Jabara’s classic ‘Zionism: Racism or Liberation?’ deserves a new life

Israel/Palestine
on 5 Comments

In 1976, Abdeen Jabara published an occasional paper with the Association of Arab-American University Graduates (AAUG) entitled “Zionism and Racism.” The paper was written in the context of Israeli reaction to U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3379, adopted in 1975, which determined that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination. Jabara’s paper challenged Israel’s contentions on solid legal grounds, citing international law defining “racial discrimination” and proving that racism is built into very structure of the Israeli state:

In the examination of any society, one must distinguish between discrimination as it exists bet­ween individual citizens or private parties, on the one hand, and dis­crimination as a part of public policy or state action, discrimination contained not just in the way the laws are applied but in the terms of the law itself. This distinction reveals the basis upon which the state is organized. In the United States there may and does exist discriminatory application of the laws and in many instances the laws themselves may in their terms discriminate between citizens without a reasonable basis. The law of the land, however, is that all citizens will receive equal pro­tection of the laws and where the laws are not equally applied or there is an invidious discrimination in the terms of the law, the citizen may challenge it in a court. The goal of constructing and maintaining a Jewish state made the ‘national’ discrimination a necessary part of the state itself” [my emphases].

In 1991, the U.N. adopted GA Res. 4686, which revoked Res. 3379, under pressure from the Bush (Sr.) administration on behalf of Israel, for which revocation of GA Res. 3379 was a precondition of its participation in the Madrid Peace Conference.  Indeed the period the Oslo Accords that ensued from the Madrid Conference marked a dramatic shift in official Palestinian rhetoric away from endorsement of one democratic state in historic Palestine for all its inhabitants toward recognition of Israel as a Jewish state alongside a severely truncated, eventual Palestinian state.

Whereas the U.S. Department of State has entirely coopted this subsequent idea for a two-state solution, Abdeen Jabara’s important paper retains its relevance insofar as it places into question the ethical — and therefore socially and politically sustainable — character of any solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that does not call for the dismantlement of the Zionist character of the Israeli state structure, based as it is upon apartheid, a system of inclusions and exclusions to which Jabara refers, after Jacques Berque, as “‘a total colonialism’ because the native Palestinian Arab could derive no benefit from it.

In May 2008, Al-Moharer published Jabara’s editorial, “Zionism Is a Form of Racism,” which was excerpted from his longer paper, “Zionism: Racism or Liberation?”, itself drawn from “Zionism and Racism.” The Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism (CODZ) recently posted the full paper, which is excerpted below.

Zionism: Racism or Liberation? [excerpt]

by Abdeen Jabara, 26 May 2008 – Al-Moharer

The nineteenth century witnessed a development in the relationships among human beings and the political organization of society more important than that of any other single epoch in human history: the concrete emergence of the proposition that all citizens of a state were equal, vis-à-vis the laws and institutions of the state. Further certain rights, privileges and duties which were defined and secured by law were attached by definition to citizenship in the state. Chief among these rights was the expectation of treatment equal to that accorded any other citizen.

This idea inspired the French and American revolutions. It was a vast departure from the preceding periods in that the legal structures sought to codify the proposition. That it has not been possible in the succeeding century and a half to achieve operative equality in systems based upon the accumulation of private capital does not detract from the basic ideal which Western liberal democracy sought to enshrine in its codes.

Indeed, it was this ideal which the black struggle in the United States in the 60s sought to enforce thereby leading to a renewal of interest in the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Internationally, the existence of a colonial system under which the principal of equality was not extended beyond the political boundaries of Western liberal democracies made millions in the developing nations acutely aware of the gap between the ideal and its practice. The insistence by the large majority of the peoples of the earth that equality was indivisible was manifest. Liberation movements and popular democratic struggles were active throughout the globe. The newly independent nations likewise sought to codify the principles of universal human rights and the equality of man in numerous international conventions such as the International Conven­tion on Racial Discrimination of 1965.

Two notable aberrations stood in stark contrast to the movement: the systems of Apartheid and Zionism. Both were to emerge at a time when the old order of privilege was crumbling. Both went beyond the passing physical domination represented by the colonial system.

Ideological precedents of Zionism and Apartheid were the settler regimes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The vote in the U.N. General Assembly on November 10, 1975, in which Zionism was designated a form of racial discrimination was perhaps one of the most momentous decisions of that body since its Partition of Palestine some twenty-eight years previously. One could witness the momentum for the vote building up when on November 9, the New York Times dutifully reported two separate statements con­demning the Resolution being circulated by “black intellectuals” and “Christian clergy.” The pressure brought to bear by the United States and its West European allies on Third World countries which had voted for the Resolution in Committee was described by one participant as being no less than the pressures exerted by the United States on behalf of the partitioning of Palestine in 1947.

The United States strategy was clear — split black Africa from the Arabs. The vehicle was the threat to withhold Western support for the U.N. Decade to Combat Racism. Not only did this strategy fail, but its failure demonstrated the vast changes which have occurred in interna­tional politics over the three decades of U.N. existence. The most notable change is the decline of American power.

The cries of moral outrage and indignation which went up had an unreal quality to them. In none of the commentaries in the Western corporate media — the editorials, the news columnists, the television commentators — was one substantive fact presented about the nature of Zionism as a political philosophy and the fashion in which that philosophy is concretized in the laws and institutions of the state of Israel.

[…]

The action of the U.N. General Assembly was predicated on the duties and obligations imposed by the International Convention of Racial Discrimination. Since Israel is not a signatory to this Convention, it is not bound by it in the sense of a treaty obligation, even though many of the provisions in the Convention codify or have acquired the force of customary law. Accordingly, the Convention may provide a juridical basis for alleged human rights violations even though the state whose conduct is the subject of a complaint has not undertaken to implement the measures of the Convention.

The report filed in 1971 by the Syrian government with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination illustrates this. The parties to the Convention are required to submit reports on “the legislative, juridical, administrative or other measures” which they have adopted to give effect to its provisions. Syria’s 1971 report stated that since Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights in the 1967 June War, some 110,000 Syrians had been subject to “discriminatory and racist policies and practices” in violation of Article 5. The report concluded by calling upon the parties to the Convention to take action to elimi­nate these practices. The Committee, while noting that Israel was not a party to the Convention, issued a decision stating that: (1) it took note of information “to the effect that racial discrimination is being practiced in that part of Syrian territory which is known as the Golan Heights and which is under Israeli occupation,” and (2) it wished to draw the attention of the General Assembly to the situation.

Zionism Vis-à-vis the International Convention

The International Convention on Racial Discrimination defines racial discrimination as:

“any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin, which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

Article 5 specifies a number of rights which the parties to the Con­vention undertake to guarantee “without distinction as to race, color, or national or ethnic origin.” The right to equal treatment before judicial tribunals, to freedom of movement and residence, to return to one’s country, to form and join trade unions, to housing and to educa­tion is among those guaranteed.

Thus, the definition of racial discrimination is clearly set forth as an international legal norm. There are essentially four requirements con­tained in this definition before an idea may be designated a legally impermissible practice of racism: (1) There must be a distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference; (2) These distinctions, exclusion, restrictions, or preferences must be based on race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin; (3) These distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences must have either (a) the purpose or (b) the effect of impairing the equal exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms; (4) The freedoms which are impaired must be in the political, eco­nomic, social or cultural field.

It is against these criteria that Zionism must be judged.

Zionism is a nationalist political movement. It was organized as such in a visible manner in 1897 in the creation of the World Zionist Organization. It claims that all people who are Jews are members of a single nation, and that this nation has first by virtue of being a “nation dispersed” and second by virtue of certain international agreements, political rights in Palestine. Zionism arose out of two fears: (1) fear of anti-Semitism which Zionism states is an ineradicable element in non-Jewish societies and (2) fear of assimilation — that Jewish survival as a civilization or culture could only be assured through an independent national state. Further, safety for Jews, or a solution to what was seen as a specifically Jewish problem, could only be had in a society in which Jews constituted the majority.

In 1897 the founders of Zionism set out to gain international recog­nition and support for their program and to secure acceptance by Jews in the various countries of the world of the “Jewish People” concept. Anthropologists are generally agreed that Jews are not a separate race and there has been a great deal of confusion among Jews and non-Jews alike as to whether to use the term race, religion, nation or culture to clarify the nature of Jewish identity. This question has not been resolved in Israel today. The legal test of citizenship, for instance, under the Law of Return is a religious one while the identity cards of Jewish Israelis designates “Jewish” as being a nationality description.

Receiving the support of a Great Power in 1917 in the Balfour Declaration, the World Zionist Organization (WZO) was prepared for the colonizing effort after World War I. The object was British control over Palestine while unlimited Jewish emigration would lay the ground­work for the creation of a Jewish state. Indeed, in its early days the Zionist movement had no difficulty in seeing itself as a colonizing movement when it called its first bank the Colonial Trust Company and its settlement department the Department of Colonization. With British control of Palestine accorded the license of the League of Nations after the war the vehicle for the creation of a closed Jewish settlement in Palestine (Yishuv) was the Jewish Agency, an alter ego of the World Zionist Organization. The Agency’s three slogans were: conquering the land, conquering the work, and purchase Jewish goods.

In practice this meant that the native Arab population, both Christian and Muslim, were to be excluded from any participation in the political, social, economic, or cultural life of the Jewish settlement

This exclusion was obtained through an official boycott of Arab goods, labor, mixed government schools and local governing bodies.

A concrete example of this exclusion is the Jewish National Fund (JNF) set up in 1901 at the Fifth Zionist Congress to purchase land in Palestine. Its first purchases were in 1905, but the extensive acquisi­tions and development of a land policy occurred only after the British mandate came into being. Under the terms of the Charter of the JNF, land purchased by it was to be held in perpetuity “as the inalienable property of the entire Jewish people.” During the mandate the JNF became the largest private landowner in Palestine.

Use of the land was organized under a system of long-term leasing for specified purposes for periods of up to ninety-eight years. These leases, with JNF approval, could be sublet, sold, mortgaged, bequeathed or given as a gift subject to one overriding condition: the lessee must be Jewish. Non-Jews could not be employed on the land or even in work connected with cultivation of land. Violation of this term of the lease made the lessee liable to damages and cancellation of the lease without compensation, as John Hope Simpson noted in 1930, as one of the causes of Palestinian Arab unrest: “The land has been extra-territorialized. It ceases to be land from which the Arab can gain any advantage either now or any time in the future.”

The fate of two Christian Arab villages in northern Israel illustrates the manner of Zionist “principle.” In 1948 the population of the villages of Birem and Ikrit were moved out by the Israeli army with the promise that they would be allowed to return after hostilities. The land was turned over without compensation to the JNF. The Supreme Court of Israel upheld their right to return to their villages but the military immediately declared the people to be a security risk and the Cabinet voted that they should never be allowed to return to their land although they were citizens of Israel. Golda Meir said that to return the land to the Arab Israelis would constitute an erosion of the Zionist principle — that once Jews own land, it can never be alien­ated to anyone who is a non-Jew.

This extra-territorialization of land ownership meant that the rights of ownership rested not just in the Jews or Jewish settlement in Palestine, but in all Jews everywhere which the World Zionist Organiza­tion, and its arm in Palestine, the Jewish Agency, claimed to represent. After the state of Israel came into being in 1948, the heads of various departments of the Jewish Agency became the heads of the various ministries of the state. The World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency were charged in the Status Law of 1952 with being the “authorized agency” which would continue to operate in Israel for: (1) “the development and settlement of the country,” (2) “the absorp­tion of immigrants from the Diaspora,” and (3) “the coordination of the activities in Israel of Jewish institutions and organizations active in those fields.” Section 5 of the law states that “the ingathering of the exiles” is the “central task of the State of Israel and the Zionist Movement in our days.”

The JNF, after the creation of the state, continued under the control of the WZO although a separate governmental body, the Israel Lands Authority, was created. The most significant consequence of the agreement between the JNF and the government was that the restrictive policies regarding the sale and leasing of land were applied to all state lands, which, together with JNF lands, today constitute 94.5 percent of the land in Israel.

In 1948, not more than 6.4 percent of the land in Palestine was owned by Jews. The great majority of Arab-owned land was transferred to the state through the enactment and enforcement of a series of laws. These were, inter alia, the Law of Emergency Articles for the Exploi­tation of Uncultivated Lands (1948); the Law for the Requisition of Land in Times of Emergency (1949); the Law for the Acquisition of Land (1953); and the Law on the Acquisition of Absentees’ Property (1950).

More recent legislation has reinforced the intention of these laws. Through the Agricultural Settlement Law passed by the Knesset on August 1, 1967, the use of state land by a lessee for a “non-conforming use” subjects the lessee to termination of his rights in the land and the water allocated for it. A nonconforming use includes vesting any rights in the land or its crops in a tenant. The real effect of the law is to prevent Jewish lessees from sharing their land in any manner with the local Arab inhabitants.

The English language Jerusalem Post reported on August 18, 1975 a new government plan to expropriate thousands of acres of additional land in the Galilee region for the purpose of establishing new Jewish settlements. It reported that “small towns and settlements in Galilee can no longer grow because of a land shortage.” The Jewish population in Galilee has declined during the past 15 years from 58 to 52 percent and the plan is now to arrest the trend by more intensive settlement. Earlier, in July, the Israeli Finance Minister Yehoushua Rabinowitz had stated that the government planned to channel 32 percent of the new settlements to Galilee and that this would necessitate the expro­priating of land.

The work of the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency in Israel today is contained in periodic reports of its activity and of the Zionist Congresses held every four years. These reports consistently refer to the work being done on behalf of Jewish housing; Jewish agriculture, Jewish fishing and these are either public institutions or quasi-public institutions where Jews are advantaged as against those who cannot qualify as members of the Jewish people.

A recent piece of legislation demonstrates the exclusionary prin­ciples which are logically attendant to Zionist philosophy. The Dis­charged Soldiers Law of 1970, as amended, provides a family subsi­dization plan to increase the Jewish population in Israel. Since 99 per­cent of Arabs in Israel may not serve in the defense forces and since only discharged soldiers and their families are entitled to family allow­ances, the Arab population of Israel is barred from family allowances even though it is the most economically disadvantaged.

The principal law relating to citizenship in Israel is the Law of Return of 1920, as amended. This law established the “right” of every Jew to immigrate to the state of Israel. No person other than a Jew has this right. Amendment No. 2 of 1970, Paragraph 4 (b) states that: “For the purposes of this law ‘Jew’ means a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and is not a mem­ber of another religion.” As for the Palestinian Arabs in Israel, their citizenship rights are controlled by the Nationality Law of 1952. For a Palestinian Arab to be considered an Israeli citizen, regardless of whether he was born in Israel or has lived there most of his life, it must be established that (1) he or she was registered as a resident of Israel on March 1, 1952, by virtue of the Population Registration Law of 1949; (2) he or she was a resident in Israel on April 1,1952; and (3) he or she was, from the date of the establishment of the state and until April 1, 1952, in Israel or in an area that was attached to it after the establishment of the state, or had entered Israel legally during that period. Because of the provisions of this law, there are several tens of thousands of Arabs residing in Israel who are forever barred from citizenship and this statelessness is inherited by the individuals’ children and children’s children. The only recourse is to apply for citizenship between the 18th and 21st years of age. Such persons are not encour­aged by any program of notice regarding citizenship rights.

Essentially, then, Zionism and its legal framework in Israel can be defined as being based on the principle of exclusion. A necessary and immutable germ of Zionism was the idea that it could realize its objec­tive only through a process of exclusion. The process was one which had occurred numerous times previously in the history of the world – that of colonization, settling a land. The land may or may not be inhabited by other people. If the land is inhabited by persons other than the colonizer, the colonizer has three options to deal with the indigenous population: (1) eliminate by genocide all or part of the indigenous populace, (2) subjugate the indigenous populace in a defined system of inclusions and exclusions, or (3) the colonizer may push the indigenous populace outside the parameters of the area.

[…]

If Zionism was to succeed in pushing the bulk of the indigenous population out and subjugating the remnants, it was essential to have laws to facilitate this subjugation. These were provided in the adoption in toto of the draconian Emergency Laws of the British Mandatory Authorities. These “security” measures which the British administra­tion instituted to deal with the Palestinian Arab rebellion of 1936 and later Zionist guerilla activity against the British took the matter of state security out of civil jurisdiction and placed it in the hands of the military.

As soon as the Zionists in Palestine proclaimed the creation of the state of Israel, the British Emergency Laws were the new state. The Palestinians were divided into three regions, each under a military commander. The military governor had the power to declare an area closed and restrict entrance and exit to it (Article 125). Passes were required for movement into and out of these areas. The governor was empowered to issue an administrative order for police supervision of any person. The individual under such an order may be restricted in his movements; his contacts with other persons may be rigorously con­trolled; his professional work may be supervised and restricted; he must inform the police of his whereabouts at all times, appear at the nearest police station when so required, and remain indoors between sunset and sunrise; the police have access to his home at any hour of the day or night (Articles 109 and 110). Article 111 allows the administrative detention of anyone whom the military government may decide to detain, for any reason whatsoever, for an unlimited period without trial and without charge. The military government may confiscate or destroy a person’s property if the military government suspects that a shot has been fired or a bomb thrown from such property (Article 119).

Moreover, the military government may expel a person from the country (Article 112) or confiscate a person’s property (Article 120). A total or partial curfew may be imposed in any village or area (Article 124).

The public school systems which exist in Israel today demonstrate how completely the tenets of Zionism are applied. There is one system of primary and secondary schools for Arabs and another system for Jewish Israelis. Jewish Israelis are completely prohibited from attending Arab schools while an Arab Israeli may attend a Jewish school only by special state authorization.

All Israeli government ministries or departments have special sub-departments on Arab affairs to which an Arab Israeli must apply in any dealing with the ministry. For instance, the Israeli Ministry of Health has a general health office for Jews only while a sub-department exists for minorities.

All municipal governmental units receive subsidies from the national government. The official figures reveal that those towns whose popula­tion is Arab receive substantially less per capita than those whose population is Jewish. A table compiled by a member of the Knesset and published in one of Israel’s largest circulation Hebrew dailies, Yediot Ahronot, on October 10, 1975, shows the extent of this dis­crimination: the Jewish towns received 1,220-3,100 IL per capita, while the per capita subsidy to the Arab towns was 140-235 IL.

It is important to remember that the discrimination in Israel bet­ween Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis is not only sanctioned by the state and may not be challenged in a court of law but that it is a fun­damental precept upon which the state is founded. It is incorporated as an integral part of the law of the land. In the examination of any society, one must distinguish between discrimination as it exists bet­ween individual citizens or private parties, on the one hand, and dis­crimination as a part of public policy or state action, discrimination contained not just in the way the laws are applied but in the terms of the law itself. This distinction reveals the basis upon which the state is organized. In the United States there may and does exist discriminatory application of the laws and in many instances the laws themselves may in their terms discriminate between citizens without a reasonable basis. The law of the land, however, is that all citizens will receive equal pro­tection of the laws and where the laws are not equally applied or there is an invidious discrimination in the terms of the law, the citizen may challenge it in a court. The goal of constructing and maintaining a Jewish state made the “national” discrimination a necessary part of the state itself.

Zionism’s Defense

The two principal defenses of Zionism raised by Israeli Ambassador Yosef Tekoah in the United Nations debate were that Zionism was (1) an anti-imperialist movement, and (2) the national liberation move­ment of the Jewish people. It seems likely that they will constitute the thrust of the movement that is under way to defend Zionism.

As for the defense that Zionism is an anti-imperialist movement little commentary is required. Zionism as a movement is neither imper­ialist nor anti-imperialist. That it could realize itself and continues to through a complete alliance with the major imperialist powers does not make it imperialism. It would be more correct to state that there exists an organic and symbiotic relationship between Zionism and imperial­ism. It can be stated categorically, however, that Zionism is not anti-imperialist and it is inconceivable, given its foundations as a political philosophy, that it would become anti-imperialist in the future. The nature of Zionism as being directed at a land populated by a non-Jewish people compels this conclusion.

[…]

Conclusion

The headline on November 11, 1975, of a major metropolitan news­paper in a populous Midwestern city read “U.N. Declares Zionism is Racism.” The U.S. Congress threatened retaliatory action against the United Nations and the United States contribution to the U.N. Budget was decreased. Moreover, the United States announced that it would not participate in the U.N. Decade to Combat Racism. In New York City, the City Council sought to change the name of the U.N. Plaza to Zion Square. Israel quickly moved to take measures to counteract its growing isolation. An emergency meeting of world Zionist leaders was called in Jerusalem to discuss a plan of action. Israel strengthened and made public its previously covert ties with the Union of South Africa. A hundred thousand Jewish Americans were reported to have marched in New York City in denunciation of the U.N. resolution. They were housewives, factory workers, students, retirees, and shopkeepers, businessmen who were hurt and angry and who wanted to defend their movement of salvation. What was it that had gone wrong with their dreams? What had happened to the sacrifices on behalf of Jewish vic­tims less fortunate than themselves? What had so changed the world from their childhoods when they were in idealistic Zionist youth movements or saved their coins in the boxes marked “Jewish National Fund”? How they asked, could the majority of the world turn on the Jewish movement for salvation and national liberation?

The one flaw in what had, until the emergence of the Palestinian resistance, been a record of success for Zionism was that the Pales­tinians refused to acquiesce in their national oppression and oblitera­tion. This is hardly surprising. And it was because of their refusal and the mounting of their struggle for national liberation that the issue of the nature of Zionism was thrust upon the peoples of the world.

About Terri Ginsberg

Terri Ginsberg is a film scholar and Palestine solidarity activist. She is co-author of Historical Dictionary of Middle Eastern Cinema (2010), author of Holocaust Film: The Political Aesthetics of Ideology (2007), and co-editor of A Companion to German Cinema (2012).

Other posts by .


Posted In:

5 Responses

  1. Citizen
    May 8, 2013, 6:06 am

    No longer a mere bump in the road, those Palestinians?

  2. Nevada Ned
    May 8, 2013, 9:17 am

    Thanks, Terri Ginsberg. It would be helpful to have a few sentences about Abdeen Jabara.

    • Terri Ginsberg
      May 8, 2013, 1:45 pm

      You can click the link supplied in the very first line of this post (link to quod.lib.umich.edu) for information about Abdeen Jabara.

      Readers may also be interested in gauging Jabara’s powerful critique of Zionism against a recently published book praising the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s efforts to get UN GA Res. 3379 rescinded: link to amazon.com.

  3. eljay
    May 8, 2013, 10:30 am

    “Jewish State” is, fundamentally, religion-based supremacism. And until someone can…
    – immigrate to “Jewish State”,
    – bureaucratically become Jewish in the same way an immigrant to Germany becomes German (or to France, French; or to Canada, Canadian), and
    – thereby acquire full and equal rights with all other Jewish citizens of “Jewish State”,
    …it will remain, fundamentally, religion-based supremacism.

  4. David Samel
    May 8, 2013, 2:32 pm

    Terri, thanks for bringing this thoughtful analysis to our attention. I recall that at the time of the resolution, I joined with the prevailing view that it was craven and illegitimate act by ignorant fools. But in the back of my mind, I was aware that if I were challenged to defend why Zionism was not racist, I would have a difficult time. I have only read this excerpted section but when I have more time, I am especially interested in the full analysis of “Zionism’s Defense” in the original.

    I would add that the example the author used of two Palestinian Christian villages, Birem and Ikrit, that were ethnically cleansed in 1948. The 1972 Munich Olympics operation was named after these villages.

Leave a Reply