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The Racist and Supremacist Origins of Israel

The Racist and Supremacist Origins of Israel

Zionism is a modern movement with roots in historic texts and political motivations that require a much deeper examination than what meets the eye.

The Racist and Supremacist Origins of Israel

Zionism is a modern movement with roots in historic texts and political motivations that require a much deeper examination than what meets the eye.

Writer: Sara Katib | Copy Editor: Zainabrights | Design: Fatima El-Zein

Zionism is a modern movement with roots in historic texts and political motivations that require a much deeper examination than what meets the eye. While it is true that the past seven decades of Israeli aggression in Palestine are the physical manifestation of Zionism in action, one cannot fully grasp the magnitude of this issue without studying its ideological origins. As an inherently racist movement with white supremacy at its core, Zionism has only opportunistically used aspects of Judaism to justify its political ambitions.

Whether it seeks a return to the Torah’s “promised land” or a fulfillment of “Biblical prophecy,” Zionism is anything but a virtuous, religious ideology; it is a racist political and colonialist movement that privileges a ruling class of elites by weaponizing religion, language, and history to further its goals.

Theodore Herzl and the Origins of Zionism

Theodor Herzl died 40 years before Israel came into being, but he is the figure who transformed Zionism into a political force that now reigns over the Western world. Widely recognized as the father of Zionism, Herzl was an Austro-Hungarian journalist who actually had minimal ties to Judaism and the Jewish people throughout his early adulthood. In 1895, Herzl was a 35-year-old literary editor of Vienna’s Neue Freie Presse, and wrote several comedies and dramas for the Viennese stage. 

In 1896, however, his career took a very different turn after he wrote “The Jewish State,” a pamphlet where he proposed that the Jewish experience was a political question that ought to be settled by a council of nations. Herzl then organized a world congress of Zionists that met in Switzerland in 1897 and he became the first president of the World Zionist Organization. 

While Herzl was not the first to conceive of a Jewish state, he was the first to infuse the ideology with practical and political urgency. Herzl succeeded in attracting a whole new population of Western converts to a Zionist cause that was previously only deemed a philanthropic matter supported by wealthy Jewish families (ie “cultural Zionism”).

Herzl’s new objective was simple, yet carefully and diplomatically devised: “a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured by public law.”

Thus, from its early days, modern Zionism fully recognized that there was a native Arab population living in Palestine, but it chose not to see them as humans worthy of equal rights to the “successful and educated” Jewish people who would establish a homeland there.

Herzl’s vision of a model state for the Jews was anything but a democracy, which he believed would be dangerous, as it would allow the “uneducated masses to dominate politics.” Instead, Herzl favored a liberal model of an aristocracy, or a meritocracy of the successful and educated. In this way, Herzl was able to attract European elites and Western leaders to his plan, a move that effectively consolidated the power dynamics necessary to further the Zionist cause. 

Herzl knew that the Zionist project had to integrate itself with Europe’s imperial powers to have any chance at succeeding, and he was right. As part of his persuasion, Herzl explained that “for Europe we shall create there in Palestine an outpost against Asia, we shall be the vanguard of the civilized world against barbarism.” In fact, the Europeans were very quick to embrace the significance of Zionism. Decades later, it would be British colonialism itself that would finally spearhead Herzel’s ultimate plan of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Zionism and Racism: a Brief History

In November 1975, the UN passed a resolution that denounced Zionism as a form of racism. Resolution 3379 called for the “elimination of all forms of racial discrimination,” linking Zionism with South Africa’s apartheid system. 

When the resolution was passed, then-Israeli ambassador to the UN Chaim Herzog notoriously tore up the text at the podium, and thus started the modern propaganda tactic of equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism at an international level.

In 1991, after pressure from then-US President George Bush, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to revoke the resolution, stressing that anti-Zionism was a new form of anti-Semitism.

It further argued that the 1975 resolution was out of date because it was a product of the Cold War that was embraced by “militant third-world nations.” In fact, then-US ambassador to the UN Daniel Patrick Moynihan played a key role in rescinding Resolution 3379 by pressuring the US State Department to threaten to withdraw American aid from countries which supported it. Both the US and Israel heavily lobbied governments to support the move.

As a result, the 1991 UN resolution to rescind the definition of Zionism as racism passed with an overwhelming majority of 111 countries in favor, and it immediately made global headlines. Almost completely unreported were the resolutions passed that same day which condemned Israel for practices such as the building of illegal settlements, land confiscation, and deterioration of living standards for Palestinians. Then-Lebanese Ambassador Khalil Makkawi asked UN delegates in a speech how any word other than “discrimination” could describe the denial of national rights to the native inhabitants of occupied Palestine. The answer to that question, however, was a deafening silence.

The US and Israel’s denial of the racist reality behind Zionism came as a shock to some, but it was only an expected outcome of the growing Western financial and ideological backing of the Israeli regime. In fact, the racist and supremacist basis of Zionism was being publicly advertised and normalized for decades before the infamous UN repeal of Resolution 3379. The following are only a few examples of Zionist leaders’ statements in relation to the Arab people:

• In 1937, David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, said “We must expel the Arabs and take their places.”

• In 1956, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, “The Palestinian woman and child is more dangerous than the man, because the Palestinian child’s existence infers that generations will go on.”

• In 1982, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin said in his speech to the Knesset that “the Palestinians are beasts walking on two legs.”

• In 1994, Rabbi Yaacov Perin openly said that “one million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.”

• In 2006, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, “Israeli lives are worth more than Palestinian ones.”

• In 2015, former Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “Those who are against us deserve to have their heads chopped off with an ax.”

• In 2015, former Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said, “They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

• In 2023, a 95-year-old Israeli army veteran Ezra Yachin said, “wipe out their families, their mothers and their children. These animals must not be allowed to live any longer.”

• Former chief of staff of the IDF Rafael Eitan said, “The only good Arab is a dead Arab.”

• Most recently, Israel’s current president Isaac Herzog said in a press conference that “there are no innocent civilians in Gaza.”

Western Silence and Hypocrisy

Modern Western human rights movements have placed moral virtues such as equality and justice at the forefront of their outreach and activism. A particularly telling example is the civil rights movement, which sought to abolish racial discrimination and give every individual – regardless of race, ethnicity, or social status – equal rights under the law. It took a while for Western nations that basked in their white glory to accept the fact that indeed, all races should be treated equally, in theory. Today, Western leaders are quick to embrace global diversity and condemn racism in front of the cameras – except when it comes to Israel.

This is while even non-white Jews have long protested against the systemic discrimination they face in Israel. One such example are Israelis of Ethiopian descent, who took to the streets of ‘Tel Aviv’ after a leaked video showed police officers physically assaulting an Ethiopian Israeli soldier, and later filing false charges against him. The protests triggered from this incident were compared to anti-police brutality protests in the US as they included scenes of police firing tear gas and using water cannons, but Israeli officials denied any such resemblance. 

Ethiopian Israelis, however, did not see this as an isolated incident. The Ethiopian community in Israel has been a victim of racism and discrimination at the hands of police and authorities for years. In 2012, Jewish Ethiopian protestors marched to the Knesset to decry racism, but the reality is that racism in Israeli society goes much further back.

In the 1950s, immigrant groups and even the local Arab minority there were seen as outsiders by a European Jewish elite. Jews from Arab countries were referred to as “neanderthals” in elections, and Ethiopians were treated as stereotypically uneducated and primitive. They were expected to take on the lowest-level jobs in society and were frequently shunned by the elites in Israeli society.

Ethnic exclusion in the form of government-sanctioned policies to favor a particular group within society is not a new concept. In the age of Western imperialism, it is often analyzed in tandem with the ideological backings behind settler-colonialist movements, such as the removal and erasure of Indigenous populations in the US and Canada, and the establishment of settlements in their place. The common denominator among these examples is the underlying weaponization of race and ethnicity as a reality that creates two distinct power categories, the colonizer and the colonized, allowing one to exert unchecked control over the other.

In fact, the settler-colonial logic of elimination is a reality Americans are well-aware of, given that the very “discovery” of the Americas involved the active destruction and violent removal of a native population that inhabited the land long before European settlers arrived. The racist ideological beliefs of the colonizers was clearly evident in their words, to a point where a popularized slogan by General Philip Sheridan in the mid-1800s claimed that “the only good Indian is the dead Indian,” which mirrors an exact statement made by former chief of staff of the IDF Rafael Eitan in 1981: “The only good Arab is a dead Arab.”

While Western nations typically associate the term “genocide” with the Holocaust, they often conveniently forget that the very inception of their societies was facilitated through the active genocide and forced removal of native populations. Today, their acceptance of this heinous reality is limited to statements of formality and land acknowledgements, while they continue to ignore the ongoing genocide of yet another native ethnic group: the Palestinians.

While Israel, which prides itself in being the only democracy in the Middle East, has a history of treating its own non-white citizens as second-class, sub-human creatures, the US and its allies have had little to say on the matter. This is while Western nations are quick to condemn and impose sanctions on other countries that violate human rights, but the Israeli regime enjoys a free pass from the notorious globocops of the world – a reality that has sustained its racist, supremacist regime since its illegal inception.

Writer: Sara Kateb | Copy Editor: Zainabrights | Design: Fatima El-Zein


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