Towards a definition of anti-Palestinian racism

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Last month Phillip Weiss and Donald Johnson wrote in a post that a standard for anti-Palestinianism would be helpful to

“… get people to start to realize the sheer ugliness of how false charges of antisemitism are used to support a racist cause.  But that’s not going to happen if people only play defense.”

This triggered me to think about a definition of anti-Palestinian racism and how it can be used by activists for Palestinian rights.

The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism jumps to mind as a model for a definition, but, apart from using examples, that seems ill-advised to me. The IHRA definition is deliberately vague, and meant to frame legitimate criticism as racism. The definition we are looking for doesn’t need that because Zionist racism is real and there are many good examples. Our definition should be clear, and the accompanying examples should be indisputable.

One should think of the goals that such a definition can serve, and gear the examples to serve these goals. Examples should make people realize that Zionism’s privileges for Jews are racist, and they should legitimize the three demands of BDS, but most importantly, they should make clear that the only real solution to the conflict is full equality of Jews and Palestinians. As Peter Cohen recently wrote:

“If the traditional framing of the Palestinian struggle as a conflict between peoples for control of the land is replaced by that of a struggle of people for equality and basic human and civil rights, it will be a vision that will be difficult indeed to oppose.”

I wholeheartedly agree with this. Advantages of demanding full equality are that it has very high legitimacy, that it can serve as an umbrella for the three demands of BDS, and that it is non-negotiable, its either full equality or no solution. The latter is important because we want to avoid a “solution” like the Oslo Accords, that were based on compromising on Palestinian rights, and ended up in extending unequal colonial relations indefinitely. When BDS puts enough pressure on Israel, Israel might seduce and pressure the PA to something similar. Therefore the pressure on Israel should not focus on compromising on Palestinian rights, but on agreeing to full equality of Jews and Palestinians. Full equality should be the touchstone of any solution. The examples should make this clear by pointing out Zionist racism and Israel’s apartheid regime, both of which or best solved by full equality.

A definition of anti-Palestinian racism will undoubtedly come under Zionist attack and will be denounced as anti-Semitic. This puts certain demands on the definition. First, it should be as clear and concise as possible. Second, the examples should be as indisputable as possible, and it would be unwise to include more examples than necessary for the goals. Third, the definition and examples should be accompanied by explanations and clarifications, which explain and legitimate the examples, which if necessary explain that an example is not anti-Semitic, and which put forward the arguments that Zionists have to refute in order to disprove an example. We all know Zionist creativity when it comes to false accusations of anti-Semitism, and we should anticipate it.

Below is the proposed definition, with accompanying examples and explanations.

“Anti-Palestinian racism is hatred of or discrimination of Palestinians as Palestinians or Palestinians as a group.”

Examples include, but are not limited to:

  1. denying the Palestinian right of self determination in historic Palestine, while at the same time supporting the Jewish right of self-determination in historic Palestine
  2. denying Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Nakba their “right of return” to what is now Israel while at the same time granting Jews from anywhere in the world a “right of return” to Israel
  3. subjecting Palestinians to oppressive military law, denying them basic human and civil rights, while subjecting Jews in the same territory to normal civil law
  4. denying a (possible, future) Palestinian state equal rights and equal sovereignty to any other state
  5. denying Palestinian citizens equal rights to other citizens of the same state, e.g. by dozens of discriminatory laws, discriminatory policies for land or residency, discriminatory housing and development plans, ethnic profiling, or discriminatory budget assignments
  6. imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people or part of it
  7. demonizing or dehumanizing Palestinians by making hostile generalizations that are not based on facts, e.g. by framing Palestinians in general as terrorists, as backward, as less human, or as a demographic problem
  8. denying the existence of the Palestinian people
  9. denying the large scale ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in and since 1948
  10. false anti-Palestinian accusations of anti-Semitism, e.g. by framing criticism of Israel ‘s treatment of Palestinians or activism for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians as anti-Semitism without contextual evidence of anti-Semitism

Explanations and clarifications:

The definition follows the model of “anti-X racism is hatred of X as X”, with X indicating the victim group. Since Zionism’s anti-Palestinian racism is not primarily informed by hatred but rather by Zionism’s privileging Jews as a group over Palestinians as a group the definition reflects this by including “discrimination of” and “as a group”.

The examples are not geared to illustrate the boundary between what constitutes racism and what not, but geared to be indisputable examples of anti-Palestinian racism. The examples are also not an exhaustive list, because many more examples exist.

Although the examples are not meant as indisputable examples of racism that Zionist-Israel is guilty of, Israel is or has been to a large extend guilty of all of them. As they are fixed in law, Israel is indisputably guilty of examples 2, 3 and 5, which correspond to the three demands of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). BDS demands freedom and justice for Palestinians, and wants to replace racism and apartheid with full equality for Jews and Palestinians.

Example 1 refers to the source of Zionism’s anti-Palestinian racism, the idea that Palestine belongs to the Jewish people and not to the Palestinian people and that Jews have a higher right to live there. This idea legitimated the colonization of Palestine by European settlers, and taking it from the indigenous population. In 2018 this central Zionist tenet was codified in a Basic Law, the “Nation State Law”.

The way the example is formulated avoids calling support of “one democratic state” (i.e. denying both peoples’ right of self-determination) racist, because it is not racist but based on full equality.

Example 2 refers to the Palestinian refugees of the Nakba who were (or are descendants of) citizens of Mandate Palestine, and as such have a right to be citizens of its legal successor, Israel. It also refers to the openly racist Israeli “Law of Return” and “Citizenship Law” that do grant the right to be citizens of Israel to Jews from all over the world (who don’t have the Mandate-citizenship-connection to the land) but deny it to Palestinian refugees. The reason for this discrimination is clearly racist: whether a person’s ethnicity is Jewish or not.

Some Zionists call the insistence on the Palestinian “right of return” anti-Semitic because it would jeopardize Israel’s Jewish majority and thus deny the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. This is false since 1) the Palestinian “right of return” simply exists and has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, 2) a possible Jewish minority is ultimately caused, not by Palestinian refugees, but by Zionism’s choice to establish a Jewish state in a land already populated by Palestinians, and 3) in case of a massive refugee return, Israel has possibilities to maintain a Jewish majority, e.g. by ceding (quite logically) parts of its territory with a Palestinian majority to the Palestinians.

Example 3 refers to the racist Israeli practice in the OPT except occupied East Jerusalem.

Example 4 refers to the goal of the “Peace Process”, a “Two State Solution”, and the remarks by several Israeli prime ministers that the resulting Palestinian state will have limited sovereignty, will be “less than a state”, or that Israel will retain “security control” over it. A non-racist solution requires equality, so also equality between the Jewish and the Palestinian state.

Example 5 refers to the institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, both by dozens of Israeli laws [1] and by practice.

Israel is a Zionist state with Jewish privileges and discrimination of Palestinians as the norm, and such a state has a fundamental racism problem. In normal democracies full equality of all citizens is the norm, and there are laws that prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Israel can shed its fundamental racism problem by making full equality the norm [2], and still remain a Jewish state, i.e. a state with a Jewish majority.

Example 6 refers to Israel having established an apartheid regime that, according to Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, dominates the Palestinian people as a whole[3]. It also refers to the situation in the OPT, in which, except for genocide, every illustrative “inhuman act” listed in the Apartheid Convention is routinely and systematically practiced by Israel [3].

Example 7 refers to common anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism in Israeli society, e.g. in Israeli school books [4].

Example 8 refers to the idea that Palestinian Arabs or Palestinians are actually Arabs who can live anywhere in the Arab world, but do not belong in Palestine, which belongs to the Jewish people. This idea legitimated the colonization of Palestine by European settlers, and taking it from the indigenous population. While perhaps the Palestinian nation did not exist in the 19th century, it certainly exists since 1948.

Example 9 refers to the Palestinian Nakba of 1948, the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians. While it is still disputed whether expulsions by Israeli military actions constituted a systematic and purposeful expulsion policy, it is undisputed that Zionist military attacks and expulsions were the major cause of flight[5], and it is undisputed that in and since 1948 successive Israeli governments engaged in (the completing act of) ethnic cleansing by preventing the return of refugees. It is also undisputed that Zionism had and has a strong motive for ethnically cleansing Palestinians: creating and maintaining a Jewish state[6], and that David Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders saw “nothing immoral” in what they called “compulsory transfer” [7].

Example 10 follows the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and it’s possible examples, which states that whether criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism or not depends on the ”overall context”, i.e. on whether there is an anti-Semitic context or not. Zionists often ignore the conditionality of the IHRA examples.


[1] according to human rights NGO Adalah over 65 Israeli laws discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the OPT,, accessed 2 Oct. 2018

[2] a law for full equality, “Basic Law: A Country of All Its Citizens”, was proposed by Balad, but rejected by the Knesset Presidium in 2018,, accessed 2 Oct. 2018

[3] Richard Falk, Virginia Tilley, “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid”, ESCWA, United Nations, Beirut, 2017, e.g., accessed 2 Oct. 2018

[4] according to prof. Nurit Peled-Elhanan the examples mentioned are common in Israeli school books, “Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education”, I.B. Tauris, 2013

[5] e.g. Benny Morris, “Righteous victims – A History of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881 – 2001″, Vintage Books, 2001, p. 257

[6] e.g. according to Benny Morris “… transfer was inevitable and inbuilt into Zionism – because it sought to transform a land which was ‘Arab’ into a ‘Jewish’ state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of Arab population; …”, “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited”, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 60.

[7] Benny Morris, “Righteous victims …”, p. 144.

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Great work! I do feel, though, that a bit more could be done about anti-Palestine activities taking place outside Israel, e.g., all the anti-BDS work going on in the USA, all the anti-Palestine activism taking place on university campuses in the USA. Perhaps also in the UK, and elsewhere. Is it anti-Palestinian racism, e.g., if someone discriminates against a non-Palestinian in the USA because that person is trying to be a pro-Palestinian spokesman? Might it… Read more »

Perhaps “anti-Palestinian racism” expresses, most fundamentally, the anti-gentilism of Zionism, which in turn, in the view of Israel Shahak and others, secularizes the anti-gentilism of traditional Judaism. Perhaps we simply need to deal with Jewish racism, Zionism. From the outset it proclaimed the racialist fiction of “the Jewish people”, against liberalism and integration with the modern world. The fundamental opposition of Zionism is not Jew vs indigene in Palestine, but Jew vs gentile everywhere. The… Read more »

A small step from “kinship” to “kingship” in Israel and in large measure in the USA and UK.

Very good work, JaapBo. But, I think this can be expressed much more simply. Some years ago, I posted an explanation of how Zionism is racist in my local paper, then the Oakland Tribune, that went something like this. Zionism says that non Jews, particularly Palestinians, are either too inferior a people, or too dangerous, to share power in Israel. That, ipso facto, is a racist position. I seemed to have touched a nerve with… Read more »

I believe that the IHRA / Labour Left “infested with Anti – Semitism ” farce in the UK should prompt a thorough review of the UK`s anti – discrimination legislation leading to the embracing and adoption of clear definitions of racism and discrimination in the UK. Perhaps this is something that a Corbyn led government will prioritise given the disgusting discrimination which Corbyn and other members of his party have been subjected to at the… Read more »