In a recent interview with the New York Times, Pulitzer-prize winner Alice Walker caused much controversy by recommending David Icke’s book And the Truth Shall Set You Free, claiming it was “a curious person’s dream come true”.
Many reacted sharply to Walker’s endorsement of what is widely considered to be an anti-Semitic book, accusing her of embracing Icke’s racist conspiracy theories; others, like Palestinian-American writer Susan Abulhawa, defended Walker, claiming her ideas are anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic. In her article, In defence of Alice Walker, Abulhawa claimed Palestinians are “killed, humiliated and destroyed in visible and invisible ways by Israel’s notions of Jewish supremacy”.
Omitted from this public debate is an important distinction regarding the fundamental nature of Zionism and its implications on the struggle against injustice.
Zionism is a modern movement, which gained traction among a minority of secular Jews only in the late 19th century in response to anti-Semitism and romantic nationalism.
Early Zionists syncretised many aspects of European fascism, white supremacy, colonialism and messianic Evangelism and had a long and sordid history of working with anti-Semites, Imperialists and fascists in order to promote exclusivist and expansionist agendas. In fact, anti-Semites and Zionists have worked toward the mutual interest of concentrating Jews in Israel; the former as a means of scapegoating and expelling an unwanted population, and the latter to combat the “demographic threat” posed by native Palestinians. Further, both anti-Semites and Zionists construct Jews as a biological race, which needs to be segregated as part of a utopia of global apartheid.
Zionism is a racist and settler colonialist movement, which opportunistically coopts aspects of Judaism in an attempt to justify its criminal practices of apartheid and genocide of Indigenous Palestinians. White supremacy is dominant within Israeli society, which privileges white-skinned Ashkenazi Jews at the expense of dark-skinned African Jews, Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews as well as African refugees. African/black Jewish communities are often denied recognition by Israeli authorities with some members even deported.
Zionism is based on a distinctly secular outlook, which embraces aggression and expansion as an acceptable response to trauma and denounces the traditional Jewish pacifist approach of viewing hardship as divine punishment for sins. The Israeli regime capitalises on a dynamic of violence and inequality reinforced by fear-mongering and the rewards of resource acquisition to promote a privileged ruling class at the expense of colonised Palestinian people. Zionist strategists manipulate the past traumas Jews have endured to galvanize support for aggressive policies that disenfranchise Palestinians.
The growing, glaringly visible connections between the Israeli government and reactionary, white supremacist forces worldwide, including Brazil, the United States, Philippines and Hungary further demonstrate the concordance of Zionism and white supremacy. Neo-Nazis are inspired by Israel’s policies and the term ‘white Zionism’ has been used to describe the emerging ‘alt-right’ neo-fascistic movement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone as far as revising the Holocaust to serve his political needs and Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s Justice Minister has made openly genocidal, dehumanizing threats toward Palestinians, calling them “little snakes”.
In similar fashion to other fascistic, anti-Semitic regimes, Israel has never tolerated dissident voices, targeting Jewish anti-Zionists throughout its history. In fact, anti-Zionists were targeted from before the foundation of the state of Israel (also see here). Today, Jewish pro-Palestinian activists who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement are detained, punished and even deported.
To maintain this abusive, white supremacist dynamic, Zionist propagandists have promoted the anti-Semitic fallacy that Israel is a Jewish state, which represents Judaism and thus all Jews. This fundamental canard is at the root of Zionist propaganda (aka Hasbara), galvanising support for Israeli settler colonialism and attacking anti-colonial resistance.
The logical outcome of this fallacy erroneously determines that critique of Zionism/Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic. Successive Israeli governments have employed this trope as a talking point in order to sabotage critique of their criminal policies. Their cynical manipulation of the guilt surrounding the very real history of anti-Jewish bigotry and oppression has bolstered this tactic. Furthermore, Israel consistently strengthens its supposed association to Judaism (by promulgating legislation such as the Nation state law) in order to promote this fallacious anti-Semitic apartheid framework.
Recently, black-Palestinian alliances have become a growing concern for Zionists, who have targeted a series of black pro-Palestinian activists with charges of ‘anti-Semitism’; e.g. Marc Lamont Hill and the organizers of the Women’s march. Now, an award has been rescinded from civil rights icon Angela Davis likely due to her pro-Palestinian advocacy and support for the BDS movement. This selective targeting of black activists further demonstrates the white supremacist nature of Zionism.
A second, more obscure consequence of this fallacy, strikes the pro-Palestinian camp. If it is accepted, as it is by Zionists, that Israel indeed represents Judaism and all Jews – an expression of ‘Jewish supremacy’ – then those who are pro-Palestinian must also reject Jews and Judaism.
The adoption of this outlook creates two artificial camps, with Israel, Zionists and Jews in the former and Palestinian people together with anti-Semites, in the latter. Thus, the notion that Zionism is driven by ‘Jewish supremacy’, reproduced in Susan Abulhawa’s article, splinters the natural alliances of all those who are oppressed by the capitalist, white supremacist patriarchy and bolsters the reactionary narrative which claims that the Israeli-Palestinian “conflict” is not a case of settler colonialism with historical precedents and thus has a political solution, but a holy war between Jews and their allies against all those who oppose them.
This outlook ultimately sustains ongoing victimization of Palestinian people by rendering “the conflict” unsolvable by any means other than violence therefore benefiting Zionist settler colonialism and its propaganda, which has a military force disproportionately more powerful than its Palestinian victims.
In contrast, the understanding of Zionism as a white supremacist movement, which has opportunistically and selectively syncretised Judaism to obscure and bolster its criminal settler colonialist, genocidal activity creates an appropriate analytical framework which places all those oppressed by the capitalist, white supremacist patriarchy (black and brown people, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, Indigenous people, women, LGBTQI etc) in one (anti-racist, anti-colonial) camp and those who uphold it, including Zionists (Jews and non-Jews) and others, like David Icke, who espouse anti-Semitism, in opposition. Notably, white supremacy is an ideology that relates to whiteness as a structure and can thus be advanced by anyone, even its victims.
Consistently, the principled Palestinian-led BDS movement has called for the exclusion of all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, from its campaign.
Thus, the framing of Zionism as ‘white’, not ‘Jewish’ supremacy enables and strengthens the formation of coalitions between all those opposed to Zionist settler colonialism in particular and white supremacy in general and hinders Zionist attempts at sabotage by lobbying cynical accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’. Pro-Palestinian advocates are wise when they support principles over people and are careful not to promote anti-Semitic, reactionary or conspiratorial material, which damages the Palestinian cause they champion and exposes it to justified critique.
Photo of Jerusalem by Yoav Litvin