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Pro-Israel and racist? Palestinians aren’t surprised in the slightest

Though it may have sparked debate in the Jewish-American community, the idea that Israel can be a cause célèbre for white nationalists is hardly news to Palestinians, whose very existence vies with a state steeped in European, colonial racism.

Illustrative photo of White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. (Don Irvine/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Illustrative photo of White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. (Don Irvine/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Since his appointment last week as chief White House strategist, sensationalist media maven Steve Bannon—whose editorial sensibilities have spawned such haute headlines as “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy”—has become something of a lightning rod in the mainstream Jewish-American community.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt said his group opposed Bannon on grounds that the alt-right hero is “so hostile to core American values” while Greenblatt’s friend, “America’s rabbi” Shmuley Boteach, defended Bannon by citing the latter’s Jewish employees, who are ever so grateful that their boss lets them “keep the Sabbath.”

At issue is whether Bannon’s white supremacist bone fides point to an alarming strain of anti-Semitism at the highest levels of U.S. government. Given his pedigree, that should be an easy question to answer. But what has people scratching their heads is how Bannon and his former Jewish boss, the late Andrew Breitbart, could have embraced the supremacists among them while, at the same time, singing the praises of “the Jewish state.”

As a Palestinian, I don’t understand the question. Though it may have sparked debate in the Jewish-American community, the idea that Israel can be a cause célèbre for white nationalists is hardly news to millions of Palestinians, whose very existence vies with a state steeped in its founding zeitgeist—European, colonial, and yes, racist.

You don’t need Edward Said to guide you through it. Just spend a single day among the “natives.”

Whether they are refugees who hail from one of the more than 500 villages destroyed by Israel’s founders; whether they are second-class citizens who live in Israeli cities renamed to cover their Arab roots; whether they contend with a network of settler-only roads on their way to work, school, or hospital; Palestinians are no sooner vexed by the state’s whiteness than are Ethiopian Israelis. That they, too, rail against the state’s brutality speaks to a systemic bias, one that—as in Trump’s America—should hardly be surprising.

Ask anyone who has ventured beyond the menacing Hebrew signs warning against entry to the West Bank, as if the latter were some Conradian hinterland—not an identical landscape whose occupiers invade and sequester at will. Ask anyone who has eyed, from below, the jarring architecture of European privilege, those menacing hilltop settlements with their rows of Santa Barbara-style homes—their red mission tile and lush lawns aesthetic travesties against the adjoining hills and ancient terraces.

A Palestinian home in the village of Umm al-Kheir is seen against the backdrop of the Israeli settlement of Carmel, South Hebron Hills, West Bank. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian home in the village of Umm al-Kheir is seen against the backdrop of the Israeli settlement of Carmel, South Hebron Hills, West Bank. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

What are these, if not the markers of ultra-nationalism, of a system calibrated to a certain standard of citizen? Yet to follow the debate now pulsing through the Jewish-American community is to walk away unsure.

Naomi Zeveloff, writing in The Forward, quotes a Columbia University sociologist who explains that “right-wing Zionism,” presumably of the kind feted by Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett, is—it’s true—a form of ultra nationalism. The Zionist fringe can commingle with the most bigoted on the American Right, for the lot of them, to quote the professor, “make a fetish of purity.”

But for Palestinians, that kind of fetishization is hardly fringe. Consider the recent case of Palestinian workers at a Haifa branch of Café Café, where a shift manager reportedly forbade his staff from speaking Arabic (this in a restaurant serving “shakshuka for two,” a dish that even the New York Times acknowledges originated in North Africa).

One hopes that, for Jewish-Americans who care about Israel, this daily Palestinian reality might awaken something of the awareness now felt so urgently by the American left—that the  supremacists among us are just that, long since settled within the bulwarks we have built.

At the same time, this should not be a conversation for Jewish-Americans alone. As a Palestinian, I too must let go of the too-easy logic that places, say, Jonathan Greenblatt, outside the bulwarks I have built. He may represent an organization with which I seldom agree, but he also has vowed nothing less than to identify as Muslim, a courageous act of defiance against the new American president and his much-feared “Islamic registry.”

The aim here is not to sound Pollyannaish, or to engage in moral equivalency. Neither is it to deny the very real privilege that we, who hold the American passport, can fall back on as we pursue such inquiries. Instead, it is to recognize that, with privilege, we also have a responsibility to engage in uncomfortable discussions—discussions that others cannot have.

When I think of those “others,” I always remember Said, the tragic hero of Hany Abu Assad’s Oscar-nominated film, Paradise Now.

Though it follows two would-be suicide bombers, the story’s most offending scene has nothing to do with bombs. It takes place in the movie’s final act, as the young Palestinian protagonist is being shuttled to his “target” by an English-speaking man with a Hebrew accent.

While the car makes its way along Tel Aviv’s wide highways and perfectly paved streets, Said, who has just jumped a fence from the West Bank, gazes stern-faced at snippets of life along the picturesque coast.

Here, Abu Assad gives us the Palestinian’s vantage point. As the camera fixes on the scene from the car window, we are looked down upon by a building-length image of a European male, blond and bare-chested, advertising the latest mobile phone. We see a man in shorts strolling to his late-model SUV. We see a woman peddling her bike through a crosswalk, girls laughing in their bikinis, giggling children running along the shore.

And nowhere in this alien landscape do we see a reflection of ourselves.

Instead, for a moment, we are forced to empathize with the quiet Arab, as he sits awkwardly in his suit and tie, his freshly cropped hair no camouflage in this foreign place.

Part of what makes the scene remarkable is that this character is not in a foreign land at all. Israel, for all its trappings, sits within the only physical geography Palestinians can call their own. And yet, despite their proximity, they have been overwhelmed with the knowledge that they can never belong.

The message comes from all directions, from right and from left. It is louder than any political party, louder than its apparatchiks, louder and, at once, more insidious.

That, perhaps, is why Palestinians have no difficulty seeing beyond the supremacists in America’s midst, beyond the Bannons and the Trumps, to remind us that these bigots and the state they so support have always been of a kind.

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    1. Dmitri

      This article is ludicrous. Just because one has pale features doesn’t make them White: case in point, Shakira and Bashar Al-Assad, both of whom are Arabs.

      Jews are not a European/White people. We are indigenous to the Land of Israel, as DNA testing, the Koran, the Bible, and archaeological studies have all demonstrated. Those same studies have also demonstrated that the Arabs–including Palestinians–are indigenous to the Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula. We know that the Arab Conquest is essentially a colonial, imperial conquest where Black people were enslaved 7 centuries before Europeans started the Atlantic Slave Trade; where Berbers and Kurds were denied their own indigenous rights to their homelands as Arabs settled them; where Assyrians, Jews, and Phoenicians were second-class citizens; and where millions of Indian Hindus and Zoroastrian Persians were killed or had Islam forced upon them. Make no mistake: Arab Muslims have the same colonial history as Christian Europeans.

      The “Arab town names” that you say were erased? These themselves were colonial names that replaced the Jewish names of the towns: an example can be seen with ‘Nablus’ replacing the Hebrew, historic name of “Shechem”. Israel is unprecedented in that it is perhaps the only successful attempt of an aboriginal people taking back their historic homeland from the forces that colonized it in the first place.

      Come back and talk about occupation after Arab countries have freed the Amazigh (Berbers) and Kurds from Arab occupation in Morocco, Syria, and Iraq.

      Reply to Comment
      • john

        in america, jews are considered white.

        Reply to Comment
      • Baal

        DNA studies, Hitler’s “Rassebiologen” would have loved to have that to claim that Jews didn#t belong to their “german blood” bullshit socitey

        Reply to Comment
      • Liza Aizenberg

        What do you expect? This is a fine example of the obnoxious anti white racism among some Arabs and Muslims, cheered with enthusiasm by the western radical left. I couldn’t even read the whole thing, it makes me sick.

        The old anti Semitism defined Jews as non white, and the new one define us as white. Then we had no place in Europe, now the Middle East. Whether Jews are white or not (they’re not) is irrelevant. This was never a part of our identity. Only our enemies seem to be preoccupied with our race, among other things. Whoever they hate, we are to them.

        Reply to Comment
      • Duh

        Jews are not a European/White people.

        Chaim Weizmann would disagree:

        “We very often have officials who are used to dealing with natives, and they have very different cliches. They give him soap and water, clean him up, build roads for him, and if the native behaves himself it is all right; if he does not, he suffers. We do not fall into these cliches. We are not natives; we are a complex white people. (…)

        an aboriginal people taking back their historic homeland

        And they did it with the help of the world’s biggest colonizer at the time, Britain, while claiming to be white non-natives themselves.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      Samer Badawi’s analysis is false. There never was a fakestinyan nation of people and never will be. The self-renamed Jordanians are free to go home.

      Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        lewis – just write palestinian and use that term. You aren’t helping yourself one bit with this fakestinian crap, a word you spell differently each time you write it because that is a made up word, and like most of your posts, from a mind that hasn’t/refuses to acknowledge reality, just like ben gurion:

        “He contemplated Palestinian “transfer”, where the use of force would not be necessary. He envisioned that Palestinians could be enticed to leaving their country in favor of the new Jewish immigrants.” Well that didn’t happen did it? It turns out to be impossible to force people to leave their land voluntarily, huh?

        David Ben-Gurion-A Brief Biography & Quotes – Palestine Remembered

        Reply to Comment
    3. Pot…..kettle……black

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        How? Jews from europe arrived to a land already populated with the majority being Palestinian, who’d lived here for centuries. zionism claimed it’s our land, god gave it to us. Those who weren’t killed outright by the stern gang, lehi and haganah were driven off their land by force.

        Reply to Comment
    4. AJew

      Already populated? You mean underpopulated of course. In the 1850s, when Jews started to return, the entire land of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza which today accommodates over 10 million people and still has room….

      “According to Alexander Scholch, Palestine in 1850 had about 350,000 inhabitants”

      Of course the then sovereign rulers, the Ottoman Turks and later the English, didn’t mind accepting the return of Jews who were willing and able to work the land and develop new industries. And of course, once that happened, Arab immigration from neighboring Arab countries also increased and contributed to the increase of population.

      So what was wrong with that?

      1. The land was underpopulated.

      2. It was not sovereign Arab land.

      3. The Jews were returning to a land which once belonged to Jews.

      4. Subsequently there was Arab immigration too.

      5. In 1947, the UN voted to divide the land into two states, one Jewish state. One Arab state.

      6. The Jews accepted the UN vote, the Arabs rejected it and tried to kick the Jews out. In fact, they threatened to finish the third Reich’s final solution.

      7. In the ensuing war however, what the Arabs threatened to do to the Jews happened to the Arabs. Benny Morris outlines this well. Yes there were some deliberate expulsions of villagers who inhabited militarily strategic locations which could not be left in place but there were lots of other refugees who fled voluntarily from the ravages of war as happens in ALL wars (see Syria today).

      8. Moreover, between 1948 and 1967, Egypt and Jordan controlled the Gaza and the West Bank respectively. They had 19 years during which they could have created the Palestinian Arab state but they didn’t. Why not? Because the Arabs of Palestine were perfectly content to count themselves as part of Egypt and Jordan. The only thing that they were still not content about, was the existence of the Jewish state which they continued to attack both in word and through terrorism. That in turn culminated in the “occupation” of 1967 which is still with us today because the Palestinian Arabs still refuse to cmpromise and sign a peace deal with us. The fact that they STILL refuse to recognise Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people sums up the situation perfectly. And until they change and give up their hatred of the Jewish state. Things will not change for them either.

      The Carmen’s of this world can complain and overlook the above history but they will not make an iota of difference because most people are not stupid, nor are they all Jew haters (like she is) and in this age of internet anyone can google and verify for themselves that my above summary is how most main stream historians see history. Of course, as always, there are some revisionist historians (who are not really historians but hired hands) who would have one believe that a bunch of rag tag Jewish refugees who fled from pogroms and the holocaust came to the holy land dreaming of taking on the entire Arab world and to disposess the “peaceful” local Arab population instead of taking on the option of sharing the land which could easily accommodate two states.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        You are a very offensive fellow with this reflex anti-Semitizng “Jew hater” thing you fling at people. Really shameless. (Never mind the dubious assertions about how one can “google and verify” your tendentious “history.”)

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          I wrote a long post with an indirect reference to antisemitizing. Most of the post outlined accepted history about what led to the “occupation”. But Ben only got the antisemitizing bit which represented a minute portion of what I wrote.

          OK Ben, if that’s your take home message from my post that’s up to you. But I said much more than that. I presented a bit of the historical context which explains why things are the way they are.

          The fact that you find that offensive, Ben, tells us more about you than about me.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “the antisemitizing bit which represented a minute portion of what I wrote”

            Well, at least you finally admit that you do it. The first stage of recovery.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Funny man Ben (that rhymes ?)

            I admit to calling people like you antisemites. If that’s the first stage to recovery, then I am recovering.

            Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          “(Never mind the dubious assertions about how one can “google and verify” your tendentious “history.”)”

          Ho hum, here we go again. Ben in blanket denial. So let’s just test his denial, specifically bit by bit. Tell us Ben, please, is this bit of what I said false?

          “According to Alexander Scholch, Palestine in 1850 had about 350,000 inhabitants”

          I am not holding my breath for Ben’s response. He will either not respond or he will respond evasively. Ben can’t help himself it is just his style of propaganda. Deny anything that diminishes his or his cronie’s simplistic assertions about eeeeeeeviiiil Zionists.

          Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            “I am not holding my breath for Ben’s” blah, blah, blah.

            Of course you won’t. You’ll continue post after post, arguing with yourself because you can’t get Ben to ‘play’ your game. Then you’ll act as if you’ve defeated your adversary over the scenario you create. You have no other way of responding, it’s your style of propaganda, deny anthing that diminishes you or your cronie’s simplistic assertions about antizionists. But thanks, because the article is entitled “Pro-Israel and racist”? Gentle readers – I give you “AJew”, the embodiment of this excellent article, the golem of ‘ersatz israel’.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Yes lady. Whatever you say.

            Dear readers judge for yourselves. Just google the history which I outlined above. It is called substance.

            Compare that substance to the unilateral dismissals of Carmen and Ben and their refusal to be pinned down about their specific objections about what I said. That’s called fluff.

            That is precisely what Israel has been up against not just during Netanyahu’s term whom many of you probably don’t like. But during Rabin’s term too and Peres’s term and Barak’s term and Olmert’s term too. That is why any meaningful discussion is impossible and that is why the occupation continues. And so does their endless whining about it because they won’t acknowledge any responsibility for why we are still in this endless impasse. Ok. We are as patient as they are.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Duh

      who would have one believe that a bunch of rag tag Jewish refugees who fled from pogroms and the holocaust came to the holy land dreaming of taking on the entire Arab world

      You left out the part where the Zionists actively lobbied the Germans (in 1901) and British to be part of their eventual occupation of Palestine. Balfour didn’t knock on Weizmann’s door.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        And you left out the bit about the fact that Ben Gurion’s Yishuv acted with pragmatism and accepted UN Resolution 181. A resolution which the Arab world including the Palestinian Arabs, rejected.

        The Palestinian Arabs rejected by rioting and our Arab neighbors then joined them and attempted to snuff out the Jewish state. Do you deny that?

        Reply to Comment