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When Zionism is racism: Ron Dermer and Bibi Netanyahu, on the record

Imagine if a politician in another country had bragged about lowering a minority group’s birthrate – like Netanyahu and his new ambassador to the U.S. did.

Ron Dermer, who was named by Netanyahu yesterday to be Israel’s new ambassador to the United States, is known as an even more right-wing Republican version of his boss. Haaretz‘s Barak Ravid wrote:

Dermer’s positions on policy are far more extreme than Netanyahu’s. European and American officials have expressed shock by his positions on the settlement issue, on peace talks with the Palestinians, and on the principle of an independent Palestinian state.

It gets worse, though. Dermer is also a proud champion of about the ugliest possible anti-Arab views, having defended Bibi publicly when his mentor made the single most offensively racist remark of his career, which is going some.

This episode took place at the beginning of January 2007, when Netanyahu was out of power, preparing his run for the prime ministership again, and wanting to mend fences with the supremely important ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) voting bloc. They had supported  Netanyahu en masse in his successful 1996 race, but he had alienated them in the early 2000s as finance minister in the Sharon government, when he slashed government child subsidies, which badly hurt large, poor families, who are especially prevalent among two population groups: the Haredim and the Israeli Arabs. So Netanyahu went to talk to a gathering of Haredi municipal officials, putting a positive spin on the cuts he’d imposed. His speech was written up in Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth. From the latter:  

In his speech, Netanyahu referred to the cuts in child pensions, saying that since they were implemented “two positive things happened: members of the Haredi public seriously joined the workforce. And on the national level, the unexpected result was the demographic effect on the non-Jewish public, where there was a dramatic drop in the birth rate.”

There was a dramatic drop in the “non-Jewish,” i.e. Israeli Arab, birthrate – and Netanyahu, speaking to a Jewish audience, is not only citing this as a “positive thing,” he’s bragging that it was his decision to further impoverish large families that did it!

He didn’t just say this once, either; I’d read that he made the same boast to a group of ultra-Orthodox Knesset members.

Imagine if a politician in just about any other country made such a statement about a minority group. But Israel is, well, special, so Netanyahu’s remarks, reported in Yedioth and Haaretz, made no waves whatsoever. So I decided to write an op-ed about the speech in The Jerusalem Post, and titled it “A bigot called Bibi,” in which I said he’d gone beyond the pale and put himself in the category of racist demagogues like Jean Marie Le Pen and Jorg Haider.

Ron Dermer, at the time the Minister of Economic Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, defended the statement in a sarcastic reply in the Post titled “The nerve of Bibi”:

Netanyahu was caught red-handed. Who would have thought that an Israeli leader circa 2007 could think, let alone say, something so shocking? And we thought the quaint notion that leaders of the Jewish state wanted more Jews than non-Jews in it was passe.

Dermer’s point was that since a Jewish state is legitimate, and since a Jewish state requires a Jewish majority, deterring non-Jewish citizens from having children by hurting them economically is legitimate, too. And there’s nothing wrong with bragging about it in front of Jews, either. He concluded:

But while [Derfner] should be commended for bringing this story to our attention, he is mistaken in calling Bibi a bigot. He is only a Zionist, and apparently even a proud one.

This is Israel’s new ambassador to the United States, and I’m sure he’ll do fine there, playing his Republican friends off the Obama administration. It’s too bad, though, he wasn’t named ambassador to the United Nations; it would have been interesting to hear him chastise the General Assembly for its declaration, since overturned, that “Zionism is racism.” Zionism isn’t racism, but there are plenty of Zionists whose Zionism damn sure is; Netanyahu is one, and he just sent another one to represent this country in Washington.

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    1. XYZ

      Your comment is that “Zionism isn’t racism”. Really? Show me a Palestinian who doesn’t think that Zionism is racism. YOU happen to “like (certain kinds) of Zionism”, but Palestinians, most if not all, view Zionism as an illegitimate, illegal, colonialist eneterprise and the Jews had no business coming to the country in the first place. What you are doing is simple pleading in order to assuage your “progressive” guilty ooncience.
      If you justify ANY form of Zionism, there is essentially no difference between you and Dermer and Netanyahu and the settlers, the only question is over the borders. Sure, one can say that, “yes, we Zionists are right, but for practical reasons, we should give them a state on part of the territory” but to condemn those who Zionists who don’t agree is ultimately not viable, which is why so many people who were formerly Labor Zionists have now turned totally against Zionism, including more than one of the contributors here.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      Amazingly, XYZ is right. There is no non-racist Zionism.

      Reply to Comment
      • Philos

        Yes, he is. Bravo, the courage of ones principles, even racist principles, is better than the moral cowardice of equivocation

        Reply to Comment
        • Haifawi

          I think the idea that there should be a place where Jews can freely live and practice their “Jewishness” isn’t inherently racist. Neither is the idea of a Jewish State (assuming that the State is created on ACTUALLY empty land). If I were to create an island somewhere, call it the Jewish State, and only let Jews in, it wouldn’t be racist (or else every single country is racist). But TAKING land from others, and turning these said others into non-nationals (and even non-citizens) is certainly racism.

          Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            Quite right, Haifawi.

            But Zionism as now understood is inextricably tied to the land of Palestine.

            Reply to Comment
          • Shmuel

            “But TAKING land from others, and turning these said others into non-nationals (and even non-citizens) is certainly racism.”

            Really? By that definition then, Jews are the least racist. All we did is return to lands that were taken from us by racist European colonisers, the Romans. Who then lost it to racist Arab colonisers. Who lost it to racist Turkish colonisers who lost it to racist British colonisers.

            Now lets look at other racists in human history. How about the whole American continent? How about Australia? How about Japan (just ask the Ainu)? How about Europe itself? Places like Hungary which was overtaken by Atilla the Hun?

            I am sure I left out a lot more pertinent examples. We are all racists now!

            As for the Arabs of Palestine. Really, my heart goes out to them. Or does it? My recollection is that the Jews of Palestine accepted the partition plan of the UN. Which means that the Arabs could have stayed put. Unfortunately though the Arabs were the ones to reject the two state solution and promised to drive the Jews of Palestine into the sea. Does that make them racists too?

            Reply to Comment
          • Eliza

            Let us agree that American and Australian colonialism and dispossession of their indigenous population was indeed racist. Just as Israeli colonialism and dispossession is inherently racist. The big difference is that both the USA and Australia now do not deny their indigenous people full civil and political rights as citizens of these states. Israel is still a colonial enterprise which seeks to further dispossess its indigenous non-Jewish population. The rot is still happening in Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Shmuel

            “The big difference is that both the USA and Australia now do not deny their indigenous people full civil and political rights as citizens of these states.”

            Good one Elizabeth. Now let’s do a REAL comparison.

            Where have the natives of the USA and Australia gone? Most of them perished and the remnants are NOW a minority in their own lands.

            Would you have wanted Palestinian Jews to treat the Palestinian Arabs the same way? Because if they would have, then guess what, the war between the Palestinian Arabs and Jews would have ended long ago and there would be no need for Israeli Jews to be wary of the Palestinian Arabs. Under such circumstances, Israeli Jews could be as magnonamous to a minority Arab population as the USA and Australia are to their Indians and Aborigines.

            Reply to Comment
          • I have a racist relative who said to me once, “The problem with Africa is that they [the Europeans] didn’t finish the job.” Meaning didn’t commit genocide to solve the “problem” of African people not wanting to be colonized and dominated by outsiders who consider them less than fully human.

            I guess you are someone else’s racist relative.

            What the US and Australia did (and in some cases still do) is unconscionable. It’s a horrible stain on humanity. Israel came on the scene too late to do the full-on genocide thing and still pretend to be a Western democracy. So they “merely” engaged in mass ethnic cleansing, colonization, and racist oppression.

            Guess what? It’s still a horrible stain on humanity, still racist, still a crime. You are not mounting a defense at all. You’re just comparing yourself to the worst times in history and saying, “Well, would you rather I be like that?”

            In that case anyone can get away with anything by simply pointing out the fact that worse things have been done in the history of humanity. It’s nonsense.

            Reply to Comment
          • Shmuel

            Nice one Pam. You just called me a racist and attributed something to me that I did not advocate. Just to make your silly point.

            However, I bring you back to how this discussion started. You guys called Israel racist and you attempted to justify your assertion. I then just reminded you guys that by your definition, everyone is a racist, yes. Even Palestinian Arabs. And if anything, Israel is the least racist.

            But now you come along and attempt to distort what I said. You did not disappoint. I expect nothing less from people like you.

            Even you admit that your ancestors were racist. When did things change for you? After they created a cushy environment for you? Now you can climb on your soap box, put your hand on your heart and call other people racists?
            Oh and how long do you think we will need before we too can follow in your footsteps and smugly pretend that we are not racists but everybody before us was?

            Reply to Comment
          • Jay

            Congratulations, you have managed to point out that, in the past, racism was acceptable and practiced by many nations and empires.

            The difference is that nowadays, racism is not acceptable anymore (at least not in developed countries).

            The idea of a Jewish, Christian, Apartheid or Arian state is so far out of date that it is shocking to see it defended.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yehuda Berezhany

            In Re: “the end of the ”fictitious” Jewish people”

            While Sand is expressing the Matzpen ideology of his youth, obviously the whole concept of the Jewish people is a complete fiction.

            Zionist ideologists of the 1880s reinterpreted the autochthonous Eastern European and Southern Russian Yiddish/Ashkenazi ethnic group consisting entirely of descendants of Slavic and Turkic converts to Judaism to be the pan-Judaic ethnonational group in order to make plausible a ridiculous, psychotic, and genocidal claim to Palestine.

            As far as I know before the invention of Wissenschaft des Judentums, there are no references in any Jewish text to the Jewish people, העם היהודי, das jüdische Volk, דאס יידישעס פאלק, etc.

            Expressions like:

            עם ישראל
            דער ייִדישער קהל
            כלל ישראל, etc.

            have only religious significance.

            The issue of Pontic Greeks is irrelevant, for this transfer was negotiated between legitimate Turkish and Greek governments back in the 20s. Greece never extended its immigration law to deal with the Grico population in Italy because there is in fact and never was a transnational Hellenistic people/Volk even if there were shared cultural product and religious cult.

            There is only one legitimate comparison with the State of Israel and Zionism:

            The Confederacy and Slavery, which had superficial legitimacy and legality but had to be consigned to the garbage dump of history.

            As for me, practically all my father’s family were murdered by German Nazi genocidaires in the Ukraine.

            Genocide must be considered the most heinous of crimes. No group should get a pass on genocide whatever that group’s history of victimization may be.

            Just as German Nazis were punished, Zionist genocidaires must be punished, and all of Palestine must be returned to the native Palestinian population while people like Peres and Netanyahu should be on trial at the ICC under The International Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

            Otherwise, the Nuremberg Tribunal was a travesty and victor’s justice just as Goering claimed.


            Reply to Comment
          • Shmuel

            No such thing as the Jewish people? Now that’s racism for you Pam, Elizabeth et al. right? However you are not going to say that to Yehu Berel, are you? But if I would say there is no such thing as a Palestinian people and that they are just part of the larger Arab nation, then I would be racist, right?

            You people are sooooooooooo predictable.


            Reply to Comment
          • Shmuel

            Just for the record:

            The Romans commemorated the conquest of Judea. Here read about it;


            “‘Judea Capta’ sestertius of Vespasian, struck in 71 to celebrate the victory in the Jewish Revolt. The legend on the reverse says: IVDEA CAPTA, “Judaea conquered”.”

            Who were those people? A figment of the imagination of the Romans?

            Seeeeesh, you people would deny your own mothers to justify your stupid ideoligies.

            Reply to Comment
      • metta2uall

        What about a Zionism that is simply a wish for Jews to immigrate to the land that’s now Israel/Palestine? Immigration is okay – if it’s done with the democratic consent of all the people who live in the land. That wouldn’t have been racist, but things haven’t turned out like that..

        Reply to Comment
        • Shmuel

          “Immigration is okay – if it’s done with the democratic consent of all the people who live in the land”

          Careful what you wish for. Today, Europe and other western countries are being filled up by refugees fleeing from the Middle East and Africa. Are you sure the native population give their consent to that trend?

          In the mid 1800s, Jews were fleeing persecution and began returning to the land of their forefathers and the joined other Jews who never left.

          Had the Arabs of Palestine been able to completely stop Jewish immigration, even more Jews would have died in Europe. Is that what you are condoning? Please don’t equivocate. Feel free to say yes to my question. At least we will then know where you stand.

          Reply to Comment
          • Shmuel

            If you condone the idea of western countries offering asylum to Arab refugees then you SHOULD equally condone that Jewish refugees should have been offered shelter in the land of our forefathers which is now Israel.

            If on the other hand you say you are not in favor of Europe offering asylum to Arab/Muslim refugees either, then look at it this way: Following 2000 years of persecution, Europe lost most of it’s pre-world war II Jewish population and we were replaced by Arab/Muslims. A fair exchange, isn’t it?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Philippe

      this is not only racist but especially stupid

      Reply to Comment
    4. XYZ

      Just to clarify…..I am not saying I believe Zionism is racism, I am pointing out how the Arab side views things. What I object to is “liberal” Zionists berating themselves on being “progressive” and “anti-racist” while berating those who believe Jews have a right to live anywhere in the country and to have a Jewish state, which I insist is simply hypocrisy. As I said, belief in a territorial compromise with the Arabs can be logical and can be held while still respecting those Zionists (like myself) who oppose it for being unviable while still insisting on treating the non-Jewish population with respect (as long as they reciprocate) but to condemn Dermer as being “racist” or to say the settlementts are illegal and illegitimate is just out and out hypocrisy while still claiming to be a Zionist.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Empiricon

      Sorry, but saying Zionism isn’t racism from a “liberal” point of view reminds me so much of the South I grew up in, where my friends’ parents belonged to white-only country clubs but said they weren’t racist because they hired blacks to work at the club or cut their lawn at home. One may not be racist in one’s mind but still be an active part of a racist system. That’s the real world we all have to live in, and we all have our own hypocrisies. But I try not to cover mine with sugar.

      Reply to Comment
    6. What Bibi said was on the order of “Yes, we have hurt you [Jews] by cutting subsides. But we have hurt others more.” This is the logic of evolutionary spite: we hurt ourselves, but our opponents more so, in the end, we are still ahead in (here) the demographic game. A policy targeting birth rate as such need not be racist, and here in fact both Jews and non-Jews were targeted. If reducing the State budget is the primary goal, given the common target, the charge of racism is unclear at best. But Bibi evoked the ever present racial categories to justify a policy where Israel’s Declaration of Independence mandates neutrality on race and ethnicity internally. He imported racial logic gratuitously, thereby linking the policy to enduring State trends limiting Arab citizen autonomy relative to Jewish citizen autonomy. The policy could have been neutral; he evoked racial justification, so racism.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Richard Witty

      The individuals’ comments is NOT the same as Zionism.

      I thought that was morality 101, that an individual’s views are an individual’s, and not generalizable.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Richard Witty

      Solidarity that is to the left of JVP style BDS.

      I recently encountered a discussion on a site sponsored by an Indian new friend, an activist, a supporter of BDS.

      In the discussion, a face to face friend of the site owner (I think, I’m not sure of their relationship actually), castigated the host for supporting BDS.

      He sited that BDS had been coopted by Zionists, that the leadership of the BDS movement by many Jews, and specifically by organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, had diluted the Palestinian solidarity movement to the point that it was just “appeasing” (that word).

      He advocated for armed resistance, and condemned ANY language that sought to avoid anti-semitism in its message. The example of Ali Abunimeh urging that BDS proponents reject anti-semitic language is construed as coopted by zionists.

      He thought that Israel and supporters should be punished, not change, not reform.

      I don’t know to what extent that is occurring, that Palestinian solidarity are giving up to more vehement ideology.

      In this discussion, the commenter received about equal critical and supportive subsequent comments.

      It shocked me.

      Another friend had appealed to me as a liberal Zionist to support BDS, as a reformative communication to Israeli leaders, a conditional warning of what could happen, with the implied conditional acceptance of Israel. “If Israel reforms, we’re happy to be good neighbors.”

      The same friend that urged me to support BDS, used the same word “punished” as the individual advocating armed resistance, obviously meant in different ways.

      It confused me.

      Reply to Comment
    9. rsgengland

      All statistics that I have ever seen, equate falling birth rates with increased affluence, better health care, and better education.
      From what I have seen recently of Israels Arab minority this fits the bill perfectly.
      Israel may not be paradise, and for its minorities life is even tougher; but by all measures the standard of living is improving, and that will in turn lead to lower birth rates.
      Politicians in many countries have tried by various means, to increase or decrease their populations, and to the best of my knowledge none has ever succeeded.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Noevil9

      There are two narratives here; one is the true Zionism and what it means to true Zionists; cleanse land from all Palestinians, creat a new Jewish state for Jews. To achieve that, you have to commit crimes against those who are there, the Palestinians. That, Zinoinst did, and still do. There other Narrative, is the moderate, some what humane that want to sugar coat the first. They subscribe to the first, but they have a consciousness , that tells them what has been done is wrong, so they are looking for ways to first, clear the Jewish name from the crimes that has been committed with the Jewish name/ Zionism. The second reason, they have a logical mind, and understand the situation as it is, but wish not to wrong the Jewish people, as they still see them as part victimes , yet they see the Palestinians too as victims, then they try to compromise . I don’t see anything wrong with that , as this is the way to get results for any conflict. But then, we should not forget Justice!
      I like Empiricon comment about the south, as most Isralis say, they are not racist, as they have hired a Palestinian to work in the kitchen , or clean their gardens, yet the majority of Israelis, I think 66 percent don’t want to have a Palestinian neighbor living in their building. The trouble of the Zionists, they claim total innocence ,and blame the Palestinians/ Arabs one hundred percent . The core of the creation of Zionism, is due to traumatized feeling of being victimized, and still do, as their behavior indicate. Unless they think, that they can fool the whole world and convince us of their legitimate right and innocence . So far, they successeded in creating a State, but failed to convince the world of its legitimacy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Shmuel

        Guess what. People like you are unconvincable, so we don’t even want to convince you.

        How do we know that? You yourself give us the clue. You mumble about who we want to or don’t want to live with but you ignore very recent history. Only a dozen years ago, the Palestinian Arabs decided to go on a rampage of murder and mayhem, randomly murdering and terrorising Israeli civilians for three years. This was in response to a peace offer which involved major concessions by Israel. And what did we get in return? If you haven’t bothered to read up on it, I am not even interested in telling you. Why? Because you are a typical spoilt, opinionated westerner who can see a splinter in someone else’s eye but you don’t even see a rod in your own eyes. What do I mean? Go and read up what Western democracies did with citizens of German, Japanese and Italian origin during WW2. They did it because of security concerns. But you expect Israelis to ignore our security concerns? Of course you do. That is why I don’t want to convince you of anything. It would be a waste of time.

        Nevertheless, you and people like you are not the only westerners. There are other more intelligent ones who we don’t have to convince. They know their history, unlike you.

        Reply to Comment
        • mike panzone

          shmuel, you seem pretty inconvincible yourself, you know.

          Reply to Comment
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