Some pieces are easy to write. I go to an event and hear people suggest that the Zionists were responsible for the holocaust, or witness mention of Jewish power. If it is a speech by Max Blumenthal or Tom Suarez, I will hear tales of Jewish conspiracy. I return home, analyse the recordings, research, and write. It is an easy process to follow.
The more difficult pieces are those that challenge the narratives. The message is not a simple ‘one-liner’. There can be discomfort in internally challenging deeply held beliefs, an inability to ‘cross the divide’. People are even uncertain sometimes ‘which side’ the piece is on.
This is one of those items. To make the journey with me, you need to let go of some of your beliefs. Ignore statements that challenge your history and set aside all you know about the creation of the conflict between 1917 and 1967.
I am going to ask you to immerse yourself inside the Palestinian narrative. I am doing so because I am going to use their narrative, not just to show that Zionism is a movement of national liberation but to forcefully drive home the idea that the Balfour apology campaign, anti-Zionism and the entire settler colonial paradigm are all knee deep in antisemitic thought.
An alternate universe
The Arab narrative suggests that the British had written a letter as a nation of empire and handed a land that was not theirs over to a rich and powerful European sect. The British then spent 30 years facilitating this movement. Eventually, in 1948, the Palestinians were brutally expelled from their land by these invading racist white Europeans.
Today, millions of the descendants of the victims of this ‘Nakba’ are scattered. Many live as refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Others have gone further afield, and you can find them in nations across the globe. Waiting with their deeds and their keys until they, or their children, or their grandchildren, can eventually return.
That return is described as a movement for national liberation. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. ‘Fatah’, the largest faction of the PLO, was originally called the ‘Palestinian National Liberation Movement’.
Central to the liberation movement is the return of the refugees. Those that were ‘scattered’:
“the “right of return” for the descendants to their land and homes in “Palestine” will be valid for all eternity, it is not subject to negotiation, and is both a group and personal “right” that cannot be cancelled.” (Palestinian Diaspora in Europe” conference 2015)
The same message is repeated here:
“Palestinians have repeatedly said that the right of return enshrined in various United Nations resolutions is non-negotiable and does not have an expiry date.”
The Palestinian right of return. An inalienable right. A hereditary condition, with Palestinian ‘nationhood’ passing from parent to child.
In this manner, 70 years later, the struggle, even the violent struggle, is framed as a movement of National liberation rather than a struggle for personal freedoms. The Arab who was born in Lebanon, whose parents were born in Lebanon, does not strive for freedom in Lebanon, but rather to experience the liberation of his ‘homeland’. A land neither he nor his parents ever trod. This movement of national liberation has full time support from a long list of anti-Zionist activists.
Let us go back in history
I was in Rome in August, and saw the Arch of Titus. The arch is almost 2000 years old. Constructed to commemorate Titus’ victories, including the siege of Jerusalem. There embedded into the south panel are representations of the spoils taken from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
So, let us rewind 2000 years. The Romans had sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the 2nd temple. Jews were forbidden entrance to their holy city. The final rebellion in a new uprising to regain their independence (133–135 CE) was crushed. These Jewish people, were fighting a struggle that was clearly a movement of national liberation.
So, we have two movements of national liberation. One following the Roman military actions the other the current Palestinian cause. (Remember, up to this point our journey was not to question the validity of the narrative).
Contradiction and a mirror of Zionism
Now let us return to the real world and realise that the anti-Zionist position only recognises one of these liberation movements. What we can call ‘Palestionism’. We call it this because this movement seems to have mirrored the creation of its own narrative on the Jewish experience. The Palestinians have a ‘diaspora’, they have an ‘expulsion’, they are a persecuted people, claim to have been in the land for ‘millennia’, they suggest the invaders were ‘European’, their fight was against the greatest empire in the world, they use the Nakba as their ‘Holocaust’, they seek to return to their ‘promised land’, Jerusalem is their holy city and so on. It is almost a carbon copy of the Jewish narrative (minus of course much of the historical and factual support).
Today you can see in a university campus near you, a child born in the west, whose parents were born in the west, talking about returning to a place they have never been. In addition to this, they seek your support to help scrub away an existing nation (a liberal democracy) from the map. Anti-Zionists like Ilan Pappe call this destructive force ‘a movement of national liberation’.
In turn they call the national liberation movement of the Jews, a ‘colonial settler project’ that must be ended. Yet the roots of Zionism, immersed in the historical journey of the Jewish people was clearly at the outset a national liberation movement.
Questions about Zionists
So therefore, one thing becomes clear. If at some point, the Jewish movement of national liberation became an aggressive ’settler colonial’ project, then so too can the Palestinian cause. The question then becomes how? In the version of the anti-Zionists, what mistake will the Palestinians have to make, to lose ‘their right’ to the land? Let us look at the excuses they use against Zionism.
Well this doesn’t hold.There are many uncertainties to the Palestinian claim to nationhood. 100 years ago, the Arabs of Ramallah sought to be Syrians, trying to support Faisal as monarch. Similarly, we know there was large Arab immigration, with regional economic revival attracting many migrants.
There is also no history book of these people that is dated before the 1960’s. Evidence of too many Arabs during the mandate period refusing to accept a Palestinian identity. Even the status of the refugee contains absurdities such as granting Palestinian identity to people who had only entered the area 3 years before. Given that by 135ad, the Jewish people already had a well-known history book several hundred years old. There is little comparison here.
Leaving the area?
Well this doesn’t hold either. Most of the people who claim to be the refugees of this liberation movement are outside of the original mandate lands. Most in Jordan, but you can meet them anywhere. The Palestinian ‘diaspora’, has already left. As the dispersal created the raison d’etre for the movement it clearly cannot be used to deny it.
Another interesting contradictory position opens here. The anti-Zionists suggest the Zionists were the minority in Palestine (thus discounting the voice of the Jewish diaspora). These are the same people who refuse to discount the voice of the Palestinian diaspora.
The group isn’t visibly homogeneous?
That cannot work because over time, every group will adopt some characteristics of a host nation, either culturally or physically through intermarriage. British Palestinian Karl Sabbagh is a product of a mixed marriage, yet clearly identifies with the Palestinian right to return. To apply this as a rule would be absurd and condemn any exiled people to a wretched end, unable to sustain a national right to return. The passage of time must be irrelevant or the right has no meaning.
Additionally, this element is dangerous for the Palestinian argument. The Jews were an exiled people, with a history, an identity, a language, a culture and a religion. The Palestinians from Akko were no different to those in Beirut. Those in Ramallah, no different from those in Amman. Those in Nazareth, no different from those in Damascus. Defining a Jew is easy, whether in Yemen or Iraq or the USA. How do you define a Palestinian today? How would you have defined them just 80 years ago? Homogeneity counts against the Palestinian narrative because they become indistinguishable from their neighbours.
Change of land ownership?
This doesn’t work either. The Jews were exiled a long time ago, even though they always maintained some presence. And yes, many rulers have come and gone. But the rulers before the Jews returned were the Turks and then the British, not the Palestinians. Ownership cannot have relevance here either. Additionally, it places the same constraints as the previous argument- The passage of time must be irrelevant or the right has no meaning.
The journey of the people?
Is relative acceptance of the Jewish people in host nations an issue. No of course not. What about Ghetto’s, persecution, massacres, even genocide. Everywhere they went, Jews were trodden on by their hosts, eternally dependent on the whim of the current leadership in the nation they resided. There is no story of persistent persecution like the story of the Jewish people.
All this of course leaves us with a problem. If we cannot identify what made Zionism a settler colonial project? When will the ‘eternal right’ of the Palestinians to return also turn them into a settler colonial project?
Or in others words, those calling Zionism a colonial mission, those such as Ilan Pappe and Blumenthal need to create the skeleton argument by which we can identify how Palestinians can cross the line into settler colonialism and become illegitimate. What are their own measures for making this identification?
Antisemitism and Zionists
They cannot do this of course. Because their position will simply fall apart. It does not have enough academic cohesion to apply a framework to it. No factual basis and no historical underpinning. At the highest level, those that view the Arab cause as a movement of national liberation, logically must accept the Zionist cause as one also (the reverse does not have to be true). Within this consistent position those people can logically support a two-state framework.
Another consistent position, are those who would seek accommodation between the sides, but support neither national movement. However, these people would not push for a right of return. Rather they would blame Lebanon for the abuse of people born in Lebanon, turn to Jordan to deal with human rights abuse in Jordan and blame Hamas for any deprivation of rights in Gaza. This argument would also consider those people claiming to be Palestinian who were born in the West as being out of the equation.
But ‘one staters’, the campus and BDS anti-Zionists, have no such consistency. They push full Palestinian rights but do not accept Zionism as a legitimate movement at all. So how can people who so clearly understand the concept of a displaced people, those who speak of inalienable human rights, look at Jews running from pogroms or the holocaust and call it colonialism?
The only way is through the denial of the ‘Jewish’ essence in Zionism. To deny me the right to my own identity. In other words, to attack the Jewish story, Jewish history, the Jewish self. To attack the ‘Jew’. Blatant Antisemitism.
This narrative within the anti-Zionist discourse must be antisemitic. Because to activate itself it must play down the Jew in the Jew. It must be inherently biased against Jewish history and the Jewish identity.
It may do it through the creation of myths, such as the Khazar fallacy. Or through attempts to split the Jewish identity by suggesting Ashkenazi are racists and Sephardi are Arabs. Or by demonising the Zionists, denying the persecution, or suggesting Jewish people are powerful rather than weak. All these elements, methods through which to explain the inherent contradiction of anti-Zionism, are present in anti-Zionist discourse.
So, settler colonial studies that focus on Zionism is an academic course in antisemitism. Almost every single voice who speaks of Israel as a settler colonial movement supports the Palestinian right of return. That the rights of a 3rd generation British citizen can outweigh those of someone who was born in Tel Aviv, to parents who were born in Tel Aviv, to grandparents who were born in Tel Aviv. The hypocrisy of the argument is difficult to overstate. This position has to place Jews second to everyone else to be coherent. To deny them their history, to push back their claims for liberation and suggest only they (the Jews) do not have the rights of others. The ‘apologise for Balfour’ campaign is also built within this environment. It too is antisemitic to the core.
And all this before we begin attacking the clear issues with the historicity of the narrative the anti-Zionists are disseminating. Until 1948 Zionism was a movement of national liberation. Today it is at the heart of the state of Israel. Anyone deliberately denying the historical underpinnings of this movement, or demonising its central characteristics, whilst at the same time holding aloft the ‘justice’ of the Palestinian people , is standing knee deep in a septic antisemitic swamp.
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