Politicians from Senators Marco Rubio and Orrin Hatch to Chuck Schumer and Ron Wyden have been outspoken in their condemnation of Saturday’s Unite the Right March in Charlottesville and the vicious acts of terror it spawned. Criticizing Donald Trump for his reluctant and temporizing comments, they condemn the hate and are rightly appalled by the white supremacist chants of “Blood and Soil” and “You Won’t Replace Us”—or, as it became, “Jews Won’t Replace Us”. Though they have so far fallen as far short as Donald Trump from calling it by its real name, American fascism, they have been forthright in calling out this assembly of virulent racist movements.
Meanwhile, the same senators are united by their ardent support for a racist regime that is no less inspired by racial supremacy and an ideology that demands ethnic cleansing. All have signed on to a bill that would protect the state of Israel by imposing civil and possibly criminal penalties on anyone who protests its ongoing violations of Palestinian rights, including illegal settlement and dispossession, by advocating for the boycott of its economic, academic and cultural institutions. In doing so, they have placed protecting Israel and its racially discriminatory policies above the rights of activists who are inspired by the same commitment to justice as the demonstrators who opposed the open display of racism and anti-Semitism in Charlottesville.
The contradiction between condemning US racism and support for the racist ideology of Zionism has become steadily more glaring. The ugly chants and intimidating violence of the fascist right have met with almost universal disgust, including naming the lethal ramming of non-violent protesters an act of terror. At the same time, Americans have had to confront the fact that white supremacy is an intrinsic if shameful element in their history and institutions whose consequences have yet to be overcome. The brief moment when the premature claim that the United States was “postracial” has run its course. But the same awareness has yet to extend to the remarkably similar and equally consequential world-view of Zionism.
Zionism has always recognized that in order to create and maintain “a Jewish state for a Jewish people” it would have to dominate and displace the native Palestinian population. Early Zionists like Ze’ev Jabotinsky recognized the necessity of ethnic cleansing; more recently, Zionist historians like Benny Morris have acknowledged that Israel could only have been founded on the back of the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians. But, as with any settler colony, the fear remains that what Israel calls the “Judaization” of the state and the lands they have illegally occupied remains incomplete. So what is euphemistically called the “transfer” of Palestinians continues, in the Negev, in Galilee, in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank. Meanwhile right-wing Israeli youth rampage through the Palestinian quarter of the Old City chanting the same virulent racist supremacism as American fascists while Israeli police arrest the counter-demonstrators.
American white supremacists express their fury at being replaced by an increasingly diverse population and speak of a “demographic genocide”. Although their rage has a long history in American genocide and racial segregation, it is met now with disbelief and widespread antagonism. Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed “Jewish State” of Israel and its officials not only speak openly of the “demographic threat” or “time-bomb” posed by the Palestinian population in Israel and in the territories it illegally occupies, they develop policies to enact their fantasy of an Israel cleansed of all but a tiny minority of Palestinians.
These measures include not only the demolition of Palestinian homes in the Negev or in East Jerusalem, but also laws like the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which prohibits Palestinians outside Israel from gaining citizenship, or even permanent or temporary residence, if they marry an Israeli citizen. This law, which denies the basic right to family unification to thousands of Palestinian families, was upheld by Israel’s Supreme Court in 2006 and renewed in 2016. Even at the height of apartheid, the South African Supreme Court balked at accepting a similarly framed law on the grounds that it would have adversely affected African social life. Likewise, a version of redlining, an old American practice that maintained segregated communities, is commonplace in Israel and protected by law. Adalah, the Israeli Human Rights organization, maintains a database of some 50 laws like this that discriminate against Palestinians in Israel, constituting a system tantamount to if not—as some well-informed observers claim—worse than apartheid.
Though some idealist Zionists like Martin Buber once believed in the possibility of sharing a Jewish homeland in Palestine with its indigenous inhabitants, that dream has long been overtaken by the ugly reality of a supremacist state and its system of discrimination and dispossession. It is increasingly difficult and painful for liberal Zionists—to use a pitiful oxymoron—to defend a system that so violates the sense of justice and equality that they elsewhere defend. How can one condemn white racists for fighting to preserve their privileges and supremacy in their “homeland” while defending the right of Israel to maintain a regime based on exactly those values?
Rabbi Matt Rosenberg had no response when leading fascist Richard Spencer asked him “Do you really want radical inclusion into the State of Israel?” If he was left speechless, it is because there really is no response: Israel’s racist regime is based on no less supremacist, no less racist ideas and demands than America’s fascists espouse. It is the practical outcome of the ideology of Zionism and its practices of discrimination and dispossession have historically been furthered just as much by the Labor Party beloved of liberal Zionists as they now are by the currently governing Likud. And from the long-standing courting of right-wing and anti-Semitic US evangelists to the Zionist Organization of America’s support for alt-right publisher and financier Stephen Bannon, the affinities run deep between Zionism and the American right.
Ron Wyden and other progressive Democrats may be writhing in the contortions it takes to do the bidding of Israel and its Zionist lobbyists while claiming to defend civil liberties and social justice at home. It is hardly surprising. The two are fundamentally incompatible. Zionism has become a toxic stain that contaminates whatever comes in contact with it. It turns liberal media, journalists and academics into the mouthpieces of repression and censorship; it spawns defamation and blacklists of scholars and activists in the name of anti-racism; it dons the mantle of democracy and liberalism to promote a supremacist ideology and a racial state. But it remains what it is: a racist ideology with all-too-marked affinities with the white fascism that most of its supporters hasten to condemn.
It is time for consistency and to end the exception made for Zionist racial supremacy. In solidarity with those who protested fascism in Charlottesville, and with those who continue to protest police killings, deportations, Islamophobic travel bans, and homophobic laws, progressives across the board must condemn Zionism and cease to offer uncritical support of the state of Israel. Instead, they should stand with the activists who demand justice for Palestinians even as they protest racism in the US. It is no longer possible to serve the agenda of supremacism in one place and decry it at home. As progressive senators and an increasing number of former liberal Zionists have learnt, the contradictions of doing so are unbearable and the political costs are insidious.