Is Zionism a Form of Racial Discrimination? the Zionism Debate at the UN Is beside the Point

By Marshall, Rachelle | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 30, 1991 | Go to article overview

Is Zionism a Form of Racial Discrimination? the Zionism Debate at the UN Is beside the Point


Marshall, Rachelle, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Using one of the murkiest non sequiturs in the history of international discourse, President Bush told the UN General Assembly at its opening session on September 23 that to equate Zionism with racism is to "forget the terrible plight of Jews in World War II and indeed throughout history." He did not explain why the past suffering of the Jews of Europe entitles the current government of Israel to be beyond criticism for its racial policies. On the other hand, the US position in the UN debate over Zionism has never been based on logic. In 1975, when the General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 that described Zionism as "a form of racism and racial discrimination," the US ambassador to the UN, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, complained that the resolution was unfair to Israel because Israel "was founded to be a Jewish state" (italics in the original). Supporters of apartheid in South Africa might just as logically argue that the Republic of South Africa was founded to be a white nation and therefore should not be accused of racism.

A major reason why supporters of the Israeli government are able to spread a smokescreen over Israel's racist practices is that the two sides in the UN debate over Zionism are arguing at cross purposes. The question that most vitally concerns the survival of the Palestinian people and the nature of Israel's future is not whether Zionism is a racist philosophy but whether Israel is a racist state.

As a concept, Zionism has been endlessly debated among Zionists as well as between Zionists and others. To many Jews Zionism means primarily the movement to establish a homeland where Jewish people could find refuge from persecution. Its founders saw Zionism as providing the only means of escape from the pervasive anti-Semitism of nineteenth-century Europe. Some of the early Zionists, such as Theodore Herzl and Chaim Weizmann, advocated a Jewish state in which the Arabs of Palestine would play only a subordinate role. Weizmann, in fact, recognized that Arabs were in the great majority in that country but hoped most of them could be made to leave.

Others, like Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, believed that since the Arabs of Palestine as well as the Jews had national aspirations, the Zionist movement must be concerned with finding a solution equitable to both peoples. Saying, in Isaiah's words, "Zion will be redeemed with justice," Buber urged that Palestine become a haven for Jews fleeing persecution but with a bi-national political structure. To Buber, Ahad Ha'am, and other advocates of a bi-national state, Zionism meant a chance for Jews to experience spiritual and intellectual renewal, in a society based on justice, equality, and hard work.

Like Magnes himself, their vision of Zionism died in 1948, when Israel became a Jewish state and Palestinian Arabs were forced into exile or into subservience. UN Resolution 2106, adopted in 1965, defines racial discrimination as "any distinction, restriction, or preference based on race, color, descent or national origin." Under this definition Israel has been a racist state since its beginning.

With 92 percent of Israel's land considered to be the "inalienable property of the Jewish people" (under the Development Authority Law), Arabs are prevented from living in any but limited areas. …

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