Zionism: a legacy of racism

The heroic uprising of the Palestinian people has focused world attention on Israel’s occupation and repression of Palestine. That conflict is often portrayed as a struggle between Jews and Arabs. This is in line with the political ideology of Zionism, which is the basis for Israel’s existence as a “Jewish state.”

In fact, Zionism is a racist ideology. Over the long term, it is harmful to the interests of the vast majority of Jewish working people, although it is Palestinians and other Arab people who suffer its most direct consequences.

During the late 1800s, pogroms—violent attacks on the Jewish community—were used by the Russian czarist regime to scapegoat Jews for the suffering of the Russian peasants and workers during economic crises. Against this backdrop, two main views emerged within the Jew­ ish communities of how to fight this racist repression. On the one hand, Jewish workers and intellectuals played a major role in the socialist, communist and other progressive movements of the day, fighting for equality within the countries where they lived. These activists, who represented the majority of workers at that time, viewed themselves as part of the societies in which they and their ancestors had lived for generations.

In contrast to the integrationist view of the majority of Jewish society, the propertied class was pessimistic, promoting the view that anti-Semitism could not be overcome. Zionism was the solution offered by the Jewish bourgeoisie. Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, wrote in his 1896 book, The Jewish State, that the solution for Jews was to build a state of their own.

The colonial model

The early proponents of Zionism saw the creation of an all-Jewish state based on a European model. The idea was to colonize a non-European country as part of the great colonial plan to divide the planet. For example, Herzl wrote to British imperialist colonizer of Africa, Cecil Rhodes, promoting the interest of the Zionist idea:

“You are being invited to help make history. This cannot frighten you. It is not your [Rhodes] accustomed line; it does not involve Africa but a piece of Asia Minor, not Englishmen, but Jews C9 How then do I happen to turn to you since this an out-of-the-way matter for you? How indeed? Because it is something colonial.”1

In the early 1900s, the Zionist perspective was still a tiny minority within the Jewish working class. The majority of Jewish workers were fighting in the countries where they lived alongside other oppressed peoples and anti-imperialist forces against capitalist exploitation, the war, and anti-Semitism.

But Zionism gained the backing of the British government. The 1917 Balfour Declaration declared, “His Majes­ ty’s government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish peopleC9” At that time, hundreds of thousands of Palestin­ ians lived in Palestine. While the Zionist slogan advocated “a land without a people for a people without a land,” the Pal­ estinians were viewed as invisible and were given no say in this colonial process.

Vladimir Jabotinsky was a leader of what was called Revisionist Zionism, ad­ vo­ ­ cating the development of a strong mil­ itary force as the main component for carrying out the colonization of Palestine. (This contrasted with the majority view of Labor Zionism that immigration and settlements were the main vehicle to statehood.2) Jabotinsky wrote openly about his view of the Zionist project: “Except for those that are blind, [the Zionists] realized long ago that it is utterly impossible to obtain the voluntary consent of the Palestinian Arabs for converting ‘Palestine’ from an Arab country into a country with a Jewish majority.”

Jabotinsky described what was necessary for the conversion. “Zionist colonization must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population—behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.”3

Although Revisionist Zionism was not the dominant perspective in Jabotinsky’s time, the “iron wall” became a de facto policy of Zionism from the colonial settlers in the 1920s to Israel today.4

The Zionist settler population in Palestine increased from about 10 percent in the early 1920s to nearly 30 percent by the end of the 1930s. Discussion of “transfer” of the native Palestinians in­ ten­ sified. Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s Colonization Department, typified the racist attitude of the Zionists: “Between ourselves, it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country. We shall not achieve our goal if the Arabs are in this small country. There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries—all of them. Not one village, not one tribe should be left.”5 Weitz was responsible for the actual organization of settlements in Palestine.

U.S. shuts out Holocaust victims

During the 1930s, Europe saw the rise of fascism and the outbreak of World War II. Hitler unleashed a genocidal campaign against Jews. At the same time, the U.S. government imposed a “closed door” immigration policy on Jewish people. During the 1930s at the time of the Great Depression, there were too many unemployed workers. Jewish immigrants were turned away unless they had money, or a good job prospect, or a “certificate of good conduct” from the Nazi government.6 As anti-Semitic as this policy was, it dovetailed with the Zionist movement’s primary goal: migration to Palestine at all costs, even at the expense of Jewish people.

During the war, the Zionist leaders were well aware of the Nazi genocide campaign being carried out against Jews. However, they did little to aid the fight. In fact, they saw support for the struggle against the Nazis as a threat to the project in Palestine. In 1943—the year of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in Nazi-occupied Poland—Itzhak Greenbaum, head of the Zionist Jewish Rescue Committee declared, “If I am asked could you give from UJA (United Jewish Appeal) money to rescue Jews? I say, ‘No and again no.’ In my opinion, we have to resist that wave which puts Zionist activities in the second line.”7

At the end of World War II over 80 percent of displaced Jewish survivors and refugees from the war wanted to migrate to the U.S.8 However, the U.S. government and the Zionists organized so that Palestine was the only viable op­ tion for displaced Jews. In the U.S., a campaign was waged that branded any opposition to immigration to Palestine as anti-Semitic. Newspapers ran editorials, labor unions passed resolutions supporting Jewish immigration to Palestine, and millions of dollars were raised for the Zionist project. The Zionists offered money and resources to displaced Jewish people on the condition they agreed to migrate to Palestine.9

The U.S. and Zionist leaders channeled worldwide sympathy for the plight of Jewish people into support for the creation of an Israeli state. Under intense U.S. pressure, the United Nations passed a resolution on Nov. 29, 1947, allocating 56 percent of historic Palestine to Israel, with 44 percent to go to the creation of a Palestinian state. Palestinians comprised 70 percent of the population at the time.

Israel: born in terror

In the war that followed, Israel—with superior economic and military resources and support from Europe and the U.S.—ended up conquering 78 percent of Palestine. Nearly 90 percent of the Arab population was forcibly “transferred.”

A campaign of terrorism accompanied the military campaign against the Palestinians. For example, on April 9, 1948 the Zionist terrorist group Irgun (headed by future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin) killed 254 men, women and children in Deir Yassin.

On May 15, 1948, the Zionist state of Israel was born. Some 750,000 Palestinians be­ came refugees. Thousands had been killed. For the Palestinian people, this day is called Al-Nakba—the catastrophe.

From the beginning, Israel was economically isolated from the surrounding Arab countries, its most logical geographic trading partners. Combined with the need for an enormous military budget to prevent the Palestinians who had been displaced from returning to their land, Israel required vast amounts of outside economic and military aid to sur­ vive. In 1950, its im­ ports exceeded its ex­ ports by a ratio of 10 to 1.

In order to get the aid it needed, Israel offered its services in the interests of Western imperialism. The Sept. 30, 1951, issue of the Hebrew-language daily Ha’aretz of­ fered the following commentary: “Strengthening Israel helps the Western powers to maintain equilibrium and stability in the Middle East. Israel is to become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy to­ wards the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the U.S. and Britain. But if for any reason the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy towards the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible.”

Enforcing U.S. interests

In the Middle East, the centerpiece of U.S. interests has been control of the region’s vast oil reserves. During the more than 50 years since its formation, Israel has played the role of a military outpost guarding against the Arab people’s struggle for self-determination and control of the region’s natural resources. Any Arab state that has tried to exert its independence from imperialism, on whatever basis—bourgeois nationalist or Pan-Arab socialist—has had to consider what Israel will do in response to any actions they may take. Israel has staged military campaigns against Lebanon in 1978 and 1982 (even partnering with the Leb­ anese Phalange Party, a fascist organization that traced its roots back to the Nazi Party). In 1981 it bombed an Iraqi nu­ cle­ ar plant to end Iraq’s nuclear energy program.

In addition to Israel’s direct role enforcing U.S. interests in the Middle East, the Zionist state has repeatedly acted as a U.S. surrogate around the world. In the 1980s, when it was politically untenable for the U.S. to do business with the apartheid regime of South Africa, Israel obediently scabbed for world imperialism and traded with the outlaw regime. During the same period, the Israeli army helped train and arm the Guatemalan army when it was carrying out gen­ o­ cide against the indigenous people of that country at a time when the U.S. Congress had cut off direct aid to Guatemala.

This is the reason that the U.S. gives over $3 billion a year in aid to Israel. It has nothing to do with any “Jewish lob­ by” in Washington. It is payment for ser­ vices rendered as part of the U.S. imperialist system. In fact, some of Israel’s staunchest supporters, like Truman and Nixon, were virulent anti-Semites.10,11

When Israel was first created, Zionist leaders demagogically made appeals to Jewish workers by portraying Israel as a socialist utopia. Today, that appeal is daily shown to be a lie. Labor and Likud Israeli governments have continued Zionism’s original plan of creating a purely Jewish state by trying to rid historic Palestine of Palestinians, whether by overwhelming military force or through conditions of slow strangulation intended to force the Palestinian people to leave.

Zionism vs. internationalism

Israel was founded on the basis of being a colonial project. By implication it had to be a garrison military state that would be in perpetual conflict with the native population. This was the objective reality facing Jews who went to Palestine either by choice or by circumstance.

As long as this is the foundation of Israel, then mandatory military service for all Jewish adults, at least one-fifth of the GDP spent on “defense,” and the perception of “living under siege” will be the way of life for the average Israeli. This is not the kind of existence for which those fighting anti-Semitism from the pogroms to the Nazi resistance died.

By speaking in the name of Jewish people, Israel does an injustice to the progressive and radical history of Jewish people. Israel claims all actions taken against the Zionist state, whether they are political, economic or military, are anti-Semitic. For the Jewish people inside and outside of Israel who want to live peacefully, free of anti-Semitism, the actions of Israel will only lead to further hatred and acts of resistance.

Before Zionism established itself in Palestine, the different cultures, religions and peoples of the region lived together in harmony. It was only the intervention of colonial powers, from the Ottoman Empire to the European colonialists to U.S. imperialism, that brought about division and rivalry.

The Zionist conception of a Jewish-only state created on the backs of another oppressed people is a false solution to anti-Semitism. A real solution to anti-Semitism must be based on international solidarity. For all progressive people, Jew­ ish and non-Jewish, who want to honestly fight anti-Semitism and all forms of racism, it will take the struggle against all colonial occupation and domination—including Zionism. The formation of a democratic and secular Palestine respecting the rights of all people regardless of religion, ethnicity or race would be a first step in that direction.


1. Source: translated from the German by Sylvie D’Avigdor, this edition published in 1946 by the American Zionist Emergency Council, Essential Texts of Zionism.
2. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, Avi Shlaim, 2000, p. 12.
3. Ibid.
4. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, Avi Shlaim, 2000, p. 16.
5. Weitz, Davar, Joseph, Sept. 29, 1967, cited in Uri Davis and Norton Mevinsky, eds., Documents from Israel, 1967-1973, p. 21.
6. Our Roots Are Still Alive: The Story of the Palestinian People, Peoples Press, 1977, p. 54.
7. Hecht, Ben, Perfidy, New York 1961, p. 50, cited in Our Roots, p.57.
8. New York Times, May 5, 1948.
9. Rose, John, Israel:The Hijack State, www.marxists.de.
10. Press Release: ADL Shocked by Discovery of Anti-Semitic Passages in President Truman’s Diary, www.adl.org.
11. Nixon’s Anti-Semitic Views Revealed in Tapes, October 1999, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org.

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