Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Is Israel racist? Yes, but there is a peaceful solution.

Anglophone and European delegates walk out on the Mahmoud Ahmedinajad's speech at the UN's "Durban Review" conference on racism in Geneva.

The question is, "Is Israel a racist state?"

I am going to be very careful here, because this question is enormously charged emotionally and politically, and I have no desire to enter a quagmire of political accusation and counter accusation.
So I am going to go to the dictionaries.

First, what is racism?

1 a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2 racial prejudice or discrimination

Cambridge dictionaries online:
the belief that people's qualities are influenced by their race and that the members of other races are not as good as the members of your own, or the resulting unfair treatment of members of other races:

Cambridge dictionary of American English:
a person who believes that some races are better than others, or who acts unfairly to someone because of their race

So that is pretty clear: racism is a belief in superiority of one race over another, together with the resulting inequitable treatment of another race.

Has Israel treated Palestinians unfairly? All the evidence certainly points in that direction. (The Israelis would say that much of their oppressive behaviour (e.g. Gaza 2009) is because of Palestinian provocation. OK, but the fact is that the kill ratio is more than 10 Palestinians dead for every Israeli dead).

Does the Israeli regime believe that it is racially superior? They would deny it, and a long and confusing debate would follow, because what someone believes is not as clear as what they do.

So inequitable treatment is a more useful indicator than belief. The evidence of ethnic cleansing, bulldozing of homes, appropriation of ground water, destruction of farmland, hindering of farming, blockade of Gaza and the rest, indicates clearly that Israel is acting unfairly. (Though Israel will always quote provocation as the cause, and Palestinians will always quote invasion as the cause of their provocation).

So it is certain that Israel is behaving unfairly, oppressively even, to the Palestinians. Is this racist oppression, or just plain oppression?

To cut through the confusion about belief we can ask the question whether Zionism is racism?

So, what is Zionism?

Interestingly, zionism is not found in the Cambridge Dictionary of American English.

Cambridge Advanced Learner's dictionary:
a political movement which had as its original aim the creation of a country for Jewish people, and which now works to help the development of Israel.

an international movement originally for the establishment of a Jewish national or religious community in Palestine and later for the support of modern Israel.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:
A Jewish movement that arose in the late 19th century in response to growing anti-Semitism and sought to re-establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Modern Zionism is concerned with the support and development of the state of Israel.

So Zionism is for establishing and supporting a Jewish state.

Next question: are Jews a race?

Compact Oxford English dictionary:
a member of the people whose traditional religion is Judaism and who trace their origins to the ancient Hebrew people of Israel.

2: a member of a nation existing in Palestine from the sixth century b.c. to the first century a.d.
3: a person belonging to a continuation through descent or conversion of the ancient Jewish people
4: one whose religion is Judaism

Cambridge Advance Learner's Dictionary:
a member of a race of people whose traditional religion is Judaism

Webster's New World College Dictionary:
1. a person descended, or regarded as descended, from the ancient Hebrews of Biblical times
2. a person whose religion is Judaism

And just to be sure, what is a race?

Compact OED:
1 each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics.
2 racial origin or distinction: rights based on race.
3 a group of people sharing the same culture, language, etc.; an ethnic group.
4 a group of people or things with a common feature.

— USAGE Some people now feel that the word race should be avoided, because of its associations with the now discredited theories of 19th-century anthropologists and physiologists about supposed racial superiority. Terms such as people, community, or ethnic group are less emotionally charged.

Cambridge dictionaries online:
a group, especially of people, with particular similar physical characteristics, who are considered as belonging to the same type, or the fact of belonging to such a group:

So we can conclude that Jews are (probably) a race, Zionism is a movement to establish and support a state for the Jewish race, and Israelis have been behaving in an unfair way to those not of their race.

The central item of policy to support this conclusion is embodied in the Law of Return enacted in the Israeli Parliament in 1950, that gives Jews, those of Jewish ancestry, and their spouses the right to migrate to and settle in Israel and gain citizenship.

In defence of the law of return, Israelis argue that other countries exercise a right of return for their citizens. That would be citizens, not members of their race.

In conclusion, it does seem that Ahmedinajad, although in many ways (the supposed benefits of nuclear weapons and Holocaust denial) a deluded person, has a strong logical case about Israel's racism. There is an inherent theoretical racist component in Zionism, and, more importantly, Israel has been behaving unfairly to the Palestinians in a way that is consistent with a racist ideology.

What conclusions can we draw from this? There are two main options, the absolutist, and the realist.

Absolutists argue that Israel is a racist state, and is therefore illegitimate, and should go the way of apartheid South Africa. Israel should be crippled by divestment and sanctions until it folds, and is merged into a single state with power sharing with Palestinians.

However, from the Israeli point of view, that is an existential threat, and the Holocaust has sensitised them against existential threats. Israel's absolutists therefore stand opposed to pro-Palestinian absolutists, an immovable object faced with an irresistible force. Restult: either stalemate or all - out war.

Indeed, the act of abolishing Israel could also be construed as racist.

The realist, or Green, view is that the mess posed by these absolutisms can be avoided by addressing the immediate needs of the people in the Land, while politicians do what they do best: argue and call each other names. Insofar as they will achieve anything, they should start on the Law of Return, removing the racist element of the Israeli constitution.

The real problem is that the Land is semi arid.
The population is growing, partly through immigration.
It is a vital necessity to improve the productivity of the Land to meet the needs of the polulation.
To do this we need water.
To improve the water, we need to harvest every drop that falls onto any roof, we need to conserve water, and we need to plant forests.
We also need lots of solar energy.

Europe and the US need to give resources to enable both communities to cooperate in enabling these things to take place. In doing so, we will be diverting energy and attention from resentment to cooperation, from weapons to hoes, from warfare to welfare.

We have European elections on June 4th. Not that there is anything in the papers about it, because euro-elections are seen as desperately unsexy by the media. Controversy over Ahmediajad is more the style. But today's headline controversy gives us an opportunity to show how we can get to peace through addressing ecological realities.

I hope that the Green Party will soon be putting this forward as its contribution to the otherwise intractable problem Israel and Palestine.

Remember you read (of the proposal that the Greens should adopt this line) it here first.


Anonymous said...

"Remember you read it here first."

Are you sure you are not just slightly arrogant? Do you really think that Israelis and Palestinians are waiting for you to engage in collaboration on the theme of the environment and water?

Just one example here:


And another here:

DocRichard said...

Hi Anon

I meant the suggestion that the Green Party should run this line in the Euro election is getting its first public airing here. Sorry if this was unclear. If you follow the "water" label, or the linked sentence about harvesting every drop, you will see that I have referenced the FoE Middle East work, and it is this work that I believe the Green Party should foster, encourage, and expand on.

I've amended the line now, but you're right, the read it here first is a bit pompous, and I will not use it again. Promise.

Thanks for the link to the PLO site; it is very encouraging that they are working on it too.

Green Gordon said...

I've been undertaking a Masters Degree in Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict. Who knew all the answers could be found in dictionaries?!

I'd say the reality of the situation is more nuanced than even the most verbose dictionary might be capable of describing.

DocRichard said...

Nuanced: " a subtle difference in meaning or opinion or attitude".
(This dictionary stuff is habit-forming).

Well, the difference between the two communities are anything but subtle.

When highly charged words like racism are being used, it is vital to keep an eye on what concepts exactly are being signified by the words. It was interesting that one of the dictionaries suggests that the race word has no precise meaning, and should be avoided.

I start here btw:

Alice [W] said...

Words are loose cannons. I often look up the precise meaning of words when reading such posts, particularly on this subject, but I don’t blog about it. Nor do I assume that the writer has used the precise definition.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Richard people like you are the reason people like me will not be voting Green. Despite being an old labour 'socialist' and agreeing with a lot of green policies, when you get on your pompous anti-Israel horse I just switch off and feel quite antagonistic. Ahmedinejad is a foul man, get over it and stop all the middle class apologism. You can advocate a 'progressive' approach to the middle east without making a case for a gay-hating, jew-hating loon.

DocRichard said...

I may (or may not0 be pompous, but I am definitely not anti-Israel. In the deeply polarised debate, I am very much trying to see both sides. The Gaza action has radicalised me a lot.

I am definitely not making the case for Ahmedinajad; just saying that he has a point about Israel and racism. Israel needs to make some radical reforms to its behaviour; and the Water Project will help this to come about.

Adrian Windisch said...

If you think Israel is racist because it is a Jewish state, then what of the Islamic states; Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia... Are you willing to attack all of them?

Ahmedinajad is just a politician saying what his people want to hear. Judge Iran after reading http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2004/06/06/dead-their-coffins 'The Iranian authorities have managed, in the span of four years, to virtually silence the political opposition within the country through the systematic use of indefinite solitary confinement of political prisoners, physical torture of student activists, and denial of basic due process rights to all those detained for the expression of dissenting views.'

'Has Israel treated Palestinians unfairly?' I think you need to look at more than this years war to answer that. Read this http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/myths/mf18.html
'Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights; in fact, it is one of the few places in the Middle East where Arab women may vote'

DocRichard said...

Hi Adrian,

Thanks for commenting. My reply is long, and I have posted it as a new piece - see above.



The Aquatic Gardener said...

"OK, but the fact is that the kill ratio is more than 10 Palestinians dead for every Israeli dead."

This does not indicate racism. It's indicates that Israel has a better defense. The better question is "Which side has declared as it's staed goal the destruction of the other?"

You're confusing ambition with ability. The Israelis have the ability to destory but no desire, while the Palestinains have the desire but no ability.

DocRichard said...

Hello Aquatic Gardener
You say "OK, but the fact is that the kill ratio is more than 10 Palestinians dead for every Israeli dead."

This does not indicate racism. It's indicates that Israel has a better defense.

I did not advance the kill ratio as evidence of racism. This is what I said: "The Israelis would say that much of their oppressive behaviour (e.g. Gaza 2009) is because of Palestinian provocation. OK, but the fact is that the kill ratio is more than 10 Palestinians dead for every Israeli dead)"

This is the problem with deeply polarised debates like this: each side projects onto the other side their memories of past debates, not what is being said now.

You say: "The better question is "Which side has declared as it's stated goal the destruction of the other?"

OK, that would be Hamas, in its deeply unpleasant Charter, which some parts of the Hamas spectrum would like to revise, so I believe.

Then you say: "The Israelis have the ability to destory but no desire, while the Palestinains have the desire but no ability".

Nice bon mot, but weak in the "but no desire" department. Looking at the history of Israel, we see continual expansionism, and looking at Operation Cast Lead, we see the ability to destroy acted out, and looking at the continued blockade, we see a policy that is designed to impoverish, disempower and punish an entire people.

Before you respond to this, please understand that I am not a rabid pro-Palestinian leftie destroy-Israel apparatchik. Equally, I am probably seen as a right wing, pro-Israeli, pro-US stooge by the Pro-Palestinian lobby.

What I am is a political ecologist, a Green, who happens to believe that human life must be founded on the ability of the land to sustain our needs, and that co-operation in securing those needs holds the key to peace and sustainability.

Shalom. Salaam.