With Israel’s latest military assault on Palestinian lives in full swing it could be easy to dismiss it as more of the same. Israeli violence is regular and runs along a spectrum ranging from denying Palestinians their basic human rights on one end to outright murder on the other end. Added to this is that Israeli tactics today are based on ideas elaborated upon in the writings of early Zionist thinks like Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky. What should be obscure history effects the Middle East today.
But the latest display of Israeli violence feels different. There’s no longer any attempt to disguise the ethnonationalism that has festered in the state for decades. Israeli officials have taken the unprecedented step of having to condemn the racist genie that they themselves nurtured. And on top of this, elements of the far right have also entered the morass in an attempt to draw comparisons that are rooted in both cynicism and ignorance.
The role of history
Israel’s founding was based on supremacist ideology; that one group of people had inherent rights over others based on a supposed genetic and geographical lineage.
Herzl helped to formulate such ideas in the 1890s and early 1900s. His Political Zionism, as it is known, set the stage for Zionist activists who founded the state after his death. Herzl’s views also influenced the state’s later polices. Writing in The Jewish State in 1896, he argued wherever Zionists chose to settle violence would be involved. Rather bluntly he stated:
Supposing, for example, we were obliged to clear a country of wild beasts, we should not set about the task in the fashion of Europeans of the fifth century. We should not take spear and lance and go out singly in pursuit of bears; we would organise a large and active hunting party, drive the animals together, and throw a melinite bomb into their midst.
If they would choose to colonise Palestine and the surrounding area, the future state of Israel would, he insisted, “there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism”. In his diaries, which are detailed and extensive, no mention was made of Palestinians, only the generalised term Arabs. And even then the term only appears five times in the index.
This supremacist view of the Zionist enterprise also applied to other Jewish people. Herzl railed against both non- and anti-Zionist Jews, such as when he discussed in The Jewish State possible opposition to his plans from French Jews. Herzl, questioning their Jewishness, wrote that the Zionist enterprise “does not concern them at all”. Instead:
They are Jewish Frenchmen, well and good! This is a private affair for Jews alone.
Herzl’s blending of Jewishness with Zionism and the insistence that they are inseparable has had severe consequences up to present day. It does a disservice to Judaism and centres an imperialist and supremacist ideology that insists on its right to displace and murder.
But there was another brand of Zionism that to some degree superseded Herzl’s. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, argued that for Zionism to succeed it required full cultural and military domination of the Palestinians. He called this concept the iron wall.
Jabotinsky was well aware that Palestinians occupied the land that he and others coveted. In his 1923 essay The Iron Wall he discussed his view that this left Zionism with two options: Stop Zionist colonisation of Palestine “or else proceed regardless of the native population”. And if the latter was to continue,
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.
He wrote that Palestinians and the other surrounding states would only accept Israel “when there is no longer any hope of getting rid of us, because they can make no breach in the iron wall”.
In a follow-up essay the same year, The Ethics of the Iron Wall, Jabotinsky hammered home the point even further. Arab nationalism could not be tolerated “without destroying Zionism”. But the iron wall would protect the nascent Israeli state and thus “compel” the Palestinians and surrounding countries “to come to an arrangement with Zionism once and for all”. He was self-aware enough to admit what he was proposing:
We shall trace the root of the evil to this — that we are seeking to colonise a country against the wishes of its population, in other words, by force.
Israeli state policy today is merely an extension of these ideas as advocated for and promoted by both Herzl and Jabotinsky. A form of Zionist supremacy runs rampant in the state. Palestinians are the primary targets of this with the state treating Palestinian citizens of Israel as anything but. The state’s behaviour toward the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank is nothing short of horrific.
But this supremacy is also reflected back in the direction of those considered not Jewish enough. Mizrahi Jews — those of Middle Eastern descent — have faced discrimination not entirely dissimilar to how the state treats Palestinians. In both cases language, religion, skin colour, and geographical origin, are signifiers of who is in the ascendant class and who can be treated as a lesser. This is white supremacy writ large with the full backing of the US.
Elements of the far right have now latched on to the issue.
With the latest Israeli onslaught on the Palestinians in Gaza, the far right has seen what it believes is an opportunity. The Palestinian cause has been a battle for basic human rights, a Palestinian state, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Israel has continuously denied them all of this for close to a century.
In a cynical move far-right elements have begun to promote the idea that the Palestinian cause and theirs are one and the same.
Both are fighting against “Demographic Replacement” according to far-right activists online. For such extremists the Palestinian right to self-determination is seen as no different to the supposed battle they’re fighting against the so-called “Great Replacement”. This conspiracy theory contends there’s a plan on the part of elites to eliminate white people by promoting mass immigration. Popular amongst the far right, extremists drawing comparisons between the conspiracy theory and a decades-long fight for basic rights and survival is clearly a cynical ploy.
Other extremists have taken a more antisemitic approach. One American neo-Nazi argued that supporting the Palestinians “is just in it’s [sic] own right and it presents no contradiction to the White nationalist cause”. A prominent Irish extremist shared the post on their own social media channel, presumably approvingly.
But the fact is that such extremists have more in common with the Zionist supremacy currently on display in Gaza and Israel.
This supremacy views Palestinians as lesser humans not worthy of self-determination, basic dignity and rights, and even life itself. Mobs are now roaming the streets of cities and towns with large Palestinian populations and targeting anybody they think is Palestinian. It’s reached such a fervour that Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has called on Israelis to “stop this madness”. He even went so far as to describe what’s taking place as a “civil war”.
Our own extremists consider anybody they arbitrarily declare not Irish as being unworthy of the same rights Israel also denies to Palestinians. Their targeting of Black people, Travellers, and other minorities may not rise to the Israeli level of dropping bombs on densely packed civilian areas. But it does fall on the same supremacist spectrum that views some people as lessers and expendable.
In an irony of history, Israel was destined to become the ethnonationalist state we see today. With founding fathers like Herzl and Jabotinsky it couldn’t have been otherwise. And while the state may claim it’s a safe haven for Jewish people, all it’s ever been is a foot on the necks on people it believes are unworthy.
Featured image via Pixabay – hosny_salah