Zionism, discrimination, and racist intent

on 91 Comments

Jerry Slater constructs an artful but unconvincing defense against the charge that the Jewish State is inherently racist. He reasons that the preferences and privileges accorded to Jews over non-Jews in Israel/Palestine is founded upon genuine Jewish insecurity rather than racist Jewish superiority. He concedes that many Israeli Jews, an increasing number in fact, are personally racist, but insists that racism need not be inherent in the concept of a Jewish State.

Jerry’s error is in defining racism narrowly to include only those attitudes that are based upon superiority. The problem is that the absence of such motive is no defense to a charge of racism. Any system that confers rights and privileges upon some people based upon race, creed, color, national origin, or in this case, a unique hybrid of ethno-religious qualities, is a racist system. Jerry distinguishes South African apartheid on the ground that the white colony there was established via actual racism rather than insecurity. But what of white people born in South Africa during the apartheid regime? They surely had a genuine fear of backlash should they grant equal rights to the 80+% of the population who were harshly oppressed for their skin color, but whites could not reasonably defend apartheid on the ground that it was needed to preserve their safety. They could not reasonably claim that they thought blacks were just as capable and worthy as whites, but that apartheid was nevertheless necessary to protect their physical safety. Nor can Israeli Jews employ that excuse.

This has been true from the very beginning. The early Zionists formulated a plan to establish a Jewish State in a land populated by a large number of non-Jewish people. Their attitude toward the indigenous population was that their wants and needs and rights were trumped by those of Jewish people throughout the world. “We want your land for our state,” was the message. Does it matter whether they were motivated by feelings of insecurity or superiority? Surely not to the Palestinians, who were equally victimized regardless of the victimizers’ motives.

In the U.S., we have an equal protection clause in our Constitution to protect against racism. It is intended to ensure that the law is applied equally to all, regardless of birth characteristics. It is the application of government policy that is scrutinized for compliance with the clause. Intent is sometimes a factor, but only in the sense of whether there is unlawful intent to discriminate. The motive is irrelevant, and a discriminatory policy may not be defended on the ground that it is not based on the concept of racial superiority. That will not save a constitutionally infirm application of discriminatory law. 

Any regime that accords rights and privileges to some of the people living under its jurisdiction over others, based on any foundation of ethnicity, is an anachronism that has no place in the 21st century, and hopefully, has a limited life span. Israel may not be unique in this regard, though it probably is unique in the sense that Palestinians must yield superior rights not only to Israeli Jews, but to Diaspora Jews as well.

Finally, this raises an important question: If Zionism is a form of racism, is it fair to label all Zionists as racist? The superficial answer might be yes, because those who subscribe to a racist ideology are themselves racist. But I dissent from that view. Personal racism is an extremely serious charge, and an accusation of racism is meant to attach a stigma to the accused; surely that is the basis for the absurdly overused charge of anti-Semitism against Israeli critics.

Several years ago, Harvard President Larry Summers said that those who support BDS were “anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent.” Many who shared my negative opinion of this remark asked “What the hell does that even mean?” However, I understood the nature of the charge, while disagreeing with Summers’s application to BDS. There is not necessarily a correlation between those who subscribe to what may fairly be described as a racist ideology and those who are genuinely racist. For example, on affirmative action, each side claims the mantle of opposition to racism, thereby portraying the opposite view as one founded on racism. Most people on either side, however, are not actually racist.

Obviously, racism is a deplorable and highly visible phenomenon in Israeli society, but I think that to portray all those who believe in a Jewish State as racist is facile and unfair. It also is unwise, because if there is an effort to reach so-called liberal Zionists and convince them that Zionism itself is the root cause of the problem, accusing them of racism would needlessly provoke antagonism. Virtually everyone would vehemently deny such a charge, and refuse to consider whether there is any truth to it. On the other hand, trying to persuade a liberal Zionist that race-like preferences are inherent in the ideology is more likely to succeed if it is not accompanied with a charge of personal racism. Besides, I know many, many people who believe in the Jewish State but are genuinely anti-racist. Jerry Slater, who has made many insightful and valuable contributions to the I/P debate, is a one-person refutation of the notion that all Zionists are racists.

91 Responses

  1. Avi
    November 18, 2010, 10:32 pm

    Obviously, racism is a deplorable and highly visible phenomenon in Israeli society, but I think that to portray all those who believe in a Jewish State as racist is facile and unfair.


    It’s unfair to use the Affirmative Action analogy.

    Slavery and institutional racism, including Jim Crow, ended a long time ago in the United States. Current Affirmative Action seeks to level the playing field due to past transgressions.

    By contrast, Israel is not only perpetuating past transgressions, it is actually ramping-up the dispossession and discrimination so as to disfranchise Palestinians in the past, the present and the future.

    As such, supporting Zionism and subscribing to an ideology that affirms Jewish rights to a land while ignoring (and violating) the rights of the indigenous Palestinians is to be complicit in facilitating said racism.

    In essence, such people want to have their cake and eat it, too.

    • Shingo
      November 18, 2010, 11:02 pm

      Right on the money Avi,

      I think the notion that the Liberal Zionists can be reached or reasoned with is a fantasy. One only has to look at the effort and time most of us have put into getting through to Witty to realize it is a waste of time. We don’t have time to waste trying to convince these people of the truth.

      The truth is painful either way.

      I am not even sure if I believe that Jerry Slater is an exception to the rule.

      • yonira
        November 18, 2010, 11:21 pm

        I think the notion that the Liberal Zionists can be reached or reasoned with is a fantasy.

        Now you know how the majority the US feels about radical Islam.

      • Shingo
        November 18, 2010, 11:49 pm

        “Now you know how the majority the US feels about radical Islam.”

        The majority the US can’t find their own country on a map of the world.

      • Mooser
        November 19, 2010, 2:04 pm

        “Now you know how the majority the US feels about radical Islam.”

        Gee, and I thought I was supposed to worship those freedom fightin’, foundering fathers, the mujahadeen! Wha happened? Is Reagan still President?

        Yeah yonira, nobody likes Dracula or “The Mummy” either. Being afraid of Radical Islam has about the same degree of reality.
        But you just keep on stoking up the fear of Islam, yonira. Without a doubt, if God chose the Jews for anything, that’s what it was! Now, for my next trick, I’m gonna fly into that flame! Drumroll, please….

      • David Samel
        November 18, 2010, 11:47 pm

        Shingo, I think it is a mistake to extrapolate anything from Witty’s often mystifying positions. If he is immune from being influenced by the efforts of many on this site, that says nothing about anyone else. I strongly disagree that it’s a waste of time to try to reach liberal Zionists. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons I contribute to this blog. While I enjoy exchanging ideas with like-minded people, I certainly see more value in presenting a logical, ethical case to convince fence-sitters and those who are awakening to their doubts about Israel’s more abhorrent actions. It is quite difficult to get people to change their minds, and when they do, they rarely turn 180 degrees. And just look at the numbers. It may be growing, but the percentage who favor transformation of Israel away from a Jewish State to a state of equal citizens is still quite small. If you don’t try to reach liberal Zionists, who will you try to reach? I am not suggesting compromising principles or the rights of others, but insisting on equal rights for Palestinians in their homeland without gratuitously insulting those you wish to convince.

      • Shingo
        November 19, 2010, 12:01 am


        The reason I bring up Witty is because I find many of the same arguments and peculiarities in his arguments as Slaters. They both present poorly though out arguments and inconsistent logic, if not entirely hypocritical. If they are representative of Liberal Zionism, we have no hope of convincing them.

        I don’t this it’s even worth trying to reach liberal Zionist, at least in the short term, but beginning by informing those who are poorly informed about the I/P conflict and sparking their interests. When Israeli supporters claim that polls show the majority of Americans support Israel, I suspect that a great number who argue in the affirmative are largely ignorant and see now reason to say otherwise.

        I suspect there are exceptions to the rule. I think those that can be reached are people like Hophmi, Swartzman, and maybe Jonah, but personally I think that a resolution must be imposed by pressuring Israel, not asking nicely.

        I don’t think of Israelis in general as bad people. Indeed I know a few and an very fond of them, but discussion on the subject of Israel is a non starter.

      • sherbrsi
        November 19, 2010, 12:03 am

        If you don’t try to reach liberal Zionists, who will you try to reach?

        While people are generally ignorant on world affairs, on the I/P conflict it is more so evident that people are misinformed and kept in the dark intentionally.

        I don’t bother with liberal Zionists because I do not see Liberal Zionism as being any less of an oxymoron than Israel being a “Jewish democracy.” That is even before I get to the history of liberal Zionism being aligned with the right-wing Zionists in policing dissent and discourse on Israel and its atrocities against the Palestinians. Their continued silence in regards to Israel’s regular acts of ethnic cleansing and explicitly racist laws and occupation is also not to their credibility. On the whole it is far more productive to educate the fence-sitters and the uninformed who are unknowingly supporting Israel and its backers (by promoting BDS), than to reason with a political faction of the problematic movement in questions, with their own ingrained biases and political motives.

      • David Samel
        November 19, 2010, 8:20 am

        Shingo, nothing I said remotely implies that I favor asking Israel nicely rather than applying pressure. In fact, I’ve said the opposite.

        I felt strongly enough about this to publish this essay but I have to admit it is like walking a tightrope. I think my position is prone to misinterpretation by very honest and thoughtful commenters such as yourself.

        And I’m not sure why you think that “Hophmi, Swartzman, and maybe Jonah” might be more reachable than Witty. I can’t say I study their comments as much as others do, and I rarely engage with them, but my general impression is that they are more unreasonable and Witty more confused/confusing.

      • Richard Witty
        November 19, 2010, 8:30 am

        If you are confused about what I mean, ASK.

        If you think that I am confused about something, again ask and dialog.

        Dismissal and demeaning are not that.

      • Mooser
        November 19, 2010, 2:07 pm

        Witty, thanks! Anytime I don’t understand you, I’ll just dial og and he’ll explain it to me!

        Hey, og, what do you know about the fire ratings for Lepidoptera?

      • Shingo
        November 19, 2010, 8:52 pm

        Please don’t take my comments the wrong way David,

        I am grateful to you for bringing up this topic, and the comments are a refelction of how thought provoking your post has been.

        Yes you have chosen a very contentious issue, but I think there is a danger of unintended misinterpretation going both ways. I didn’t mean to pu words in your mouth.

        Re Hophmi, Swartzman, and maybe Jonah, I find them far more honest. They are consisten about where they stand, whereas Witty works overtime to present himself as more enlightened than the rest of us, and that our comments about his blatant racism is just lack of nuance on our part.

        Anyway, the point your making is understood. essentialyl you’re arguing that we should differentiate between the inherent racism od Zionism as opposed to accusing Liberal Zionists of being racists. While it makes for an interesting though experiment, I’d have to agree with Avi and maintain that it’s a waste of time persuading them. Most have been through a lifetime of sophisticated mind control and programming, and it’s practically impossible to resch them.

        Then again, that’s my exprience. Perhaps yours is broader.

  2. Avi
    November 18, 2010, 10:40 pm

    One additional remark:

    That analogy further presumes that both sides are equal with equal rights, equal political and economic capital.

    But, they two sides are not in fact equal in any way. In 99.9999% of cases, Palestinians in the occupied territories cannot take up violations of their rights to the Supreme Court. Besides, the Palestinians in the occupied territories are not citizens.

    By contrast, African Americans, both in the old south and today’s America were and are citizens. They had to fight to obtain those rights, but the rights were already afforded in the Constitution. Israel has no constitution, and its Basic Law formally discriminates against them.

    This is where the Affirmative Action analogy falls apart.

    • David Samel
      November 18, 2010, 11:33 pm

      Avi, I completely agree that there is no reasonable analogy between Zionism and affirmative action. In fact, I oppose one and support the other. I used affirmative action not as an analogy but as an example in which it would be unfair to automatically characterize one’s opponents as personally racist, even if one honestly believes that the other’s position is inherently racist. The difference between an analogy and an example may be subtle, and perhaps I should have made it clearer, but I do think affirmative action is a good example where advocates get overly personal in accusing adversaries of being racists. Another example might be abortion. I am completely pro-choice, but I would never assume that an adversary is necessarilly misogynistic, even if anti-choice could arguably be considered a form of misogyny.

      The larger point, of course, is that if one hopes to convince Zionists, especially liberal ones who have become alarmed at Israel’s increasingly racist character, that Zionism cannot be salcaged but is fundamentally flawed, hurling the accusation of personal racism is counter-productive. I prefer to convince people that if they would not accept the type of second-class citizenship non-Jews must endure in a Jewish State, the only solution is dissolution and transformation of the state itself. Being called a racist is a real turn-off and often undeserved.

      • Avi
        November 19, 2010, 12:09 am


        The weakness of your hypothesis is that you are couching your argument in American-centric issues, remotely detached from the daily experiences of Israel and the Palestinian territories. It’s difficult if not impossible to convince someone of certain issues, when first hand experience is absent.

  3. Shingo
    November 18, 2010, 10:57 pm

    “He concedes that many Israeli Jews, an increasing number in fact, are personally racist, but insists that racism need not be inherent in the concept of a Jewish State.”

    Isn’t is interesting how Zionists reject the principals of cause and effect?

    “Jerry’s error is in defining racism narrowly to include only those attitudes that are based upon superiority.”

    I think Ahmed made a very good counter argument in that the belief that your own ethnic group has the right to take land from another is based on the premise of superiority. How could it not be?

    “Jerry distinguishes South African apartheid on the ground that the white colony there was established via actual racism rather than insecurity.”

    Security is often used as an excuse to mask racism. Indeed, the distrust of black Africans was founded on the notion that they were heathens and dangerous, or that they would steal the white women.

    Furthermore, what did the Jewish immigrants have to fear from the Palestinians? Indeed, if there was a fear that the Palestinians and Arabs were such a threat, why did they migrate to a territory right in the midst of such a populations?

    “It also is unwise, because if there is an effort to reach so-called liberal Zionists and convince them that Zionism itself is the root cause of the problem, accusing them of racism would needlessly provoke antagonism.”

    I beg to differ David. For too long the world has pandered to Israelis and it has not born any fruit, so I see nothing to lose by stating the obvious.

    Liberal Zionists are among the biggest problems because they are among the most dishonest.

    • Antidote
      November 18, 2010, 11:57 pm

      “It also is unwise, because if there is an effort to reach so-called liberal Zionists and convince them that Zionism itself is the root cause of the problem, accusing them of racism would needlessly provoke antagonism.”

      God forbid we should upset liberal Zionists! As if they hadn’t suffered enough already. Let’s have another 10 yrs of check points, nightly raids, 1-3 Palestinians killed a week, lunatic settler attacks, blockades etc etc etc. The Pals, after all, are used to this crap. They’ll cope.

    • David Samel
      November 19, 2010, 12:05 am

      Shingo, as to the criticism of Jerry Slater’s analysis, we are actually in agreement. My point was that an assertion of superior rights is discriminatory and unfair to the victims, regardless of the motive. Jerry argues that an assertion of actual racial superiority is intolerable, while a claim of superior rights based upon insecurity can be acceptable. I say there’s really no difference, and it is long past due to eliminate granting different rights based on ethno-religious characteristics for any reason. Security concerns, whether they are genuine or feigned, cannot excuse inequality.

      As for liberal Zionists, I answered you in a comment above. I think pandering is the wrong word. I am not suggesting yielding to Israeli insistence on first-class citizenship for Jews only. You cite dishonesty as a characteristic of liberal Zionists, but you should recognize that the vast majority arrive at their opinion quite honestly. You may think they delude themselves, but you have to convince them that they are wrong. The real dishonest people, who know they are disseminating misinformation, are a tiny minority and beyond any moral reach.

      • Avi
        November 19, 2010, 12:22 am


        Again, you’re talking about things that require more in depth inspection. I know you mean well and that you are convinced of your stance on these issues, but you need to understand that I have my own family members who are Zionists, they are in fact very liberal. Many of them haven’t a racist bone in their bodies, and yet when it comes to Zionism and Palestinian equality they are no different than your run of the mill stereotypical Zionist.

        And I have had conversations with them hundreds if not thousands of times to no avail. I have told them of my personal experiences, I have also engaged with other Israelis who worked on so-called co-existence projects and in none of those cases did I see large groups of people flocking to ‘convert’. It wasn’t even a matter of a slow process, but a matter of binary 1s and 0s, yes or no thinking. Only a handful of people decided to abandon or reject Zionism. In my personal experience, I’ve only encountered one such person. Other non-Zionists were so, either from birth or from an early age. That is to say that they either grew up in a house that rejected Zionism, or they had a sudden epiphany at the age of 18 when they joined the army.

        If you want to go through a process where you waste your time on Zionists, liberal or otherwise, hoping for a ‘conversion’, then by all means, be my guest. We all need a hobby.

      • Shingo
        November 19, 2010, 1:23 am


        I can only yield to your greater experience on the matter of dealing with liberal Zionists.. My experience has not shown many arrive at their opinions with honesty.

        Indeed, in my experience, liberal Zionists will typically resort to the stale propaganda we’re so familiar with until they encounter someone a well informed opponent who refutes them and they either back down, become completely irrational or fall silent.

        Some return to their false arguments when the coast is clear, others hold on to their beliefs out of a refusal to examine them.

        We’d both agree that Liberal Zionists are by and large, well educated. This means they have ample opportunity to investigate this topic for themselves and make genuine inquiry. If they have formed an opinion based on false information, then it is almost entirely out of choice, not because they don’t have access to the facts.

        I might sound harsh, but in this age of information being at our fingertips, there’s no excuse for ignorance. What that leaves is those that are committed to propagating lies or those that are emotionally incapable of accepting the truth.

      • Chu
        November 19, 2010, 2:47 pm

        “If they have formed an opinion based on false information, then it is almost entirely out of choice, not because they don’t have access to the facts.”

        this is most mystifying. It seems that although they know the truth, they disregard it because the tribe/race is first and foremost. This based on a core belief that they are historically the victim. > Israel is their moment to finally define themselves as a state, a nation, a people. And the Israeli ex-patriots that expose the reality of the state, is not the message Homphi and friends wants the blogging world to comprehend.

    • RoHa
      November 19, 2010, 12:50 am

      I am inclined to agree with David that screaming “racist” at Zionists will not be a very productive approach. Aside from anything else, it will lead to protracted wrangles about what consitutes racism.

      But pointing out the essential wrongness of Zionism can be done without using the word “racism”.

      And an occasional scream of “child killer” probably won’t go amiss, either.

      • Antidote
        November 19, 2010, 12:54 pm

        “And an occasional scream of “child killer” probably won’t go amiss, either.”

        here’s one, voiced after decades, and not likely to be effective given the fact that the accused is by now an old man lying in a coma

        link to haaretz.com

  4. Avi
    November 18, 2010, 11:32 pm

    Personal racism is an extremely serious charge, and an accusation of racism is meant to attach a stigma to the accused;

    Not necessarily. There are hollow charges and then there are charges that are based on concrete parameters. To sweep all charges of racism under the banner of stigma is facile and unfair.

    Furthermore, racism does not always manifest itself in the crudest and most primal ways. Many racists engage with the Other both as an affront to their racism or stemming from their own feelings of guilt. That is to say that they will show a willingness to engage with the other side, but at the same time take no steps to change the status quo. And if they do, they usually embrace methods that are passive and meaningless.

    <blockquote cite=""liberal Zionists and convince them that Zionism itself is the root cause of the problem,

    What is a “liberal Zionist”?

    Attempting to convince ideologues while pretending to seek justice is futile.
    While you’re at it, why not attempting to convince Israeli government and society that their policies are the root cause of the problem?

    In addition, anyone who embraces the view that a the desire to maintain a Jewish state isn’t necessarily racist, cannot claim to seek justice. At the very least, whether liberal or radical, Kosher or Tareff, embracing any form of Zionism is to embrace the status quo.

    Last I checked, the author, and in this case that’s you, David, was concerned for the well-being of Palestinians. If you believe there is a crisis — and there is a crisis — then embracing the status quo will merely have the effect of exacerbating these conditions.

    Israeli and Palestinian groups have for decades engaged with each other and participated in alleged co-existence projects. But, nothing came of those projects. Absolutely nothing. Why?

    Despite all the pain and suffering and the turmoil that Israelis witnessed both in the occupied territories and inside Israel, only a handful ever acknowledged that Zionism is the problem. Instead, they sought a system of Separate, but Equal. So far, they have succeeded in achieving a Separate system.

    • David Samel
      November 19, 2010, 8:26 am

      I simply do not understand why my opposition to using the epithet “racist” to describe every one who believes that a Jewish State should exist, “liberal” or not, is interpreted as “embracing the status quo” or trying to gently convince Israel to change rather than applying pressure, including BDS. Was my essay so poorly worded?

      • Avi
        November 19, 2010, 9:52 am


        I’m trying to engage you in a discussion by raising several points from various angles in an effort to illustrate via this limited medium — text — where I’m coming from. For such a discussion to be productive, I think it is important that you acknowledge the points which I have sought to get across in the various posts on this thread. I’m not sure how to respond to your post from 8:26 am as it seems to be defensive in nature and limited in scope. And we can afford to engage in such a lengthy discussion because we have plenty of time at our disposal. If time were of the essence, during an emergency for example, either one of us would desperately resort to short exchanges, like doctors often do in an emergency room, or soldiers out on the battle field. There, in those settings, there is very little time for nuance. Please keep this point in mind as we discuss the fine differences between Zionism and racism all the while — as time is of the essence — the siege on Gaza continues.

        Back on track, If I could use a metaphor to describe what I have in mind for this debate, it would be like dancing where each side moves in one direction while at the same time attempting to reach a point of equilibrium, or in this case, an agreement of sort. One could call it a negotiation, if you will.

      • David Samel
        November 19, 2010, 10:32 am

        Avi, I wasn’t trying to avoid anything, and wrote a longer comment in response to some of the things you and others have said (down below). I did single out one thing in particular I wanted to respond to, about embracing the status quo. I am trying to juggle what I consider to be my obligation to respond to most (but not all) comments with my obligation to prepare and e-file certain documents in federal court today. I’m doing a better job here.

      • annie
        November 19, 2010, 1:14 pm

        I simply do not understand why my opposition to using the epithet “racist” to describe every one who believes that a Jewish State should exist

        well, that isn’t really the point david. as i eluded to here it isn’t just ‘a jewish state’ we are referencing, we are referencing ‘ a jewish state in a land populated by a large number of non-Jewish people.’ whose attitude toward the indigenous population was that their wants and needs and rights were trumped by those of Jewish people throughout the world.

        iow, let’s frame your statement a little differently:

        I simply do not understand why my opposition to using the epithet “racist” to describe every one who believes that a Jewish State should exist in a land populated by a large number of non-Jewish people with the needs and rights of those non jewish people trumped by those of Jewish people throughout the world

        seriously, we are not talking about any jewish state, are we? is there any doubt in your mind there would be this kind of pushback had a jewish state been developed on a land w/no people w/a people for no land?

        so on principle i have no problem w/not describing every one who believes that a Jewish State should exist as racist. but in palestine? at the expense of palestinians? that’s another kettle of fish.

        let me ask you this. how is the practice of zionism within the context of the location of it’s fulfilment, not inherently racist.

        iow, only when one strips away all the caveats (like the way zionism actually operates in the world otherwise known as ‘zionism in practice’ as opposed to ‘the ideal of zionism’) can zionism be considered anything other than a racist enterprise. from my link:

        if there was some colony somewhere that had previously been uninhabited where they could all go and live with eachother without any of the rest of us let them have at it, i would have no problem with it. (they know this too, obviously this is why the lie/meme of ‘a land w/no people bla bla’ became synonymous w/israel…one of the founding introductory hasbara themes). the problem is they didn’t do that. they chose another place and then turned the indigenous people into savages in their own minds to justify ethnic cleansing and have been desperately covering their asses ever since.

      • Shingo
        November 19, 2010, 9:01 pm

        “I simply do not understand why my opposition to using the epithet “racist” to describe every one who believes that a Jewish State should exist, “liberal” or not, is interpreted as “embracing the status quo” or trying to gently convince Israel to change rather than applying pressure, including BDS. Was my essay so poorly worded?”

        No it’s not poorly worded, but I believe it’sa false argument.

        There are those who believe that a Jewish State should exist (Zionist or otherwise) , and those that don’t care one way or the other, provided Israel sticks to it’s borders and behaves itself.

        Neither is necessarily Zinist or anti Zionist.

        The problem with many Zionists (liberal and otherwise) is that they cannot differentuiate between Israel’s unending demands for security and what Israel should be entitled to. You and most of us would agree that Israel’s security problems have been self fulfilling prophecies, thus the obsession with security is self perpetuating. The security requirement is then used to justify occupation , agression and regional hegemony and so the story goes.

        Eveb the most Liberal of Liberal Zionists have trouble accepting the idea of Israel returning to it’s 1967 borders without rediculous incentives and assurances – ones that are practically impossible to make.

    • Danaa
      November 19, 2010, 10:39 am

      David, I agree with Avi about one thing in this context – there is a deep difference in attitudes of those Israelis who join the battle for justice/human rights and those who come to it from outside, eg, the US. Certainly they all have a dog in the fight, self-evidently, but they are somewhat different breeds of dog, even if they both bark ferociously. Coming from Israel is to know the depth of racism that pervades every fiber of one’s being. To leave Israel, or to join the fight WITH the palestinian – as many do, commendably – is to make, knowingly, an effort to heal – within oneself – the remnants of a virulent infection, with it many side-effects (some of which I see popping up, in myself, at quite unexpected places).

      As Avi said, and Shmuel elaborates on aspects recently, racism – not just toward Arabs, but towards any group that’s not like one’s own, is so totally embedded in the society’s structure that it’s become a second nature to people. As if it is a completely normal thing to speak ill of and denigrade others due to whatever difference can be conjured up on a moment’ notice. Israel really is a society turned inward that’s eating itself up from within on too many levels to even begin to list them. People who grow up in Israel have often a cynical attitude toward say, civil right battle, because…..well….”that’s the way society is”. But then, they have cynical attitude in general, toward any civic or ethical undertaking, politics being one of many.

      In this regard, the deep racism afflicting Israel is much deeper than it was for the whites in South Africa, where, for many, racism was mixed up with am sense of pragmatism (ie, can’t be done, won’t work, etc). When pragmatic concerns were addressed (ie survival), a certain willingness to live and let live, to give it a go, has emerged. Not that racism went away in SA, but it became a matter of “serious concern” as in many other mixed societies that will either ebb or continue to flow.

      Personally, I can’t be so sanguine about Israel, though I appreciate some people’s valiant attempts to imagine an Israeli society that can adopt embark on a more humanistic, forward-looking path. The reason is that in Israel, zionism seem to have turned into a type of sickening triumphalism that feeds upon the souls of it own citizens. To the point that one could say that to be Israeli is to be racist. The only difference i whether it is implicit or explicit. The excuse you hear sometimes about racism toward non-Jews is that they are also racist towards Jews. In the annals of excuse-making that’s certainly a good one. I think that’s why those Israelis, or ex-Israelis who hitch their wagons to the battle for human rights are sometimes a bit dismissive toward the nuances of liberal zionists’ concerns. They know all too well that when it comes to Israelis, the zionist enterprise did become a racially-based model, where race is destiny. Call it ethnicity, if you will, or religiousity, or a bad case of jingoism. Don’t matter much, really, because the outcome is what it is. The rest, like later’ distinction of “superiority” or even David’s exculpatory discovery of “intent” (sorry to lump them both together here….) doesn’t amount to much in the face of the sad reality of what Israel has become, the majority of its citizens included.

      The tragedy of zionism is that it beget a society where everyone seems to be against everyone else, one mired in the pettiness of being, with Arabs simply at the lowest rung of the totem pole – the shiboleth everyone can turn on, achieving momentary unison.

      Maybe that is why so many who came from Israel end up moving the full distance to a place where they no longer think (if they ever did ) that aspiring to a Jewish state is, in fact, a good thing. They know all too well that Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” has been tried and is, already, an abject failure. In this respect, I sometimes think that asking the palestinians to recognize it as such is just a “hail mary” bid – a desperate call for help – maybe if “they” called it so, it could be so?

      • Richard Witty
        November 19, 2010, 11:18 am

        The insistence that the PA recognize Israel as “the Jewish state” is an unnecessary obstacle, as is the request to accept Israel continuing to evict and construct in East Jerusalem. (Purchases are another matter.)

        They do not affect the ability of Israelis to constitutionally regard Israel as a Jewish AND democratic state, with literal equal rights afforded to all citizens (and equal rights afforded to all residents, and to all visitors).

      • Mooser
        November 19, 2010, 1:19 pm

        Oh, I see, if the Palestinians would only accept Israeli racism, the Israelis wouldn’t need to be so racist! So perfect, so natural!

        I’m telling you, some day Israelis will actually be able to rule their own actions, instead of being condemned to eternally re-acting to the awful Palestinians, and then, look out, world!

      • Chu
        November 19, 2010, 1:35 pm

        It would be a fascinating study if you made Aliyah. Then you could keep a blog and update us on your thoughts living in the reality, as opposed to the dream. It may be like a journey into the Heart of Darkness or more . This may be your true calling. Why not take it?

      • Richard Witty
        November 19, 2010, 4:10 pm

        Encourage Harvey Stein to do that.

        He made aliyah five years ago I think.

        He is Phil’s and my age, and comes from similar liberal American roots. He is liberal, critical of many Israeli policies and practises, and also still Israeli.

      • Avi
        November 20, 2010, 1:10 am


        I appreciate your input.

        Alas, there is no point in attempting to convince David Samel of something he clearly refuses to think about.

        David thinks that he can solve this conflict by recruiting the support of Jews who are alienated by Israel’s behavior — that’s most likely the way he feels, too — while at the same time want to see a Jewish state remaining within the borders of 1967 — again, that’s most likely Samel’s view, as well.

        So, David Samel sees no problem with coddling those who have been working toward a two state solution and continue to do so despite the fact that the two-state solution is dead.

        But, Samel goes even further by ignoring Israeli scholars like Yehuda Shenhav and believes that he can solve the problem by convincing Zionists, especially liberal (whatever that means) ones, that Zionism is anathema to democracy.

        I know David will throw a hissy fit once he reads this, but his plan is essentially no different than Dershowitz’s and Chomsky’s and all the other diluted American-born Jews who think they have all the answers, while they continue to ignore the reality with which they have never come in contact.

      • Danaa
        November 20, 2010, 12:30 pm

        Avi, I wish we could send representatives of the American/canadian/autralian/etc liberal zionist to Israel for, like 6 months, to see, with their own eyes, how deeply illiberal the society there is now (whatever it was in some long ago, well-imagined glorious past). Of course, they’ll have to become- miraculously- fully fluent in hebrew to really appreciate the tenor of everyday life there. Otherwise, they’ll just gravitate to the nice little embattled zionist liberal anglo flagships and become all the more convinced that 2 states is still a possibility. After all, it is – for people with their attitudes…..and willingness to compromise…and ability to project generic niceness upon others…

        That being said, could you please remove David from the company of Derhowitz at least? Not quite fair, that…(not sure about Chomsky with his eternally engaging eruditeness – – even I might like to have him over for a chit-chat….)

  5. sherbrsi
    November 18, 2010, 11:49 pm

    Insecurity may motivate acts of violence and racism, but not decades of policies, laws and institutions based on them.

    Slater’s arguments hinge closely to the oft repeated defense of Zionism: Israel is not racist or violent, it is forced to be so by any number of external factors (Arab states, antisemitism, Palestinians). It reeks of apologism, but more importantly shifts any responsibility of action away from Zionists to that of everyone else, but Israelis themselves. According to his line of reasoning, if Israel is guilty of anything, it is “defending” itself. In essence, Slater is feeding the very notion of insecurity by promoting a perpetual state of Jewish victim-hood as the motivation for Israeli racism and violence.

    On the assertion of whether Zionism is racism or not, why does Slater ignore the settlements and its widespread backing by Zionists of most political stripes? Settlement construction and growth, called “practical Zionism,” are modeled indistinguishably on old world colonialism, and even defined as such by mainstream Zionist organizations. Do Slater and others who try to separate Israel’s racism and ethnic cleansing from its Zionist basis explain settlements in terms of insecurity as well?

  6. RoHa
    November 19, 2010, 12:03 am

    “The early Zionists formulated a plan to establish a Jewish State in a land populated by a large number of non-Jewish people. Their attitude toward the indigenous population was that their wants and needs and rights were trumped by those of Jewish people throughout the world. “We want your land for our state,” was the message. ”

    And this is the key point that has to be hammered home. It was wrong from the beginning.

  7. Avi
    November 19, 2010, 12:38 am


    In reference to my previous post from 12:22 am, I’d like to expand a little by drawing your attention to the following.

    Do you recall this entry by Phil during his visit to Jerusalem?

    link to mondoweiss.net

    Note the concluding paragraph in which Phil wrote:

    We smiled at one another, with that look of tribal recognition.

    People often grow up within communities in which they absorb and learn the non-verbal cues, mannerisms and patterns of speech and behavior. Therefore, they are able to easily recognize them later on in life.

    • Mooser
      November 19, 2010, 2:13 pm

      “We smiled at one another, with that look of tribal recognition.”

      And my hand automatically took a tighter grip on my wallet and my self-respect. I know one of them, or both, is about to be assaulted.

    • Antidote
      November 19, 2010, 3:46 pm

      tribalism beyond smiling recognition

      link to youtube.com

    • LeaNder
      November 19, 2010, 6:23 pm

      Avi, what to you consider the last paragraph in the vignette-from-Jerusalem? That for pointing it out to me, I must have missed it at the time. I do in fact like the exchange, especially the last line.

      “And just look what one Jew accomplished.”

  8. Avi
    November 19, 2010, 12:47 am

    By the way, if you truly want to steer people away from Zionism, it’s best to do so at a very young age.

    That is why Israeli school textbooks, children’s shows on TV, and cultural icons and role models play a significant role in shaping the hearts and minds of young Israelis.

    To attempt to change a person’s ideological world view at a later stage in life by simply debating him/her politely is no more effective than squeezing juice out of a rock.

  9. yourstruly
    November 19, 2010, 2:03 am

    The disaffection of Jewish youth from the Israel right or wrong attitude of the generations that preceeded them is the audience that the justice for Palestine movement is reaching, and who, certainly after the “Bibi Five” event last week, are in the forefront of the movement’s Jewish members. And based on their statement they agree that the settler-state is racist, so I don’t get this concern about not upsetting liberal Zionists (an oxymoron). Yes, it would be nice if these so-called liberals did come around, but if the choice is between youth and liberals, youth wins, hands down. As for huring the liberal (or any) Zionist’s feelings, since when are the feelings of those who side with the oppressor of any concern to a liberation movement? The U.N. General Assembly had it right a couple of decades ago when they said Zionism = racism. Yes under pressure from superpower USA they later reneged on their statement, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. What else could Zionism be but a racist society, given that it’s a colonial venture, racism being what colonizing is all about. So whether or not they like it, supporters of colonial ventures themselves are racists and the more they hear this, the better chance they’ll come around.

  10. MRW
    November 19, 2010, 3:32 am

    Great discussion.

    • Shingo
      November 19, 2010, 3:09 pm

      “Great discussion.

      I second that David. A fascinating discussion.

  11. Richard Witty
    November 19, 2010, 5:07 am

    Unfortunately, you didn’t say much.

    Zionism is nationalism. There are many states that bear an ethnically based nationalism as a component of their democracies. All that apply any distinction between citizens and non-citizens in the degree of legal rights enforce a system that contains some discrimmination.

    And, all states do distinguish between citizens and non-citizens.

    The tension between equal due process and nationalism is that, a tension, NOT anything evil or anything unique.

    Of the status of states in the region, Israel has a very high standard of equal rights relative to the law. Consider that Lebanon excludes the few hundred thousand Palestinians from citizenship (not even offering the equivalent of Jordanian passport).

    So long as there is a strong movement FOR equal rights for all citizens, and inherent in Israeli legal process (and parallel equal due process for all residents – residents compared to residents, and for visitors – visitors to visitors). then the tension between nationalism and democracy remains a healthy homeostasis.

    At times when the movement for equal rights is weak or non-existant, then nationalism threatens to be an unhealthy application. But, that is NOT inherent in the movement, it is a failing of the application, a renunciation by citizenry (including of those that leave rather than remain to assert equal rights).

    • Richard Witty
      November 19, 2010, 5:10 am

      Thank you for the acknowledgement that us liberal Zionists conclude what we do by honest inquiry and weighing of facts and possibilities.

    • RoHa
      November 19, 2010, 6:51 pm

      “There are many states that bear an ethnically based nationalism as a component of their democracies.”

      Please name those which
      (a) were formed, within my lifetime, by the ethnic group dispossessing another ethnic group
      (b) make a legal distinction between those citizens who are members of the ethnic group and those who are not.

      That is going to be a pretty short list, and I’m prepared to bet that it will do Israel’s reputation no good at all to be seen in that company.

    • Shingo
      November 19, 2010, 9:04 pm

      “Zionism is nationalism. ”

      No, Zionism is theoretically nationalism. In practice, it is colonialism.

  12. Richard Witty
    November 19, 2010, 5:26 am

    It is important to distinguish between the three forms that racism takes:

    1. Personal prejudicial attitudes
    2. Shared prejudicial attitudes, institutionalized in socially persecutorial isolation of one group
    3. Institutionalization of shared prejudices in law and less importantly in policy and application

    Racism in personal attitudes is purged by self-inquiry. Racism in shared prejudicial attitudes is purged by self-inquiry combined with inter-personal discussion and encouragement of humanist values (a psychologically norm-setting of predisposition to respect)

    Institutional racism is purged by the affirmation of equal rights as legal and norm of reasoning (color-blind, not pendulum swings replacing one racist application with another).

    Again, I regard the anti-Zionist movement that denies the Jewish people the right to self-govern as racism, attempted to be institutionalized, in an exagerated (disproportional) pendulum swing in response to less severe and reformable discrepencies in the application of equal rights within a Zionist setting.

    “Enough” Israel (geographic) combined with strong sentiment and movement for equal rights within Israel is the optimal balance.

    ANY effort that seeks to eliminate Israel as a self-governing entity, is a reactionary movement, NOT a progressive one. An imposition pretending to be a liberation.

    • Richard Witty
      November 19, 2010, 5:26 am

      If you don’t understand what I mean by a phrase, ask.

      • Mooser
        November 19, 2010, 1:21 pm

        Thank you for condescending to explain to us, O omniscient One!

      • Citizen
        November 19, 2010, 9:38 pm

        Richard Witty, do you recognize any limits at all to your concept of the right of a people to self-govern? How about the rights of an individal to self-govern?

    • Shingo
      November 19, 2010, 9:05 pm

      “1. Personal prejudicial attitudes
      2. Shared prejudicial attitudes, institutionalized in socially persecutorial isolation of one group
      3. Institutionalization of shared prejudices in law and less importantly in policy and application”

      All three exist in abundance among most Liberal Zionists.

  13. lobewyper
    November 19, 2010, 6:50 am

    Jerry Haber has recently posted on the Zionism vs. racism issue and gotten several interesting responses, to which he has in turn responded. The article is titled, “FAQ on Zionism and Racism.” Link:

    link to jeremiahhaber.com

    • David Samel
      November 19, 2010, 9:46 am

      Thanks, lobe, that is a very interesting discussion, with a wide range of interesting and insightful comments.

  14. ehrens
    November 19, 2010, 9:41 am

    Don’t y’all mean JEROME Slater?

  15. David Samel
    November 19, 2010, 9:41 am

    I am somewhat perturbed at some of the comments. Most of my essay criticized Slater’s position, and at the end, I added that it is wrong to consider people like him the enemy, to be accused of racism. I said Zionism (or at least the concept of the Jewish State) is inherently racist – and Slater is wrong when he says otherwise – but it is unfair and unwise to accuse all Zionists of being personally racist. Yet a number of commenters have answered me by stressing that the concept of the Jewish State is inherently racist. That’s exactly what I said. Others think I have proposed gently trying to convince Israel to change its ways. No I didn’t.

    Part of the problem is the ambiguity in the term “liberal Zionist,” which I use to describe people who deplore Israel’s excesses but believe that a better, more moral Jewish State is part of the solution. Let’s look at some of these people.

    Richard Goldstone is a Zionist whose frank and honest report is one of the watershed moments in worldwide recognition of Israel’s brutal crimes. Should he be vilified as a racist because he favors a Jewish State?

    Jerry Slater is very intelligent, thoughtful and articulate retired professor who has spent many hours on this issue, making valuable analytical contributions that are available at his website. Go take a look. Should he be condemned as “racist” because he refuses to dispense with the notion of a Jewish State?

    What about Norman Finkelstein? I don’t think it would be fair to call him a Zionist, but he does argue in favor of the two-state solution over one state. I don’t think I have ever seen him say that as a long-term proposition, the existence of a Jewish State is unworkable because it will consign non-Jewish citizens to unacceptable second-class citizenship.

    Some have said it is a waste of time to try to convince liberal Zionists. Time is valuable, and a lot of us spend a lot of it debating these issues on this website. Is this a productive use of our time? Obviously we think it is, or we would not be here. Aren’t we each trying to convince people to move closer to our opinion? The anger we feel and the decibel level of our voice when reading of some new outrage will not further the cause of Palestinian freedom in the slightest. My point is that exposing the racist aspects of Zionism, and demonstrating the injustice that is inherent in the notion of a Jewish State, is far more productive and valuable than leveling a mass accusation of personal racism.

    In the summer of 2009, I attended an event at which Medea Benjamin spoke (as did Phil). Medea has been a very prominent activist for a long time, but she avoided the I/P issue for various reasons. As I recall, she said that when she visited Gaza, and apologized for being silent for so long, she was warmly welcomed by those who excused her past inactivity. She also said, the suffering of Gazans is acute, and we should all join, two-staters and one-staters, to help relieve this suffering. But if one-staters call two-staters “racist,” isn’t that a non-starter? There are people who are increasingly alienated by Israel’s behavior, and want to do something, but they cling to the necessity of a Jewish State. What is to be gained by labeling them all as “racists”?

    • David Samel
      November 19, 2010, 9:52 am

      I should have added Mearsheimer, Walt, Avnery, and who knows how many others to the list of two-staters who are clearly not anti-Zionist but undeserving of scorn and derision.

      • Richard Witty
        November 19, 2010, 10:34 am

        I am a Zionist.

        I believe that it is a good that the Jewish people migrated, and determined to self-govern in Israel.

        I believe that Zionism is no more racist than any nationalism, and that ANY nationalism (however defined) will devolve if not tempered by active and ever-present advocacy for equality.

        That the two are complements, in tension, but NOT in fundamental conflict.

        And, I believe that expansion of Zionism is wrong, harms, and should be objected to, but that anti-Zionism is a form of racism, a wrong, and that greater Zionism is a form of racism, a wrong.

        Zionism will remain. There is no likely approach that will remove the state from existence at all, and there is even less possibility of doing so without war, and likely resulting in either partition or further ethnic cleansing.

        The only way that war would be avoided is if those that advocated for a single state, pursued the formation of non-nationalist parties in Israel and Palestine.

        And, I believe that acceptance of the existence and health of Israel is the literal only progressive approach in the region, that any hope for the removal of Israel as a self-governing entity is a form of reactionary fascism (pretending to be progressive).

      • Mooser
        November 19, 2010, 1:24 pm

        “I believe that Zionism is no more racist than any nationalism…”

        Now there’s a whole hearted endorsement! And you are so right, Witty, Zionism is no more racist than any “nationalism” like oh, Nazi Germany, or South Africa, or a host of other colonies where whites formed them a nationalism, the American Confederacy…

        Yes sir, if I need to excuse racism, the first thing I would use is “nationalism”.

      • RoHa
        November 19, 2010, 6:57 pm

        “I believe that it is a good that the Jewish people migrated, and determined to self-govern in Israel.”

        So you think it is good that a bunch of Europeans went to Palestine with the intent of taking over the country and dispossessed the people who lived there.

        Your moral bankruptcy is clear for all to see.

        (“The Jewish people” did not migrate. Only some of them did. The rest remained in their homelands, or migrated to nicer countries.)

      • Shingo
        November 19, 2010, 9:06 pm

        “I believe that it is a good that the Jewish people migrated, and determined to self-govern in Israel.”

        So what’s stopping you?

      • Citizen
        November 19, 2010, 9:50 pm

        And Witty lives a country where a great Civil War was fought (mostly between white Christians) to end a white Christian form of racism, followed by a century before the law was interpreted and legislated to make American nationalism an equal employer and inspiration for all its citizens, regardless of race, creed, or color. Witty’s romance with Israel would make a new Gone With The Wind.

      • Citizen
        November 19, 2010, 9:54 pm

        BTW, racism/superiority and fear/defense always waltz together; Hitler exploited it to the hilt with the veterans of WW1 and the new generation back then. The neocons and their fellow travelers in the Democratic party are doing their best with this legacy, this time, American exceptionalism and Israeli exceptionalism.

      • Donald
        November 19, 2010, 12:57 pm

        This has been a very good thread and I find myself agreeing with many of the points made by many of the contributors. The point I’d make ties in with yours–the term “liberal Zionist” includes a range of viewpoints, as best I can tell. I disagree with Jerome Slater’s November 11 post, but in general he is a very honest critic of Israeli crimes.

        So the term “liberal Zionism” includes on the one hand people like Slater and on the other hand people like Thomas Friedman, who is only seriously critical of Israel when they do something so arrogant and so stupid it causes problems for US foreign policy. (Friedman, btw, clearly puts US elite interests ahead of Israel’s. He always sides with American presidents against Israeli prime ministers as best I can tell.) So at present Friedman is critical of Netanyahu, but Friedman is also one of those who spread the myth that Arafat was solely responsible for the Second Intifada. Friedman was also indifferent to the massive human rights violations in the Gaza “War”. Friedman typifies a great many “liberal Zionists”. These are the people I think of when I condemn “liberal Zionism”, including some here, but they don’t include everyone who claims that label. I think, though, that the most influential “liberal Zionists”, the ones who influence our politics the most, are much more like Friedman than Slater.

      • Chu
        November 19, 2010, 2:02 pm

        I thought this was an enlightening post. Even if the delivery may have been murky to some, the discussion that entails is unique.

      • annie
        November 19, 2010, 2:31 pm

        i can hear how much this pains you david, and it has never been my intention to call out all zionist liberal or otherwise as racist. i agree, i do not think that is helpful. when i first encountered these arguments (zionsim is racism/zionism is racist, which i think are different btw) they were pushed back forcefully by the allegation that if zionism is racist therefor you are calling me a racist. and furthermore since i don’t think i am superior to you, i’m not racist and therefor neither is zionism because it wasn’t based on supremacy.

        this kind of round about gets us no where. when i said above ‘it’s another kettle of fish’ i did not mean to imply that i call and identify all people who support a zionist state in palestine ‘racist’. what i do say is they are supporting a racist enterprise. their intention for that support doesn’t change that fact.

        by moving the conversation from the theoretical wrt the state of israel to the personal charges of racism inflames the argument, which is the intent i presume. what i think is helpful is moving the conversation back to the theoretical wrt israel (not a jewish state in principle). people always have a difficult time confronting their own racism. ultimately, supporting a racist state or taking part in any racist endeavor is racist whether you like it or not.

        the goal is to fix the problem. acknowledging creating and supporting a racist state is imperative. understanding racism is not contingent on a belief in superiority is imperative. understanding racism and racist actions can exist and persist without personal intent is imperative, because they can and do. seriously, if a person chooses a racist course of action for their own survival, it is still racism. that is why so much fear mongering and propaganda are invested in propping up the idea jews are at risk of extinction if they can’t have their own state.

        all it takes is brainwashing people to get them to follow you down a path, it doesn’t make the path less racist because people who are walking on it have good intent. nobody likes to be called a racist but people need to know and face what they are supporting.

    • lobewyper
      November 19, 2010, 6:00 pm

      David, I completely agree with your following remark:

      “Jerry Slater is very intelligent, thoughtful and articulate retired professor who has spent many hours on this issue, making valuable analytical contributions that are available at his website.”

  16. edwin
    November 19, 2010, 10:01 am

    I read Jerry Slater’s article and was not moved to reply. This article, and the article Jerry Haber posted link to jeremiahhaber.com, made me want to comment. (Thanks lobewyper).

    I’ve been mulling things over and have some thoughts and a lack of clarity on the general topic.

    There are some elements missing in David’s article. I apologize in advance for a bit of a mess – adding things and posting my own reactions without good organization.

    One is the role of Zionism in attempting to control Jewish thought – to own Judaism and to prevent dissent. Zionism extends farther than what we normally talk about – the Palestinian people. Zionism produces a whole lot of victims, some of whom are Jewish.

    Jerry distinguishes South African apartheid on the ground that the white colony there was established via actual racism rather than insecurity.

    Is this really true? As mentioned in the comments of Jerry Haber, colonization throughout the world seems to follow a pattern: Persecution, emigration, and subsequent becoming the persecutor.

    There seems to be this idea that we can be beyond “racism”. My understanding of how we develop morality goes something like this:

    At a very young age we are completely self-centred. We are the universe. As we become older our universe expands. Our mothers enter the universe first – because that is where we get our food from. Our immediate family then enter, then extended families. Over time our church and community become part of our world, then our country and finally everyone becomes part of our world. Some people don’t make it all the way. A surprising number stop at country or even “church”.

    We understand self-preservation. That same idea occurs all the way up the chain. Racism is, I would think, a thought process that has not made it to a “universal morality”. It is not so much deviant as it is representative of the stage of morality we hold – we describe the size of the world that we accept as part of our world. Each stage in the process is part of who we are. Each stage represents an understanding of the limited nature of the previous paradigm and ultimately why it must fail. Still, each stage is part of who we are. Racism is a part of the human condition, and if we are not careful it will be the reason why we, as a species cease to exist.

    The last thing that comes immediately to mind is the holocaust and its role in all of this. If I understand my history of Zionism correctly, Nazi Germany indirectly turned what was once a somewhat unpopular idea into an idea with enough support to create a nation. As we move further in time away from Nazi Germany, Jewish thought is also changing – to something closer to what once was before Nazi Germany. The younger you are, the more likely you are to think critically of Israel – this is true of both Jews and the broader category of Europeans. What we are dealing with as part of Israel is outside of “liberal” thought or “radical” thought. It is a form of damage. One of the things Nazism has done is to reverse our universe – to make it smaller. Jews can only trust Jews – for example.

    In that sense, perhaps I agree that racism is not the best term to use as a broad based brush. The changes in Jewish thought regarding Israel do not represent a increase in progressive thought so much as coming to terms with our past. Progressive except Palestine probably does represent the damage done and a failure to have come to terms with it.

    • Citizen
      November 19, 2010, 10:08 pm

      Edwin, your comment reminds me of Hubbard’s 8 dynamics of life (see Wiki):
      Scientology emphasizes the importance of survival, which it subdivides into eight classifications that are referred to as dynamics.[95][96] An individual’s desire to survive is considered to be the first dynamic, while the second dynamic relates to procreation and family.[95][97] The remaining dynamics encompass wider fields of action, involving groups, mankind, all life, the physical universe, the spirit, and the Supreme Being.[95] The optimum solution to any problem is held to be the one that brings the greatest benefit to the greatest number of dynamics.[95]
      Scientology teaches that spiritual progress requires and enables the attainment of high ethical standards.[98] In Scientology, rationality is stressed over morality.[98] Actions are considered ethical if they promote survival across all eight dynamics, thus benefiting the greatest number of people or things possible while harming the fewest.

      • edwin
        November 19, 2010, 11:15 pm

        I don’t know much about Scientology. I don’t think I alluded to anything like “greatest benefit to the greatest number”. I am not a fan of that type of idea. I will admit to being influenced by stages of morality.

  17. Psychopathic god
    November 19, 2010, 10:21 am

    David critiques one prong of Slater’s argument but not the other. I believe that both horns of Slater’s discussion are assailable; that is, I believe zionism is racist both on the basis of inherent, systemic, and doctrinally-enshrined sense of Jewish superiority, AND I argue that the concept that Israelis/Jews are “vulnerable” is exaggerated to the point of hysteria, and intentionally so, for zionist purposes that serve the goal of realizing the establishment Jewish superiority.

    Prof. David Ruderman identifies Judah Halevey’s 15th century writing as the first explication of the zionist dream. While resident in Andalusian Spain, and contemplating the news that the king of the Khazars had chosen to convert his people to Judaism, Halevey constructed the arguments that he believed must have been used to persuade the Khazar king. Halevey elaborated on this construction to create the notion that ONLY Jews had been chosen by god, and that while other groups could fill the categories established by Plato, Jews realized a new category — that of prophet, or those who speak for god– and ONLY a person born into Jewry could fill that designation. In other words, Jews were genetically superior to all other peoples. In Ruderman’s telling, to the methods and categories of the Greek philosophers Halevey added the group witness of god’s designation of the Jews as his chosen, at Mt. Sinai — the critical moment of Jewish ethnos-identity which is also central to the zionist mythos. To the question, is ‘Jewish’ a religion or a race, a rational response is: Jewishness, especially zionist Jewishness, is identification with Jewish mythology as written in Torah.

    Ruderman identifies Halevey’s argument as the 15th century origin of the zionism that Herzl married to nationalist ambitions in the late 19th century.

    The notion of “Jewish vulnerability” is greatly exaggerated. And just as Sherbrsi observed that, as regards I/P conflict, “people are misinformed and kept in the dark intentionally, so, too, the concept of Jewish “vulnerability” is intentionally laid on Israeli Jews to keep them in a perpetual state of fear, instability, and hatred of the “other,” the better to acquiesce to policies and practices that result in the annihilation of that “other.” As has been noted on Mondoweiss before, Avigail Abarbenal has diagnosed as pathological Israeli clinging to thoughts of imminent annihilation. And Haggai Ram, in “Iranophobia,” and Eyal Weizman in “Hollowland: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation,” describe the intellectual and psychological constructs, and the physical constructs, respectively, that enforce in the minds and mental sets of Israeli as well as diaspora Jews, the belief that their lives are perpetually threatened by imminent extinction. Jewish fears of Iran or of Arabs as “existential threats” to Jewish existence are bogus. Hundreds of thousands of non-Jews have died in service to bogus Jewish claims of “vulnerability.”

    • Shmuel
      November 19, 2010, 1:03 pm


      I haven’t read Prof. Ruderman’s book, but it is not hard to identify certain elements of “proto-Zionism” in Halevy’s Kuzari. As a matter of fact, Zionist authors have tried to find proto-Zionist roots in the writings of all Jewish thinkers, from Halevi and Nahmanides to Spinoza and the Vilna Gaon, and it is often (more often than not, in my opinion) a posthumous conversion (admittedly easier with Halevi). The Kuzari, for example, enjoys unprecedented popularity among religious Zionists today, not because they necessarily draw their Zionists views from it, but because it reconfirms those views and lends them retroactive authenticity.

      Setting aside the argument regarding Halevi’s own views (perfectly legitimate in pre-modernity) and their supposed contribution to Zionism, I think two other aspects of the issue must be examined before concluding that Zionist racism derives from an “inherent, systemic, and doctrinally-enshrined sense of Jewish superiority”. First, were Halevi’s views on Jewish superiority (and the Land of Israel) universally accepted by other Jewish thinkers in pre-modern times, and more importantly, what sort of transformations has Judaism experienced in the Modern Era, and what other directions was it taking before Zionism became predominant by force of historical circumstances?

      In answer to the first question, Halevi’s idea of “genetic” superiority (i.e. even a convert to Judaism does not possess the same spiritual potential as one of Jewish descent) is, to the best of my knowledge, unique in Jewish tradition, and many pre-modern Jewish thinkers in fact expressed ideas of fundamental equality between Jews and non-Jews (I have mentioned Menahem ha-Meiri and Yehiel of Paris, but there are many others) . With regard to the second question, Zionism was hardly the dominant Jewish intellectual and ideological stream in pre-WWII Europe (or NA). On the contrary, the dominant streams (Reform, cultural Judaism, neo-Orthodoxy, and some would include Jewish assimilationism) were all moving toward greater acceptance of universal values, and (like similar movements within Christian culture) rejection of religious and ethnic supremacism.

      • Psychopathic god
        November 19, 2010, 1:41 pm

        thank you for a very thoughtful and comprehensive response, Shmuel.

        Agreed, and I should be embarrassed to have first, cherry-picked, and second, placed so much weight on Judah Halevey (on the other hand, he IS a major element in Jewish intellectual history).

        As I was listening to Ruderman (a series of lectures, here) I was hearing my undergrad intro to Western Civ professor. She was Chinese; I spent days trying to decipher “de wine white of kings.” It seemed to me that Halevey assumed for Jews a divine right of kingship. My conundrum became, is it the nature of all peoples to assume for themselves the right to rule not only themselves but other peoples, or did “de wine white of kings” evolve from the Jewish perception of their designation as all mankind’s “moral leader” (as Rabbi Spiro asserts), as Old Testament was twinned with New Testament and the thinking processes intersected with Greek philosophy? I suspect the latter: a professor of Buddhism observed that only the Abrahamic faiths have fundamentalists who wage war in defense of their superiority.

      • RoHa
        November 19, 2010, 7:06 pm


        De wine white of kings is far better dan de wine white de peasants drink.

    • David Samel
      November 19, 2010, 1:47 pm

      PG, you are right that I critiqued only one prong of Slater’s argument and not the other, but there actually were more points in his article – Phil excerpted only these two. I do think Jerry was wrong in his assessment of Jewish vulnerability as well, though I would have put it differently than you. I chose one argument to discuss for space/time considerations only.

  18. Antidote
    November 19, 2010, 2:06 pm

    Chomsky remembers:

    “I could never join Hashomer because in those days they were split between Stalinist and Trotskyite, and I was anti-Leninist. But I was in the neighborhood. It was a Hashomer kibbutz that we went to, Kibbutz Hazore’a. It’s changed a lot. We would never have lasted. It was sort of a mixed story. They were binationalists. So up until 1948 they were anti-state. There were those who gravitated toward or who were involved in efforts of Arab-Jewish working-class cooperation and who were for socialist binationalist Palestine. Those ideas sound exotic today, but they didn’t at the time. It’s because the world has changed.

    But there was an element of oppression I couldn’t get around. If you know the history, you know that most idealistic anti-nationalist settlers insisted on a closed Hebrew society, you can’t hire outside labor, that sort of thing. You could see the motivation. They didn’t want to become what the first settlers were: landowners who had cheap Arab labor. They wanted to work the land. Nevertheless, there’s an exclusionary character to it. Which then led into the policy of the state and became quite ugly later. So it was kind of an internal conflict that was never resolved.”

    link to tabletmag.com

    Somehow the idea of equal pay for Arabs didn’t occur even to the “most idealistic anti-nationalist settlers”. Why not? What was the ‘intent’? To build a socialist binationalist Palestine or national socialist Jewish state? Does it matter what the intent was or is, collectively or individually? The ‘internal conflict’ continues, at the expense of the indigenous Arab population.

    Chomsky was criticized here the other day for not highlighting the question of Jewish guilt. Why should he? It’s counterproductive and only deflects from much more urgent issues (yes, I mean Palestinian suffering) than the self-indulgent debates about Jewish/Israeli identity. Who cares?

  19. Mooser
    November 19, 2010, 2:12 pm

    This arguement is silly. Zionism is based, by it’s own admission, on the will to power. The will to power makes use of anything to hand. Fraudelent tribal affinity? Racism? Murder? All good. The Jewish State is what is important, and all moral ethical and legal considerations must bow before the exigencies of the Zionist project.
    So yes, if racism is determined to be necessary or helpful to the Zionist aims, racism and racist policies will be used. Why not?

    • Citizen
      November 19, 2010, 10:22 pm

      I see you employ the infantile Bismarck-Nazi version of Nietzsche’s will to power, rather than Nietzsche’s own, which was concerned with self-overcoming rather than overcoming others; in the end, Nietzsche, Great acute critic of Biblical times and 19th Century Germany, Mister official God Is Dead, ringing in the 20th Century, in his final delirium referenced himself in the third person in a way making it clear he felt an affinity with Jesus on the cross.

  20. lyn117
    November 20, 2010, 12:10 am

    I read Slater’s article, and he is a racist. Did you miss all his discussion of what size minority of Palestinian would not threaten Israel as a Jewish state? His question of how large a minority it would take to cause the “tension between a Jewish state and a democratic one to become irresolvable?” To assert that some specific ethnic group threatens a state by dint of their culture or religion, but not by their political stance or use of violence against the state or other citizens, is racist. In his article its clear that the size of the non-Jewish minority concerns him.

  21. irishmoses
    November 20, 2010, 12:19 am

    Jerome Slater’s original posting on his blog has grown exponentially, now including at least 4 separate threads and blogs and several hundred comments. I am cross posting this from my prior comment on Jerry Haber’s Magnes Zionest blog and FAQ on this topic:

    I think the problem with this discussion, and Jerome’s original theme is that it was improperly framed. Whether Zionism is racism isn’t really the point. I think virtually everyone who has responded appears to agree that Zionist/Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians, including massive ethnic cleansing and continuing oppression and unlawful seizure of Palestinian lands, has been and continues to be illegal and atrocious conduct.

    Whether the motive was and is racist or merely exclusivist doesn’t really matter, it still is very, very wrong, immoral, illegal, and a continuing atrocity of monumental proportions. Trying to split hairs over whether the motive was or wasn’t racist is obscuring the reality and extent of the atrocity. Focusing on the conduct is probably more productive than philosophical discussions about the history and various forms of Zionism and whether these led to racism or a somehow less culpable form of atrocity.
    I think righteous Jews like Jerome, Jerry and others understandably have a hard time coming to terms with the extent of what really happened in 1948, and what has happened since. There is an understandable and sincere urge, even while admitting the wrongfulness, to search for less damning explanations or excuses. But, ultimately, it just doesn’t work.

    The real eye opener for me was Ilan Pappe’s book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”. Pappe demonstrates the clarity of purpose of the Zionist leaders, including Ben Gurion and his predecessors, Sharon and others, and now Netanyahu. They wanted a state for the Jews, as large as possible with as few Arabs as they could get away with. These guys knew what they wanted to do, what they had to do to get there, and knew it would have to bloody and violent. They were/are so secure in their righteousness and religious zeal that they are not at all inhibited by moral compunctions or doubts. They just did what they thought they had to do, be it the 1948 ethnic cleansing, the obliteration of hundreds of Arab villages, or later stuff like Sabra Chatilla (sp?), Gaza in 2008, the continuing oppression and violent treatment of Arabs in the territories, etc. They know or believe that violence and oppression is necessary to reach their goal, elimination of the Arab problem, so they get it done and they don’t agonize over it.

    Are or were the Zionists racists? Who knows, who cares? There are certainly worse things and worse behavior than mere racism. It is the demon or original sin of Zionist Jewish exclusivity and the singleminded drive to brutally enforce it that motivates Israeli politics today, and drives the demand for recognition of Israel as a “Jewish State”. It is also clearly what drives Israeli intransigence in the peace process and the continuation/expansion of the settlement enterprise. What Zionists really want is validation of their goal of achieving an exclusive or near-exclusive Jewish state.

    So, the critical question is what do Israelis mean by “Jewish State”. Palestinian reluctance to provide this recognition without legal clarification of its limits is understandable, particularly in view of the oppressive nature of their current circumstances in the “territories” as well as in Israel itself. I suspect most Palestinians view their Israeli tormentors as violent oppressors, whether they are also racist is probably of little moment to them.

    Gil Maguire

    • Avi
      November 20, 2010, 9:23 am


      I’m glad you brought a fresh perspective into this thread.

      Portions of your comment echo my fundamental objections to topics such as this one. In other words, while people hunker down to define one term or another, ultimately it doesn’t change reality. It’s akin to quibbles over “republicans”, “compassionate conservatives”, “neo-liberals”, “progressives” and so on and so forth.

      So, whether someone is not a Zionist or a racist — as he continues to hold onto the idea of a Jewish state or a two state solution — he is essentially supporting the status quo and continued disenfranchisement of a minority, on either side of the Green Line.

      Finally, I’m at a point where I’m frankly nauseated by the repetitive legitimization in support of a Jewish-only state, an antiquated concept. What about the refugees? What about the right of return? What about property? None of these issues are articulated succinctly when the term “Jewish state” is thrown around on one thread or another.

      So, my view is that the discourse has become shallow as some seek to focus on form over substance.

      • edwin
        November 20, 2010, 9:59 am

        I know that it seems small compared to other issues, but a Jewish state must also be prepared to prevent conversion to other religions. It must ultimately be willing to suppress Jews themselves.

    • David Samel
      November 20, 2010, 9:59 am

      Gil, I actually agree with most of the things you say. Most of my essay criticized Jerry Slater for creating an artful defense to the charge that a Jewish State is necessarily racist. I argued, who cares what the motive is – if it’s discriminatory, it sucks. I applied that argument as well to the founding of Israel, that it was clearly based on a race-like preference for the European immigrants over the indigenous population. Whether it was based on “insecurity” or “racial superiority”, or whether those different motives were each 50% responsible, or it was more like 80-20 or 20-80, makes no difference. I wrote: “Surely not to the Palestinians, who were equally victimized regardless of the victimizers’ motives.”

      The last paragraphs of my essay, which generated the most commentary, turned to the question of whether it is appropriate to throw the “racist” label at people like Slater, and by extension other two-staters such as Mearsheimer, Walt, Goldstone, Avnery, and even Norman Finkelstein, because they would prefer continuation of a Jewish State. I think this is a very important point, and not one that could be dismissed with a simple “who cares?” (I’m not sure you’re doing that anyway).

      • Avi
        November 20, 2010, 10:54 am

        I think this is a very important point, and not one that could be dismissed with a simple “who cares?” (I’m not sure you’re doing that anyway).

        So, what will become of the non-Jewish citizens of the state? How will Israel maintain its ‘Jewishness’?

        Additionally, the existence of a pure Jewish state implies that a Palestinain state will be allowed to exist alongside Israel. In that case, how will such a model come to pass given the facts on the ground?

        The bottom line is that continuing to entertain the prospect of a Jewish-only state is no different than supporting and perpetuating the apartheid system in place. Whether you like that conclusion or not is a different matter entirely.

    • Danaa
      November 20, 2010, 1:46 pm

      Gil, that was very well put. And I sometime feel at least as exasperated as Avi is about the continuing navel-gazing by the “liberal zionist” club, though I may understand wherefrom they come. Dreams and long-time attachments are not easy to put aside, even when reality is hitting you in the face, even when you realize your dream was built on the nightmare of others.

      The real point should be – are we going to allow the zionist enterprise to get away with its continuing little show of horrors, so that some can continue to cling to an illusion of some illustrious, non-racist, non-exclusionary zionist past? because that dichotomy what the concept of “Jewish state” is built on. Like you pointed out – much of the”purity of purpose” of the original Jewish state builders, like ben-Gurion, rested on the premise that dispossessing others was OK, because you wanted/needed a state more than the native inhanbitants. There WAS original sin, but even discussions of that often turn into side-shows about who intended to do what when. Fact is, it happened. Ethnic cleaning did, with the full awfulness of it. And it happened BECAUSE, NOT DESPITE, the desire for Jewish self-determination, as some choose to define zionism

      The one over-riding question should be what can be done about the grievous sins now committed daily right in front of us? and the corollary- can today’s sins be confronted without admitting culpability and taking steps to redress the sins past?

      Once thee questions are dealt with (if only…) we can get to the interesting academic exercises debating what really was zionism, when, how and wa it good or bad for the Jews.

      • David Samel
        November 21, 2010, 1:25 am

        I agree with you, Danaa, and in fact made the same point when I argued that Jerry Slater was wrong to make the distinction between insecurity-based discrimination and superiority-based discrimination. Who cares? Certainly not the victims of that discrimination.

        My second point, that Slater and the other illustrious people I mentioned are actively and prominently dedicated to relieving present-day misery, and should not be slurred as “racists” even though they cling to the two-state solution, has gotten some people so upset that they cannot see what I plainly wrote. And no, I’m not talking about you, Danaa; I have always found your comments to be very fair, sensible and appropriate.

  22. irishmoses
    November 20, 2010, 11:34 am

    My “who cares” statement was flippant and I apologize for it. I certainly care about and reject baseless accusations of personal racism on the part of Professor Slater or others who believe in both an Israel as home to the Jewish people and in a two state solution to the current dilemma. My point is that the original Zionist sin was the drive for Jewish exclusivity which was not a necessary requirement for a Jewish homeland then any more than it is now. Those like Professor Slater and others who argue eloquently for both the need for a Jewish homeland and fairness and equality for the Palestinians, including a two state solution along Geneva or Arab initiative lines are certainly not racists.
    Israel, unfortunately, is a racist nation even though many Israelis are not racists. There simply is no way of getting around that reality. The fact that Arab Israelis have some nominal rights does not change the fact that they are treated in a manner little different than Blacks were treated in this country in the post Civil War South, even up through the 1950s. The treatment of Arabs in the territories is far worse.
    My impatience stems from my recognition that Israel is controlled by a gang of boorish thugs with roots going back to the 1920s who clearly see Arabs as a problem that must be eliminated and who continue to take all steps necessary to see that occurs, and do so openly and blatantly. That gang of thugs more and more co-opts the Israeli army and Israeli judicial system and is leading Israel and its benefactor the US down a self-destructive path. Debates about whether Israel should be a Jewish state or whether Zionism is necessarily racism seem a tad bit academic in light of the awful and worsening realities on the ground.
    On the other hand, debating this issue is forcing us all to reexamine our beliefs and hopefully will lead to greater clarity of purpose. There certainly is value in that.

    Gil Maguire

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