Is Zionism Racism?


On August 31, the UN will convene a conference on racism that has already caused a storm of controversy here in the United States and abroad. We have only to invoke its formal name, the “World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance,” to get some idea of the bogus nature of this fabulous convocation. No doubt the alleged “rights” of each and every aggrieved “minority” on earth will be trotted out and their loss ascribed to the evil machinations of white male patriarchs whose very existence is an affront to Disabled Lesbians of Color the world over.

The international Left, armed with the systematized victimology of Michel Foucault and the brash self-confidence of those who have nothing to lose but their white male guilt, may be intellectually and politically bankrupt, but they know a good propaganda ploy when they see one. They have very cleverly seized on two issues é Israel and reparations for American blacks as restitution for slavery é and run with them, and the Bush administration has been forced to respond with a threat to boycott the meeting. While maintaining that they really do want to attend, US officials were clear that if the “Zionism-is-racism” and reparations issues were raised the American delegates would somehow manage to miss their planes. “The United States intends to go to this conference. The only thing that would stop the United States from going,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, “is in the event that this conference and its organizers equate Zionism with racism in the agenda leading up to the conference or if they look backward at the very tangled question of reparations and slavery.”

Oh yes, we mustn’t “look backward,” at least not too far. Naturally, it’s okay to look back at the Holocaust, and at the depredations faced by blacks in the American south in, say, the 1950s and ’60s. But as for examining how the Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes by Zionist ideologues in league with various colonial powers (the Ottomans, the British, the Americans) é forget it. As Israeli bulldozers demolish Palestinian homes, and the blood of their children stains the soil that is no longer theirs, Zionism in action certainly seems like racism to them. But, then, these are the victims of Zionism, and what do they know?

Zionism was originally a tendency of the Left, a subset of the socialist movement inspired by Marx, the German Social Democracy, and the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party of Lenin’s time. As such, it was egalitarian, internationalist, and its militants were convinced that with the onset of true socialism, all racial and religious strife would automatically disappear along with capitalism, the nuclear family, and bourgeois individualism. It was only later that the right-wing “revisionist” school, embodied by today’s Likud party, arose amid the realities of the Zionist project. For the onset of Israeli socialism did not give rise to the idyllic commune envisioned by Zionists of the Left, but to an increasingly militarized and expansionist society that turned the Palestinians into an inferior caste. Labor Zionism created the supreme irony: Israeli national socialism.

The tragic inversion of the original Zionist vision is a function of the failure of socialism. The all-powerful Israeli state, invested with total power over the economy, naturally sought to expropriate the private property of the Palestinians. In the Zionist socialist mindset, these were the evil landlords, who were oppressing the Palestinian workers and peasants. That they were also an obstacle to the creation of an explicitly Jewish state was obscured in a fog of left-wing jargon. The Palestinians understood this very well, however, and failed to welcome the Zionists as their liberators. Why, those ingrates even resisted this latest assault by foreign religious zealots with some imagined theological claim to their land and livelihood, just as they had resisted the medieval Crusaders. Palestinian hostility to Zionist aims led to an equal and opposite reaction, and Zionism began to evolve in a troubling direction.

Imbued with a religious dimension, the Zionist brand of socialism easily took on a millennialist coloration, which, early on, inspired its fanatical adherents to commit acts of terrorism against civilians with impunity. The Stern Gang and other underground groups were no less violent than Hamas. The only difference is that they had a success that Hamas can only dream of: they won, after all, and their leaders became the founders and chief executives of the Israeli state.

Once in power, Zionism became an ideology that justified what we call today “ethnic cleansing,” the systematic expulsion of entire communities based on their ethnicity. The aim of this Israeli government policy was to repopulate the emptied land with settlers, replacing the ousted Palestinians with the aliyah (or in-migration) of their religious brethren from all over the world. The last dregs of the “internationalism” of this variety of socialism was an appeal to the Jews é not the workers é of all countries to unite in a single nation, a clarion call that married the narrowest exclusivity with the “proletarian internationalism” of classical Marxism.

“Love,” said the novelist Ayn Rand, “is exception-making,” and certainly by this standard the relation between Israel and the US can only be described as torrid. We ignore, in Israel, the sort of actions that would normally have the US government in a permanent lather. Here, after all, is a state that brazenly discriminates on the basis of religion: Jews from all over the world have the “right of return,” and are granted automatic citizenship as well as numerous subsidies, but Palestinians displaced by Israeli bulldozers have no such rights.

The Israeli government, which directly subsidizes religion and regulates social and economic life so that it conforms to the strictures of a religious dogma, is arguably a theocracy closer to the Iranian model than to any Western democracy. But the Zionists make the mullahs look mild in comparison, for consider their actions: a whole population has been ghettoized and corralled, much as the Jews of medieval Europe were penned up in overcrowded fenced-off areas, and all on the basis of race and ethnicity. The last government that did these sorts of things also massacred multi-millions, at least 6 million of which were Jews. The irony of this should leave a bitter aftertaste in the mind of the reader, while I segue safely on to the next paragraph.

It is also interesting to note that some of the biggest advocates of the alleged benefits of virtually unlimited immigration é Norman Podhoretz, Ben Wattenberg, and many non-Jewish neoconservatives come to mind é would never dream of imposing such an “open borders” regime on Israel. For that would lead, very shortly, to the demise of Israel as a specifically Jewish state, and would force Israelis to make a fateful choice between Zionism and democracy é and basic human decency. Indeed, they are already making that choice in favor of the former as Ariel Sharon gets ready to impose a semi-Final Solution to the Palestinian Problem.

Even as the US applauds the kidnapping and prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic for alleged war crimes, we aid and abet eerily similar crimes in the Holy Land. If Milosevic is guilty of “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia, and Kosovo, then didn’t the same sort of war crimes occur in Palestine? More interestingly, weren’t these atrocities rationalized by two varieties of national socialism that are brothers under the skin?

With the threat of a Danish court to indict the Israeli ambassador to Denmark, Israeli ambassadors all over the world must be wondering whether to pack their bags rather than take the risk. After all, the evidence of Israeli war crimes is a lot more plentiful and convincing than what Carla Del Ponte has on Slobo.

So, is Zionism racism? If we are talking about the Zionism that is, then the answer is an emphatic yes. But Zionism per se é the idea that Jews, like all peoples, have the right to national and cultural self-determination é is certainly not inherently racist. While the term has been much abused é indeed, in our era, it enjoys a special status as the single most abused term in the English language é racism is a valid concept in its original meaning, which is a variety of collectivism based on race instead of class. Yet Zionism could conceivably be separated out from its collectivist historical roots, and understood as a strategy for the survival of the Jewish people. If Zionism is seen as a survival strategy, then the interests of the Jewish people cannot be well-served by the unabashed arrogance and violence of the present regime. The founders of the Zionist ideal must be spinning in their graves. Instead of building a socialist Elysian Fields they birthed a theocratic Sparta.

Conceived in this pure, a-historical sense, Zionism could conceivably evolve in a free market and therefore a just direction. This movement would depend on the growth of a libertarian tendency in Israeli society, one that is based on the inviolability and centrality of property rights as the basis of a free and prosperous commonwealth. There is no such movement in Israel, at present, and no sign that one will arise in time to avert disaster.

Furthermore, a truly libertarian movement in Israel would be concerned, above all, with the protection and restoration of just titles to land and other property: once in power, Israeli libertarians would not only denationalize but also restore stolen property to its rightful owners or their heirs. For the defense of private property, the prerequisite for human civilization, does not exist only in the present, but must extend back in time é and there is no cutoff point, nor can there be. For what is the difference, in terms of justice as an absolute principle, if my stolen property is recovered and I or my heirs are recompensed inside of five minutes, five hours, five weeks, or five centuries? While the original victims of a theft may be long dead, their heirs and legatees are still being ripped off, continually, so long as restitution is not made.

This principle applies to the bicycle you stole when you were in high school (all those years ago) and is still stored away in your parents’ garage, and to the Israeli government, which has expropriated, bulldozed, and overrun the private property of Palestinians. Justice will not be done until you return that bike to its rightful owners é the family of the kid you stole it from. (He has since passed away, but his family still lives in the old neighborhood and they always wondered what happened to that bike.) The same principle applies to Palestinians é and to American blacks, whose very liberty was stolen from them.

The international Left has latched on to issues that, ironically, should be of paramount concern to those who uphold a thoroughgoing enforcement of property rights and strict adherence to free markets, that is, markets cleansed of all coercion and fraud, whether past or present. The “reparations” movement that has sprung up among blacks, for all its demagogic white-baiting, has a kind of popular resonance not because it is revolutionary but precisely due to its complaint that the rules of a bourgeois society based on property rights are not being followed to the letter. Something was stolen from us, they aver, and justice requires restitution.

Like Zionism, the reparations movement arose out of a sense of perceived injustice é a violation of property rights. This is not a socialist or leftist grievance, but the complaint of a dispossessed owner. For a libertarian solution é or, at least, a basis for one é see page 75 of the New York University Press edition of Murray N. Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty. This reference will have to suffice, for the moment: it can be only a hint of a column to come, as this column is already overly long.

For the moment, however, let us focus on the UN conference itself, and the sheer unselfconscious pomposity of such an event, reflected in its official title. The absurdity of Americans being judged by the tribal chiefs of Zimbabawe and the mullahs of Tazikistan gives the whole production the air of Kakfa novel, a surrealistic nightmare in broad daylight. This is the Zeitgeist of the new millennium, the cultural ethos of the New World Order: the sinking feeling that we Americans are caught in a bad dream from which there is no awakening.

The only good thing about the UN racism conference is that it further discredits the idea that the UN has any moral legitimacy or authority over the people of the United States, or that it ought to. Unfortunately, the efforts of the Left to discredit the US abroad are aided and abetted by Washington’s unconditional support for Israel. Such a policy is not in America’s national self-interest: furthermore, as long as we subsidize and encourage the Israelis by our silence, we enable them to carry out what are genuine war crimes against the Palestinian people.

Mr. Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of