By Dr. Chandra Muzaffar
It is not surprising at all that the UN Review Conference from 20 to 24 April 2009 in Geneva to “assess progress made since the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa” adopted a protective attitude towards one of the most racist states on earth today.
It was obvious long before the Conference began that the United States government and the European Union would not allow any honest scrutiny of Israel’s racist laws and policies vis-a-vis non-Jews. Since the vast majority of the governments participating in the Conference were not prepared to stand up to the US and EU, the UN, through its Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon and its High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, just surrendered to the West. In this regard, it is important to note that in the Durban meeting too, the UN refused to describe Israel as a racist, apartheid state--- in spite of NGO insistence.
It is the height of hypocrisy to pretend that Israel is not a racist, apartheid state. Its ‘Law of Return’ for instance which encourages Jews from any part of the world to settle in Israel and acquire citizenship is blatantly discriminatory especially when one recalls that the Israeli government denies five million Palestinian refugees their right to return to their land, as provided for in international law. There are also polices on land and house ownership which are biased against Palestinians and other Arabs. Even in the use of water from the West Bank, Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Jews in Israel are allotted almost 12 times as much water per person as the Palestinians who also pay more for the precious commodity. The confiscation of Palestinian agricultural land which is then transferred to Israeli settlers, and the destruction of Palestinian orchards are further testimonies to discrimination and racism. There are roads which are for exclusive Israeli use just as the Wall that separates Jewish settlements in the West Bank from the Palestinian population and the creation of Palestinian enclaves are reminiscent of apartheid South Africa in the decades before the demise of the White supremacist regime in the early nineties.
It is because racism has been widespread in Israel since the very establishment of the State in 1948 that the late Professor Israel Shahak, one of Israel’s most outstanding human rights advocates, once noted that “ the State of Israel is a racist state in the full meaning of the term. In this state people are discriminated against, in the most permanent and legal way and in the most important areas of life, only because of their origin. This racist discrimination began in Zionism and is carried out today mainly in co-operation with the institutions of the Zionist Movement.”
More recently, even former US president, Jimmy Carter in his book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid observes that the policy now being followed is “ a system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic rights.”
At the root of Israeli apartheid and racism is political Zionism which as it evolved demanded an exclusive Jewish state and justified the eventual eviction and expulsion of Palestinians “ because they were barbarians.” There was also a strong streak of chauvinism in political Zionism which saw Zionist occupation of Palestine as God’s gift to God’s “chosen people”.
It was this political Zionism which since 1948 has been the official ideology of the state of Israel that the UN General Assembly (UNGA) condemned as a form of racism and racial discrimination in 1975. 16 years later the US used its new found influence and authority following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union to coax the UNGA to rescind its Zionism-Racism resolution. Only 25 member states of the UN--- including Malaysia--- voted to retain the equation between Zionism and Racism.
However, political Zionism linked to the state of Israel should be distinguished from Zionism as a cultural and spiritual movement concerned with the sufferings of the Jewish people in history. Indeed, neither Israeli racism nor Israeli apartheid in the contemporary period diminishes the significance of Jewish suffering or the magnitude of the holocaust as the culmination of centuries of racial discrimination in Christian Europe against the Jews as a people. What is tragic is that the
descendants of the victims of racism in an earlier epoch have now become the perpetrators of apartheid targeting another people in another civilisation.
It is also important to emphasise that Judaism in its essence has nothing to do with the racist policies of the state of Israel. In fact, there are elements of universalism and inclusiveness in Judaism which repudiate aspects of political Zionism and the apartheid structures of present-day Israel. There are many Jews within and without Israel, in the past and the present, who would not only make these
distinctions between Judaism, political Zionism and Israel, but who have also adopted principled positions against the racism of the Israeli State. Apart from Shahak, the late Tanya Reinhart, Ilan Pappe and Marc Ellis are some of the names that come to mind.
It is these and other ‘Jews of Conscience’ who are the beacons of hope in the struggle against racism and racial discrimination in Israel.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) and Noordin Sopiee Professor of Global Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia.
26 April 2009.