FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Renouncing Israel on Principle

Photograph Source: Brian Naughton – CC BY 2.0

When anti-Zionists discuss the Middle East, the topic of Israel’s existence rarely arises.  It’s almost exclusively a pro-Israel talking point. We’re focused on national liberation, on surviving repression, on strategies of resistance, on recovering subjugated histories, on the complex (and sometimes touchy) relationships among an Indigenous population disaggregated by decades of aggression.  That a colonial state—or any state, really—possesses no ontological rights is an unspoken assumption.

“Do you recognize Israel’s right to exist?” pretends to honor the downtrodden, but it is an altogether different proposition, transforming sophisticated ideas of liberation into a crude test of political respectability. Prioritizing the state as worthy of relief, as something to which we automatically owe deference, subsumes life to the imperatives of capital.

The fundamental goal of the question is to attribute a sinister position to dissidents.  It accomplishes that goal even when the dissidents haven’t promoted destruction.  Mere defense of Palestinian life is enough to evoke the settler’s existential fear.  For people socialized into orthodoxy, Israel is synonymous with progress, technology, and production.  Affirming its existence is an endorsement of the status quo; no matter how ludicrous as a moral premise, in capitalist spaces it is a perfectly sensible demand.

There are plenty of reasons to eschew the demand.  The first reason is practical:  we don’t advocate for the destruction of human communities, but of ideologies conducive to racism and inequality.  It’s both insidious and unethical to conflate Jewish people (of any national origin) with the existence of a violent, rapacious polity.  That sort of conflation is a grave disservice to activists and intellectuals devoted to a better world—and to the communities for whom a better world is a necessity of survival.  Nobody has ever asked me to affirm another nation-state’s existence, a demand I would likewise decline. Zionists constantly single out Israel for special treatment.

Moreover, it is remarkably impudent for champions of a state founded on the destruction of Palestine and now in its eighth decade of ethnic cleansing to ask the victims of its malevolence for recognition.  Even worse, recognition is only the tip of the demand.  We’re also being asked to legitimize apartheid and ignore the routine commission of war crimes.  The upshot is to validate Israel as a militarized object of Western imperialism—in other words, to affirm the existence of a deeply antihuman entity.

Let’s consider the demand in context of North America, where it’s most frequently issued.  Those of us operating in this geography haven’t the authority to abdicate nearly 80 (and arguably 100) percent of historical Palestine.  It’s not any Westerner’s prerogative to relinquish Palestine under the pressure of a spuriously humanistic insistence by Zionists that their perfidy be excused because it will somehow make us more responsible citizens.

I am happy, eager even, to affirm the right of Jewish people to live in peace and security, wherever that may be, a right all humans deserve in no particular order of worthiness.  But I won’t ratify Israel’s bloody founding or its devotion to racial supremacy.  Ultimately, when Zionists demand that you affirm Israel’s right to exist, what they really seek is affirmation of Palestinian nonexistence.

Beyond these philosophical, political, and practical factors, there’s a worthy psychological reason to refuse the demand.  Zionists are the bully in this supposed conflict and enjoy nearly universal support in centers of political and economic power.  They have more funds, access to corporate media, and the backing of the US military. Palestinians, however, hold one form of power that doesn’t require money, platforms, or weaponry:  the ability to withhold legitimacy from Israel.  It is a small power, without a material apparatus, but it is power, nevertheless, one that only a fool or opportunist would relinquish.  When an oppressor makes submission the basis of civic responsibility, insolence is the only dignified response.

This essay first appeared on Steven Salaita’s website: No Flags, No Slogans.

More articles by:
August 05, 2020
Roy Eidelson
Black Lives Matter: Resisting the Propaganda of Status Quo Defenders
Melvin Goodman
The Department of Homeland Security: the Ideal Authoritarian Tool
Paul Street
Misleaders at a Funeral: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama Eulogizing Racial Justice in the Name of John Lewis
Seiji Yamada
Hiroshima, Technique, and Bioweapons
Vijay Prashad
How Trump Managed to Lead the World with the Worst Response to the COVID Pandemic
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Alternative
Jonas Ecke
The Worst Hunger Season Yet to Come: Global Moral Failure in the Time of Covid-19
Rafiq Kathwari
The Battle for Kashmir
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Arch-Kleptocrat is Found Guilty
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
 U.S. Cold War China Policy Will Isolate the U.S, Not China
Lee Camp
Why Housing Is a Human Right
Sam Pizzigati
For Egalitarians, a Sudden Sense of Possibility
Jonathan Cook
Can Israelis Broaden Their Protests Beyond Netanyahu?
Thomas Knapp
Ten Years After Lieberman’s “Internet Kill Switch,” the War on Freedom Rages On
Binoy Kampmark
Staying on Message: Australia, the US and the AUSMIN Talks
Elliot Sperber
The View From Saturn 
August 04, 2020
John Pilger
Another Hiroshima is Coming…Unless We Stop It Now
Dave Lindorff
Unsung Heroes of Los Alamos: Rethinking Manhattan Project Spies and the Cold War
Kenneth Good
Escalating State Repression and Covid-19: Their Impact on the Poor in Kenya
Dean Baker
We Need an Economic Survival Package Not Another Stimulus
David Rosen
Globalization and the End of the American Dream
John Feffer
The Pandemic Reveals a Europe More United Than the United States
Patrick Cockburn
The Government’s Failed Track-and-Trace System is a Disaster for England
Ramzy Baroud
‘Optimism of the Will’: Palestinian Freedom is Possible Now
CounterPunch News Service
Statement From Yale Faculty on Hydroxychloroquine and Its Use in COVID-19
Manuel García, Jr.
Ocean Heat: From the Tropics to the Poles
Sonali Kolhatkar
Why the Idea of Jobless Benefits Scares the Conservative Mind
Greta Anderson
Framing Wolves in New Mexico?
Binoy Kampmark
Pulling Out of Germany: Trump Adjusts the Military Furniture
Shawn Fremstad – Nicole Rodgers
COVID Stimulus Checks Shouldn’t Penalize One-Parent Households
Adam Shah
The 1 Percent’s Attack on Unemployment Benefits is a Sign of Our Broken Democracy
Evaggelos Vallianatos
On the Beauty of Life
B. R. Gowani
Mohammed Rafi: Singer and Human Par Excellence
David Krieger
Eight A-Bomb Haiku
August 03, 2020
Linda Pentz Gunter
The Resistible Rise of Nuclear Gangsters…and Their Downfall
John G. Russell
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
Cal Winslow
Their Heroes and Ours: California’s Health Care Crisis
David Barber
Renouncing White Privilege: A Left Critique of Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility”
Linda G. Ford
Free Joy Powell! America’s Political Prisoner for Fighting Police Brutality
Prabir Purkayastha
Trump’s Withdrawal From WHO: a Cover-Up for His Abject Failure on COVID-19
Dean Baker
The Plunge in Consumption of Services Leads to a Record 32.9 Percent Drop in GDP
Ramzy Baroud
Human Rights Defenders: Palestinian Eyewitness Testimony of the Execution of Abdul Fattah al-Sharif by Israeli Soldier, Elor Azaria
Karen J. Greenberg
Accountability is Gone in America
Cesar Chelala
A Wrong Message for the Pandemic
Jonah Raskin
Chesa Boudin: Reformer in the San Francisco DA’s Office
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail