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Racism and the Movement to End the Israeli Occupation

On August 6, 2013, State House spokeswoman Jen Psaki made history by telling AP reporter Matt Lee that the U.S. had “determined that we do not need to make a determination” whether the military coup in Egypt was in fact a coup d’état, which would have triggered a suspension of roughly $1.5 billion annually in mostly military aid to Egypt.  This head-in-the-sand approach to policymaking and implementation apparently has other applications, as groups dedicated to “ending the Israeli occupation” of Palestinian land are discovering.

The question came up as one of those groups, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, sought to formulate a statement and policy against racism within its ranks.  The draft statement expressed the opposition of USCEIO to  “…all forms of racism, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or any other expressions of bigotry…”  In the discussion, one of the participants (me) proposed the addition of Zionism to the expressed forms of racism.

Zionism is obviously a key cause of injustice to Palestinians and therefore an important consideration in the mission of the USCEIO.  However, is Zionism racism?

There are several definitions of Zionism, but it is widely understood as the movement to create and preserve a Jewish state in Palestine.  If you advocate a Jewish state, you are a Zionist (although some people claim to defend a Jewish state because Zionists want one and not because they are themselves Zionist).

In order to create Israel, which defines itself as a Jewish state, it was necessary to expel most of the existing non-Jewish population, which outnumbered the Jewish population two-to-one at the time.  The determination of whom to expel was simple: Jews stay; non-Jews leave.  Racist? You decide.

Then there’s the matter of immigration.  Who gets to become Israeli?  Jews, of course, and occasionally their non-Jewish immediate family (who will hopefully convert).  Non-Jews, including those who were expelled from their homes are out of luck.  Racist?

The third and final illustration is the matter of housing in Israel for Israeli citizens.  More than 93% of Israeli land is off limits to its non-Jewish citizens.

There is much, much more, but the point is that all of this is done in the name of Zionism.  Granted, not all Zionists agree with all of these policies.  In fact some of them – often called “anti-occupation” Zionists – advocate the return of Palestinian lands seized by Israel in the 1967 war, and they oppose any further land seizures within Israel.  However, they do not advocate returning the much larger seizures of Palestinian land prior to 1967 and allowing Palestinians to return to their homes in those areas.

Why?  Because they want those lands for their Jewish state.  Palestinians must be excluded from returning to their homes in those areas because they are not Jews.  Is that racist?  You decide.

Strategically, there may be reasons to cooperate with anti-occupation Zionists even if they are racist.  They are critical of Israel and some of their objectives are the same as those of non-racists.  This is in fact what the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign has done.  It surreptitiously modified its original mission statement in order to accommodate a subgroup of these Zionists (those who support BDS), which has now come to dominate the movement, with some significant results to its credit.

The USCEIO would also like to pursue the agenda of anti-occupation, pro-BDS Zionists.  Unfortunately, this is incompatible with an anti-racism statement.  A model of such a statement was signed by more than 100 prominent Palestinians and published on the Electronic Intifada (EI), but it seems unlikely to win approval by USCEIO because it includes Zionism, along with Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, as forms of racism.  The preferable course, therefore, appears to be to “determine that it does not need to determine” that Zionism is racism.

What are the consequences of this choice?  Since there are few if any Palestinian groups that participate in USCEIO, the inescapable conclusion is that USCEIO prefers to be inclusive of some Zionists rather than most Palestinians, who are unlikely to join unless USCEIO takes a strong stand against Zionism and a consistent stand on racism, like the EI declaration.

Is it possible to include both?  Perhaps, but in order to move in that direction, USCEIO would need to become an anti-Zionist organization that accommodates anti-occupation Zionists that have some common strategic interests, not an anti-occupation Zionist organization that accommodates anti-Zionists willing to bend to Zionist ends, which is what it is now.  Only then can a consistent statement against racism be crafted.

Paul Larudee is a writer and human rights advocate, and one of the co-founders of the movement to break the siege of Gaza by sea.

Also: Read US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation’s official response to Paul Larudee.

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Paul Larudee is on the steering committee of the Syria Solidarity Movement.

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