Editor's note: Yesterday we posted Sylvia Schwarz's account of an October 16 forum she participated in in Minneapolis, titled "Seeking Israeli/Palestinian Peace: Varied Voices from the Jewish Community." The post got a lot of comment and we asked Schwarz, a member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, for the text of her prepared remarks. That follows. And below her text is a short response from Schwarz to the many comments.
I would first like to thank all of you for coming, and thank the Central Lutheran Church for hosting this panel. Especially I want to thank and commend Chuck Lutz for putting together this historic forum. I’m grateful for the opportunity to engage in honest discussions about the range of Jewish perspectives on Palestine, so thanks to my fellow panelists also.
Before I can address the topic of how the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network envisions peace in Palestine, including the State of Israel, I first have to talk about our name. Specifically: why “international,” why “Jewish,” and why “Anti-Zionist?”
We are an international organization with chapters in North and South America, Europe, and Israel. We work with like-minded individuals and organizations in Australia, New Zealand, India and North Africa. I don’t want to overstate our numbers; we are small, but we represent many more anti-Zionist Jews than there are members of IJAN and we are growing both in membership and in influence.
Why Jewish? We in IJAN believe we have a unique role to play in this issue. For more than a century Zionist Jews have claimed to speak for us, and through various tactics, the Zionists have convinced most people that all Jews think alike, that all Jews agree with Zionist ideologies and the actions of the State of Israel, and that any different perspective is evidence of anti-Jewish hatred, even when the different perspectives come from Jews.
We also feel that we have a special responsibility to speak and act in joint struggle with Palestinians as an oppressed people, first of all because Zionists have insisted that there is a dichotomy between Jews and Palestinians and that Jews must be privileged above non-Jews. We believe that this special status is racist.
As important and historic as this panel is, it also privileges Jewish voices above Palestinian ones, furthering the notion that some voices are more important than others.
Secondly, most of us grew up in Zionist households and were indoctrinated with Zionist ideals. For many Jews it is a cultural norm to contribute money to the Jewish National Fund. What many Jews do not know is that the JNF facilitates the expulsion of Palestinian people from their land and covers the crimes of ethnic cleansing with non-native trees. This is what the JNF calls “making the desert bloom.” As Jews of conscience, we feel a special responsibility because of our past participation in and contribution to organizations like the JNF.
Why anti-Zionist? It’s important, first of all, to understand what Zionism is. Modern Zionism is a political nationalist movement that seeks to grant a homeland to Jews. In the late 1890s, after a millennium of hatred, violence and expulsion of Jews in Europe, the young journalist Theodor Herzl came to the conclusion that the only way to “solve the Jewish question” or to keep Jews safe from persecution, was to separate them from non-Jews and allow them to attain upper class status in a state of their own. Through Herzl’s influence and supported by European imperialist aspirations, Jews began migrating to and colonizing Palestine.
By the 1930s immigrating Zionists had purchased less than 7% of the land of Mandate Palestine, and although Zionists were still a minority in the land, their political power was great. A British Labour leader at that time, Herbert Morrison said, “The Jews have proved to be first class colonizers to have the real good old empire qualities...”
The Zionists’ intentions were clear from the beginning. Ben-Gurion, in a 1937 letter to his son said, “We will expel the Arabs and take their places.” Joseph Weitz said in 1940 “there is no room for both peoples together in this country…The only solution is a Palestine, at least Western Palestine without Arabs…And there is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, to transfer all of them; not one village, not one tribe, should be left...” These quotes are just two of hundreds that show the early Zionist intention to ethnically cleanse the non-Jewish Palestinian people. Nothing less than complete control of all the land, with none of the non-Jewish Palestinians, would satisfy them.
There is no way to encourage people to abandon their homes voluntarily. Violence had to be used. What Israel calls the War of Independence, Palestinians call the Nakba or Catastrophe, when more than 750,000 Palestinians were violently expelled from their homes.
I am a Jew ---- married to a Palestinian man who was three years old when he was forcibly expelled from his home in Jaffa, now in Israel. He grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, but he, like the other refugees and their descendents yearned to return to his former home within Israel. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (signed and ratified by Israel) is clear that it is an inalienable right for people to return to their homes. Yet in Israel, in order to keep a Jewish majority, this right is denied.
It is denied through a series of laws in the Israeli legal system. As I talk about these, try to imagine analogous laws in the US system privileging one ethnic group over another. In 1950 the Israeli Knesset passed the Law of Return, which says that any Jew, anywhere in the world has the right to come to Israel. Non-Jews do not have this right. In 1952 the Citizenship Law was passed, giving Jews from anywhere in the world the right to citizenship in Israel. Again, non-Jews do not have this right. The Jewish National Fund’s charter says that it holds land in perpetuity for Jews only. The JNF is a quasi-governmental agency, which owns outright 13% of the land of Israel, and administers another 80% through the Israeli Land Authority. This means that I, as an American Jew, any time I want, can go to Israel; I can become a citizen, and I can purchase or rent the property that my father-in-law was expelled from, yet my husband who was born there and left involuntarily, can never go back. Needless to say, he cannot become a citizen and he cannot rent or own property there.
Since the Law of Return and the Citizenship Law, numerous laws have been written in Israel privileging Jews over non-Jews. Palestinian Israeli citizens are denied educational opportunities, restricted in whom they may marry, and in where they may live. Palestinians in the occupied territories are denied the right to movement, to sufficient water, to free speech, and even to receive visitors. The age of majority, the age at which a child can be considered an adult, for Palestinians is 12 and the age of majority for Israelis, living only a few meters away, is 18. Think about that. A 12-year old boy’s voice hasn’t even changed. Yet he can be held as an adult in prison, and many are as is reported in a recent study by Defence for Children International.
When one ethnic group is given special privileges above other groups, this is racism. Racism is not just peripheral to Zionism, it is a central property of Zionism. When it is a legalized system of racism, it is apartheid. I challenge anyone here to fashion a legal structure that gives rights and privileges to one ethnic group only, and yet simultaneously does not take away those rights and privileges from other people. It cannot be done.
IJAN opposes Zionism because its central core tenet is that of colonialism, racism, and oppression. IJAN believes that members of an ethnic group should not be granted special privileged status under any law, that colonizing land and ethnically cleansing people from it is unjust, immoral, and illegal. We believe that the Holocaust and 3000 years of oppression against Jews do not justify oppression of another people. We condemn all types of racism, including anti-Jewish, anti-Arab and anti-Islamic racism, and we do not ally ourselves with people who espouse racism or hatred of any kind.
We support the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until Israel complies with international law. The call demands three things: 1. The end of the occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, which means also the dismantling of the illegal separation wall, 2., recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and 3. respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
It should be clear that we are demanding nothing more than the inalienable rights of all human beings. Because these rights are inalienable, they are not subject to negotiation, and therefore any peace deal which does not incorporate and affirm these inalienable human rights is bound to fail. Yet I remain optimistic that we will see peace with justice in Palestine because, as Theodore Parker said though it was often attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Response to commenters:
In 1975 the UN General Assembly voted that Zionism was racism. This was revoked in 1991 after considerable pressure. Nevertheless, Zionist philosophy, institutions, and Israeli law elevate Jews' status above that of non-Jews. If one ethnic group is elevated in status and privilege above another group the non-privileged group is the victim of racism.