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The failure of many in the US antiwar movement to fight anti-Arab/anti-Muslim racism is often rooted in conscious or unconscious acceptance of two interconnected racist ideologies—Islamophobia and Zionism. A good example of this is the anti-war movement’s wary response to Hamas’ overwhelming victory in this year’s Palestinian legislative elections.
The election was immediately seized upon by Zionists to tighten the occupation and add to the already heightened racism against Arabs and Muslims in the US. While US and European leaders were mobilizing the world against the democratically elected government of Hamas (punishing the entire Palestinian people in the process) on the basis that it will not renounce violence and recognize the state of Israel, few in the anti-war movement were exposing the virulent anti-Arab racism found at all levels of the Israeli government, which is actively working to ensure that a Palestinian state will never exist, refuses to give equal rights to Palestinians (and all non-Jewish residents of Israel), and is killing Palestinians on a daily basis.
At the annual conference of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, DC, in March, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN commented that, “While it may be true…that not all Muslims are terrorists, it also happens to be true that nearly all terrorists are Muslim.” This comment was applauded and went unchallenged by the media or any of the Congress people in attendance.
Calls for the ethnic cleansing or “transfer” of Palestinians are not uncommon in Israel, even at the highest levels of the government because Zionism—a product of European colonialism—sees a Jewish majority and Jewish-privileged state as being incompatible with respecting the rights of the indigenous inhabitants of historic Palestine. Rehavam Zeevi, the Minister of Tourism assassinated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 2001, called Palestinians “lice” and “a cancer” and openly advocated their forced transfer. In March, Zvi Bar’el, a regular columnist for the Israeli paper Haaretz wrote, “Israel’s problem is not Hamas, strong or weak; the problem is with the Palestinian people, who chose it. They have to be changed or eliminated if one wants quiet...” Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Israel Is Our Home party, the largest party in the sizeable Russian bloc in Israel’s new Knesset, supports what is essentially a plan to ethnically cleanse Israel of its Palestinian citizens.
Sergei Podrazhansky, the editor of one of Israel’s Russian language dailies, said “I know that even the most left-wing person in Israel wants to wake up and not see any Arabs here.” The annual poll by the Center for the Struggle Against Racism shows that comments like these are not isolated views. The poll found that 68% of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab and 40% believe “the state needs to support the emigration of Arab citizens.”
Support for the “transfer” or expulsion of Palestinians is evident in the US as well, particularly among neoconservatives. In response to a suicide bombing in Israel in August 2001, two neoconservative Washington Post columnists, Michael Kelly and Charles Krauthammer, called for the expulsion of Palestinians. So it was no surprise to read the rank racism in Krauthammer’s column following Hamas’ recent election victory. He said, “By a landslide, the Palestinian people have chosen these known stances: rejectionism, Islamism, terrorism, rank anti-Semitism, and the destruction of Israel in a romance of blood, death and revolution.”
The US media, and even many activists, perpetuate the stereotype that Hamas wants to destroy Israel, rather that listening to what Hamas has to say about its goals. Hamas’ leadership has often publicly committed to end violent resistance and enter into negotiations to resolve the main impediments to a just peace. In a July 11 Washington Post Op-Ed, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from Hamas described the conditions necessary to make this possible: “[R]ecognition of the core dispute over the land of historical Palestine and the rights of all its people….reclaiming all lands occupied in 1967; and stopping Israeli attacks, assassinations and military expansion…..Statehood for the West Bank and Gaza, a capital in Arab East Jerusalem, and resolving the 1948 Palestinian refugee issue fairly, on the basis of international legitimacy and established law.”
Israel’s colonization of Palestine has actually been the source of much of the anti-Arab/anti-Muslim ideas that have been accepted by the mainstream. The propagation of the idea that Palestinians are Arab and Muslim fanatics not deserving of rights and equality, let alone their own state, has been an indispensable part of the process of the creation, expansion, and support of the state of Israel since 1948. What has helped these ideas spread and become “legitimate” in the US are not neoconservatives like Krauthammer, but liberal supporters of Israel who are actively involved in the Democratic Party and social justice causes. While this has changed over the past six years as more people have begun to identify Israel with US imperialism and apartheid South Africa, supporters of Israel still play an important role in making these ideas acceptable, particularly on the left.
For example, in response to the US Green Party (USGP) resolution 190 calling for divestment from Israel, opponents have started a “Let 190 Go” campaign complete with its own website, www.advocatesforisrael.org. A number of prominent leftists and former candidates of the Green Party like Stanley Aronowitz and Marakay Rogers have been pushing to repeal the resolution. While most have been careful to avoid racist arguments (a difficult thing to do when supporting a racist state), many have cited a letter from the Israeli Green Party (IGP) in their effort to convince more Greens to repeal the resolution. The letter is rife with arguments based on racist stereotypes like “Did you know that in the Palestinian media there is glorification of violence and of suicide bombers?”
In arguing against the resolution, one prominent global justice activist and member of the DC Statehood Green Party (DCSGP) said, “I feel if the USGP party won’t listen to fellow Greens in Israel…my continued membership or enthusiasm for our party is going to shrink…as Green Values…seem to have changed with this stupid resolution.” But he exposed the colonial mentality of so many supporters of Israel when he said that it all boils down to the fact that, “Israelis should have human rights too and quality of life doesn’t have to suffer in order to improve the Palestinian’s.” In other words he is concerned about Israelis having to give up their swimming pools so that Palestinians can drink and water their fields.