race-based bigotry, prejudice, violence, oppression, stereotyping or discrimination, the term has varying and often hotly contested definitions. Some definitions relate racism to beliefs in genetic differences. For example, one dictionary defines racism as "the belief that inherent differences between people (in particular those upon which the concept of race is based) significantly influence cultural or individual achievement, and may involve the idea that one's self-identified race or ethnic group or others' race or ethnic group is superior". Other definitions relate racism to social differences. For example, some sociologists have defined racism as "a system of group privilege". These scholars view "race" as a social construct with potent social and political effects but no basis in biological science.


Historical background

For Historical background see History of Zionism, History of Israel and History of Palestine.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379

Both the 1922 League of Nations Palestine Mandate and the 1947 UN Partition Plan supported the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine, but in November 1975, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 declared that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." In December 1991, the General Assembly rescinded this resolution through Resolution 4686.

The claim that Zionism is racism

Anti-Zionist Norman Finkelstein says Zionism uses racist arguments: 'The injustice inflicted on Palestinians by Zionism was manifest and, except on racist grounds, unanswerable: their right to self-determination, and perhaps even to their homeland, was being denied.' Finkelstein says none of the justifications given by Zionists could withstand even cursory scrutiny. For example, he says the 'historical right', based on the Jewish presence in Israel two thousand years ago is 'neither historical, nor based on any accepted notion of right', and is 'not a right except in mystical, romantic nationalist ideologies'. He says the argument that Palestine was 'empty' when the Zionists arrived is ironic, because 'it is a back-handed admission that, had Palestine be inhabited, which it plainly was, the Zionist enterprise was morally indefensible.' He says non-Zionist supporters of Zionism could only come up with a racist justification, 'the fate of Jews was simply more important than that of Arabs'.

In a 1979 essay for a book entitled Zionism, Imperialism and Racism, A.F. Kassim writes, "Racial discrimination has become 'legally' institutionalised in the state of Israel. The Nationality Law, and particularly, the doctrine of return, gives hard evidence of Israel's discriminatory and racist policies. an integral part of the Zionist policy consistently pursued ever since the Zionist colonisation processes began in Palestine." He also states that "racial discrimination is inherent to Zionism. In a state of Jews, those who are 'nationals' of the 'Jewish people' cannot be equal to those who are not, and should they become equal the raison d'être of having a state of Jews would vanish".

Professor Joseph Massad of Columbia University argues that there is "ideological convergence between anti-Semites and Jewish supremacists." He argues that "Zionism's project is nothing short of turning the Jew into the anti-Semite" and has argued that Zionists are the true anti-Semites, while the Arabs are the true Semites.

The belief that Zionism is racism has also been raised by Holocaust Deniers such as David Duke.

Arguments of defenders of Zionism

Arguments that Zionism is racism do not rely on actual decisions taken by Zionist conventions. Most of the evidence provided are statements quoted out of context, such as the statement by the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, that Zionism could use antisemitism to forward its aims (he was not supporting antisemitism), or as with Finkelstein on the basis of derivation, that is, claiming Zionists were racist because they did not sufficiently consider Arabs.

Zionist supporters were aware of Arab opposition, and this led the movement in 1921 to pass a motion calling on the leadership to "forge a true understanding with the Arab nation". Herzl's novel Altneuland, which described a Jewish state, includes an Arab citizen of the state called Reschid Bey (in conversation with a Christian), who is happy to be a minority in a well-run modern state:

"You're queer fellows, you Moslems. Don't you regard these Jews as intruders?"
"You speak strangely, Christian," responded the friendly Reschid. "Would you call a man a robber who takes nothing from you, but brings you something instead? The Jews have enriched us. Why should we be angry with them? They dwell among us like brothers. Why should we not love them?

Accusations such as those of Kayyali that a "Jewish State" must exclude non-Jews could equally be made about "Islamic States" such as Iran, the many Christian Democratic parties that exist in Europe or the status of the Queen of England as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

Considering that Zionism is over 100 years old, the many opponents of Zionism have found few racist statements by prominent supporters (although as in any movement, such prejudices may be found). The Zionist movement has now and has had in the past, represented a wide spectrum of poliical opinions (see History of Zionism for more details) and is run as a democractic movement. Zionist voters have not elected racist leaders or voted for racist platforms.

Some accusations against the Zionist movement rely on the existence of discrimination in Israel to make a case against the Zionist movement. The existence of discrimination, particularly in a country in a state of war, does not prove the existence of an ideology of racism. Anti-Zionist concern at racism has not extended towards manifestations of Antisemitism in the Arab world suggesting that anti-racism is not their real motivation. It could be argued that Arab or Palestinian nationalism are inherently antisemitic/racist.

The Israeli declaration of independence explicitly states that the country
"will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex"

Israeli law bars racist parties from running for election. In 1992, a Jewish party, Kach were banned on this grounds. There have always been Arab members of the Knesset. Although there has been discrimination in Israel (as in many countries) there is good reason to argue that this is in decline. Currently, 10% of the Knesset are Arab and the current government includes the first Palestinian-Arab minister, Raleb Majadele. In contrast, Britain has only ever had one Moslem Minister (Shahid Malik) and the representation of Moslems in the (650 member) British Parliament is lower in relative terms then in the Knesset. No British Party has ever been banned on the ground of racism.

Accusations of racism imply a belief in race theory and no Zionist movement has ever subscribed to that European theory, which was used to justify the attempted extermination of the Jews. The Zionist movement opened branches in North Africa among people European racists regarded as "black" within a short time of the movement's creation. Of the millions of Jews who have migrated to Israel roughly 50% came from "third world" countries and Jews cannot rationally be defined as a race: Arab Jews look like Arabs, Ethiopian Jews look African and Indian Jews look Indian. Conversion to Judaism, although not easy, has always been possible.

The relatively high levels of awareness that exist regarding discrimination in Israel stem, in part, from the depth of Jewish and Israeli opposition to discrimination the willingness of the Israeli public to challenge discrimination and the willingness of the Israeli state to tolerate such challenges.

Discrimination in Israel
According to M.C. Hudson: 'there is no doubt that Zionism today remains an exclusivist, particularist ideology, a throwback to the folk nationalisms of the mid-nineteenth century. Nor is there any doubt that the behavioral manifestations of Zionism in the Israeli state have given rise to systematic discrimination against Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, and also against Jews from Arab societies. This pattern of discrimination has been widely observed by Western journalists, Arab lawyers like Sabr Jiryis, and even by Israelis such as Israel Shahak and Felicia Langer.'

Israel is a state with a Jewish majority that was the result of a series of Jewish migrations in the early 20th century and the exodus of between 600,000 to 800,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Today, the Arab minority constitutes about 20% of its population within the state. Although the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence guarantees equality of political and social rights for all its citizens, irrespective of their race, religion, or sex, the Declaration also contains multiple references to the Jewish nature of the state, resulting in some laws treating Jews and non-Jews differently. In particular, the jus sanguinis law of the right of return which, despite Israel's otherwise restrictive immigration policies, grant every Jew in the world the right to settle in Israel. This is especially agitating for the many Palestinian refugees, who (or whose ancestors) used to live in the territory that is modern Israel, but are denied their wish to return, which they deem a right. Supporters of the law maintain that allowing a hostile majority that were adversaries in a war for Israel's independence to return would be tantamount to the political, demographic destruction of the Jewish character of Israel, and would endanger the Jewish population living there.

The Article 11 of the UNGA Resolution 194, upon which the Palestinian refugees usually base their claim of a "right of return," "esolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property..." without naming Israel and specifying either Palestinian or Jewish refugees.

Many opponents of Zionism declare that Zionism is racist, and compare its continuation to the reform of Germany's former 'Blood Laws', which had allowed ethnic Germans to claim citizenship, even if they were nationals of another country.

In December, 1994, Jewish settlers attempted to settle on a mountain belonging to the Palestinian village of Al Khader, in the Bethlehem area. Faced with strong local protests from Palestinians and Israelis, the Israeli government halted the settlement construction. However, instead of giving the land back to the Palestinians, the government retained it as a "military zone" and gave the settlers another mountain to settle on within the same village. Israel Shahak, an Israeli anti-Zionist, wrote to a newspaper:
After the confiscated land is announced to belong to the State of Israel, it is officially designated for use by the Jews only. It is not only the Palestinians (including those among them who serve in the Israeli army, police and Shabak) who do not have the right to use such land. The racist regulations of the Jewish National Fund, which is in charge of such matters, also prohibit its lease or any other use to any non- Jews.

In my view, the thus institutionalized racism exceeds in importance the robbing of the land from the Palestinians. There are many states which systematically robbed land. The U.S., for example, robbed Indian land, transforming most of it into state land. Nevertheless, such land is now available for use by any U.S. citizen. If a Jew in the U.S. were prohibited to lease land belonging to the state only because he were Jewish, this would be rightly interpreted as anti-Semitism.

Unless we recognize the real issue--which is the racist character of the Zionist movement and the State of Israel and the roots of that racism in Jewish religious law --we will not be able to understand our realities. And unless we can understand them, we will not be able to change them.

In an article titled 'The Racist Nature of Zionism and of the Zionistic State of Israel' Shahak says: 'It is my considered opinion that the State of Israel is a racist state in the full meaning of this term: In this state people are discriminated against, in the most permanent and legal way and in the most important areas of life, only because of their origin.' He says non-Jews are discriminated against in the areas of security, work, housing and health.

According to the 2004 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied territories, the Israeli government "did little to reduce institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country's Arab citizens." It based this finding on studies by Haifa University, reports from Human Rights Watch, Israeli government reports to the UN, and rulings of the Supreme Court of Israel, among other sources. See Israeli Arabs for details.

Viewed as antisemitism
Some have argued that the term "Chosen people" implies that Jews believe themselves superior to all other peoples, and thus that Judaism as a religion is racist. Given that this term is rarely if ever used by modern Jews to describe themselves unless self-deprecating, it has become associated with common anti-semitism and the racist idea that Jews see themselves as superior. According to a 1984 hearing record before the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations in the US Congress concerning the Soviet Jewry,
"This vicious anti-Semitic canard, frequently repeated by other Soviet writers and officials, is based upon the malicious notion that the "Chosen People" of the Torah and Talmud preaches "superiority over other peoples," as well as exclusivity. This was, of course, the principal theme of the notorious Tsarist Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Jewish religious scholars often teach of "choseness" as a mandate to do good deeds in the world through the principle of social justice in Judaism tikkun olam (repairing the world).
According to rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik,
"Even as the Jew is moved by his private Sinaitic Covenant with God to embody and preserve the teachings of the Torah, he is committed to the belief that all mankind, of whatever color or creed, is "in His image" and is possessed of an inherent human dignity and worthiness. Man's singularity is derived from the breath "He breathed into his nostrils at the moment of creation" (Genesis 2:7). Thus, we do share in the universal historical experience, and God's providential concern does embrace all of humanity."

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), describes the assertion that "Zionism is racism" as "discredited," saying that "This divisive, offensive equation is based on hatred and misunderstanding" and is "anti-Jewish." An American long active in issues of race relations, Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark B. Cohen, said:
"Racism claims superiority, while Zionism merely claims difference. Racism seeks the persecution of long powerless groups, while Zionism seeks to protect the members of a group long persecuted. Racism seeks to degrade its victims, while Zionism seeks to protect those who have been victims. The U.N. was right to repeal its discredited resolution."

Jews, Judaism, Jewish Law, and Jewish Zionists hold that any person may choose to become a Jew, after meeting the necessary requirements, and enjoy all the benefits and responsibilities of membership. Since anyone can (i.e., regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality) both join the Jewish people and equally enjoy the benefits of membership, Zionists conclude that Zionism is anti-Racist. One of the benefits of membership, according to the Zionists, is the right to live freely without fear of persecution, as a Jew, in the national homeland.

Soviet influence

The Soviet Union officially opposed nationalism. At the same time, it opposed racism and ethnic discrimination, including antisemitism. The early Bolsheviks defined their stance as one of support for the Jewish people (many leading Bolsheviks were Jewish themselves), but they favored the assimilation of Jews into a greater Soviet people and were adamantly opposed to Zionism. As early as 1918, Yevsektsiya was established to promote Bolshevik ideas among the Jewish working class in Russia. Political Zionism was officially considered a form of bourgeois nationalism and this was pushed through Zionology sponsored by the Department of propaganda of the Communist Party and by the KGB.

Without changing its official anti-Zionist stance, the Soviet Union briefly supported the establishment of Israel in 1947 and 1948, expecting it to become a Soviet ally in the Cold War. Before voting for the 1947 partition, Soviet Foreign Affairs Minister Andrei Gromyko stated:
"As we know, the aspirations of a considerable part of the Jewish people are linked with the problem of Palestine and of its future administration. This fact scarcely requires proof... The United Nations cannot and must not regard this situation with indifference, since this would be incompatible with the high principles proclaimed in its Charter..."

By the end of 1948, however, the Soviet Union realized that Israel had chosen the "Western option" (alliance with the West), and withdrew its support. For the rest of the Cold War, the Soviet Union decided to support Arab regimes against Israel. Soviet propaganda featured a number of criticisms of Zionism that frequently bordered on antisemitism, recycling old conspiracy theories. Howard Sachar describes the atmosphere of the Soviet "anti-Zionist" campaign in the wake of the Six-Day War:
"In late July 1967, Moscow launched an unprecedented propaganda campaign against Zionism as a "world threat." Defeat was attributed not to tiny Israel alone, but to an "all-powerful international force." ... In its flagrant vulgarity, the new propaganda assault soon achieved Nazi-era characteristics. The Soviet public was saturated with racist canards. Extracts from Trofim Kichko's notorious 1963 volume, Judaism Without Embellishment, were extensively republished in the Soviet media. Yuri Ivanov's Beware: Zionism, a book essentially replicated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was given nationwide coverage."

The meaning of the term Zionism was misrepresented to conform to a policy of the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The official position of the Soviet Union and its satellite states and agencies was that Zionism was a tool used by the Jews and Americans for "racist imperialism". The Great Soviet Encyclopedia in the 1970s thus defined Zionism as follows: "the main posits of modern Zionism are militant chauvinism, racism, anti-Communism and anti-Sovietism,... overt and covert fight against freedom movements and the USSR."

: See also: History of the Jews in Russia and Soviet Union, rootless cosmopolitan, Prague Trials, Doctors' plot, Zionology, Anti-Zionist committee of the Soviet public.

UN resolutions

The Soviet Union initiated the "Zionism is racism" campaign in the United Nations (see Zionology for context) in response to United States proposals for UN resolutions against discrimination that criticised the Soviet Union.

On November 10 1975 the United Nations General Assembly adopted, by a vote of 72 to 35 (with 32 abstentions), Resolution 3379, which stated that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." However, on 16 December 1991, it was rescinded by Resolution 4686, with a vote of 111 to 25 (with 13 abstentions). It is significant to note that most, if not all, of the states voting against revoking this resolution, including those abstaining or absent, were states with a majority Muslim population.
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