Letter to the editor: We must acknowledge Zionism’s historical connection to white supremacy

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Before I address the bulk of “We need productive dialogue among Jewish students at Oxy” by Maddie Solomon, I’d like to make a comment about sources. Solomon’s op-ed used primarily two sources to justify very broad claims about the student body: Oxy Confessions and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). I don’t need to go into detail why citing Oxy Confessions as explanation for the student body’s discourse is illogical. More important is the ADL. While the ADL claims to fight hate and anti-Semitism, it has a substantial history of racism and Islamophobia, including participating in anti-Muslim smear campaigns, supporting Islamophobic politicians, and even petitioning to prevent the building of an Islamic cultural center. Most notably, the ADL has repeatedly attacked the Council for American Islamic Relations.

I agree with Solomon’s assertion that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. However, her statement that “It would be idealistic to assume that no anti-Zionist arguments are driven by anti-Semitism” dips into what-about-isms. Political arguments can be driven by anything, including anti-Semitism. Solomon then references a series of anti-Jewish stereotypes — none of which were present in Oxy Confessions. This idea that we should not engage with anti-Zionism because it could be fueled by anti-Semitism is a cop-out to not engage with political ideas that make us uncomfortable. She also mischaracterizes an Oxy Confession: “Oxy Confessions such as “found out this guy I have a crush on is a Zionist and now I know my taste in men is trash” may seem tame; however, this insensitive discourse contributes to Oxy’s static definitions of what makes someone a Jew, a Zionist or an anti-Zionist.” This cannot contribute to static definitions of what makes someone Jewish because the confession does not mention Judaism. I would argue that Solomon’s statement even implies all Zionists are Jews. In fact, many die-hard Zionists are Evangelical Christians.

We need to talk about Zionism in relation to white supremacy if we want to work toward a just society. People who wish to organize in leftist spaces should be prepared to recognize this. According to Solomon’s article, “Zionism is defined as a nationalist movement to create a self-ruling homeland for the Jewish people. As a result of that movement, Israel was created in 1948.” This is a gross oversimplification of Zionism and its historical context. While many of today’s Jews trace their ancestry to the ancient Judaic community of Palestine, this has nothing to do with the creation of a nation-state. Nationalism is not a Jewish value and never has been. In fact, in 1822, Jews accounted for less than 10 percent of the Palestinian population. Lord Rothschild’s memorandum of 1917 leading up to the Balfour Declaration states, “Palestine should be re-constituted as the National Home for the Jewish People.” This speaks directly to the knowledge that Palestine was already inhabited by Palestinians. “Re-constitution” can only occur by dismantling the current population and replacing it with a new one. This ideology led to the “creation” of Israel, which directly facilitated the displacement of over 780,000 Palestinian refugees. These refugees were then prevented from returning with the passing of the Absentee Property Law in 1950.

This is not the only atrocity committed in the name of Israel. Today, Palestinians living under Israeli occupation must buy their own water and gasoline from Israel, cannot travel outside of Palestine without permission from Israeli authorities, are prosecuted under a separate legal system with nearly a 100 percent conviction rate and must endure over 98 fixed checkpoints while traveling. In fact, in addition to ruling that Palestinians are living under an apartheid system, the UN released a statement this February stating that Israel may have committed war crimes by intentionally shooting unarmed civilians, children, disabled people and journalists. These are the actions of a white supremacist state. Thousands of Arab Jews migrated (many under Israeli pressure) to Israel, were deliberately given low-quality land and put on educational tracks to be low-wage workers, while white Ashkenazi Jews were given high-quality education and the most fertile land. These are the results of an ideology that values proximity to whiteness over Jewishness. When Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, wrote of the Palestinians in his diary, “We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country,” he was expressing a racist ideology that clearly continues today. Like the United States, the state of Israel rests on the original sin of stolen land. We cannot dismiss this as simply being “far from perfect.” This is a reality fundamental to Zionism. Anti-Zionists do not exist simply to critique Israeli policy, we stand in direct opposition to the ideology that created the state.

Finally, in regard to dismissing someone because of their political views: this is allowed to happen. Solomon correctly explains that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. Zionism is a political ideology. People can choose not to be friends with you because of your politics — it’s a reality I live with. I disagree with the assertion that Oxy Hillel is not a political organization. They are affiliated with Hillel International, which recently endorsed Kenneth Marcus, a colleague of Donald Trump who spent much of his political career fighting against affirmative action. They also accept money from the Jewish Federation, an organization that donated to the illegal blacklist Canary Mission. Oxy Hillel cannot claim to be apolitical while taking this organization’s money. Additionally, Jewish Student Union is not strictly a political organization — our focus is the intersection of progressive politics and Jewish culture and religion. Please join us at our second text study this Saturday, March 30.

It is not the job of Hillel or JSU to alter the discourse on Oxy Confessions — an anonymous Google form that probably receives submissions from the same group of 50 people each week. It is an odd implication that when people are discussing Zionism or anti-Zionism, campus Jewish orgs must correct the discourse. However, it is our job as Jews of conscience to question the narratives we have been taught about Israel and not bend over backward to defend a state that, ultimately, will do nothing to protect us. If we wish to stand in solidarity with others, we must recognize the ingrained racist and white supremacist ideology central to Zionism and stand in opposition to it. Only by seeing Zionism for what it is can we claim any solidarity with others.

Nat El-Hai is a junior English major. They can be reached at nelhai@oxy.edu.

This article was revised March 27, 2019 to clarify that Oxy Hillel does not accept funding from Hillel International.