The True Lies of Zionophobia

It was my mistake to post a piece on Facebook by the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies about Amnesty International having “lost its moral way with regard to Israel”. A social media friend fired back with alacrity: “Have you seen how evil Israel has been to Palestinians trying to survive—cut off all their water and cut down their olive trees. Not an ounce of humanity in their evil hearts.” Evil hearts, I reflected, is very strong language. It so commonly occurs that liberal-minded thinkers—of the armchair variety—believe themselves to be non-discriminatory and well-informed without reading critically or with the open mind they purportedly prize. There’s no incentive to read more broadly if you believe you already have “the truth” and, fortified with that truth, you can scorn any sympathy for Israel as heartless or stupid.

This essay appears in May’s Quadrant.
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The expression “Zionophobia” was first coined by Judea Pearl, father of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal journalist kidnapped and beheaded by Salafi jihadists in 2002. Judea Pearl agrees that classical anti-Semitism played a role in the slaying of his son. After all, the self-identified executioner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, while an inmate at Guantánamo Bay, made the following confession during a military tribunal hearing: “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl in the city of Karachi, Pakistan.” However, the enmity directed specifically at the Jewish state, rather than at Jewish people per se, requires a separate term:

Denying Jewish people the right for nationhood is straight racism, not anti-Semitism. Jews fight Zionophobia by labelling it anti-Semitism, which is a mistake. It is so easily deflected by saying “My best friends are Jewish” or “I’ll go to prison to defend a Jew’s right to wear a yarmulke or eat kosher food” but still want Israel abolished.

There is some merit in Judea Pearl’s observation, with the qualification that classical anti-Semitic tropes actually do play a key role in anti-Israel polemic. That said, his neologism does, at least, allow us to begin responding to the anti-Zionism of “sensible and logical” folk without them playing the inverted anti-Semitic card from the outset—that is, their insistence that any attempt to connect anti-Semitism to anti-Zionist discourse is ipso facto a slur and, accordingly, ends all possibility of dialogue. Judea Pearl, not inaccurately, points out that the Israel-hater has become adept at identifying the anti-Semite charge as “paranoid” or, as asserted by Norman Finkelstein in The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (2000), nothing more than a ruse which has allowed successive Israeli governments to demand special exemption for the outrages committed by the Jewish state.

In our response to mainstream Western anti-Zionist discourse, then, let us start with the accusation that water-restricting and tree-cutting Israelis treated Palestinian farmers “without an ounce of humanity”. Were these particular Jews sociopaths? Where is the broader perspective? In contrast, during the time of the so-called Knife Intifada (which began in 2015), in which Palestinian youths stabbed Jewish people to death on the street, cases of terrorism were routinely framed as the despairing acts of young freedom fighters. In October 2015, for instance, the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont, winner of the George Orwell Prize, wrote sympathetically about Mohammed Ali, aged nineteen, who attempted to stab an Israeli policeman in the head before being shot dead. No mention here of the would-be murderer’s “evil heart”; that, presumably, is the domain of the tree-killer rather than the people-killer. Young Ali was, we are reliably informed, a “popular and happy youth” who had “no problems—except he was angry at the Israeli occupation, and in particular at Israeli actions around the flashpoint religious site of the al-Aqsa mosque”. Beaumont elsewhere made the latter claim explicit in these words: “Palestinian anger is largely derived from events at al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City and fears that Israel is trying to change the status quo at the holy site.”

We could just as easily—and more accurately—depict the Knife Intifada as a modern-day pogrom involving Arab youths murdering Jewish people in the Old City. After all, the claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to overturn the status quo regarding the Temple Mount/Al-Haram al-Sharif, on which the Al-Aqsa Mosque is located, was spurious. The State of Israel has always been—and remains—respectful of Muslim sensitivities concerning the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the adjoining Dome of the Rock. Even after Israel gained sovereignty of the Old City—as a consequence of Jordan’s invasion during the 1967 Six-Day War—the Jewish state has been keen to respect Muslim sensibilities, allowing the Jordanian-led Islamic Waqf to administer the Al-Aqsa compound. As long ago as 1929, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the British-designated Mufti of Jerusalem and ally of Adolf Hitler, triggered a pogrom in Mandatory Palestine that resulted in the murder of 133 Jews, many of whose families had lived in Jerusalem and Hebron for hundreds of years. The Mufti of Jerusalem began the murderous custom of falsely accusing the local Jewish community of attempting to subvert the status quo on Temple Mount.

Therefore, we need to consider Peter Beaumont’s claim about “Palestinian anger” being the result of “fears that Israel is trying to change the status quo at the holy site” in the light of history. Eighty-six years after unleashing the 1929 pogrom, Arab leaders (in this case Hamas and the Palestine Authority) ignited the same dangerous Muslim paranoia that Jews intended to occupy Temple Mount after the installation of security cameras. For some reason, the Guardian’s George Orwell Prize winner failed to inform his readers about the history of Haj Amin al-Husseini, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas instigating the slaughter of Jews with bogus claims about the looming appropriation of the Al-Aqsa compound.

The records show that, in September 2000, Yasser Arafat used the visit of Israeli Opposition Leader Ariel Sharon to Temple Mount/Al-Haram al-Sharif, during normal tourist hours and with the approval of a Palestine Authority (PA) security officer so long as he did not enter the Al-Aqsa compound itself (an instruction with which he complied) to ignite local Arab outrage. There was never any intention on the part of Israeli leaders (including Sharon) to change the status quo, and yet Yasser Arafat, like Haj Amin al-Husseini before him and Mahmoud Abbas afterwards, recycled a falsehood based on religious bigotry to instigate a pogrom (in this case, the Second Intifada, 2000 to 2005).   

And so we return to the Knife Intifada. Here, courtesy of Palestine Media Watch, is an account of PA President Abbas provoking religious fury at the key moment of September 16, 2015, on the official PA TV:

“The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours … and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem.” Teenager Mohammed Ali, like all the other brainwashed Arab youngsters caught up in the Knife Intifada, could look forward to nothing more than an early death and President Abbas’s hollow tribute: “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing.”

If anybody is pushing to overturn the status quo it is Islamic provocateurs who boast of opening a third, fourth and fifth “historic” mosque on Temple Mount, while themselves denying the legitimacy of Jews worshipping at the Western Wall, a remnant of the Second Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. For instance, during the doomed 2000 Camp David Summit, PA Chairman Arafat coolly informed President Clinton that “Solomon’s Temple was not in Jerusalem, but Nablus”. If that were so, it follows that the Second Temple Mount, built on the site of Solomon’s Temple, also has no connection to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Palestinian nationalism—as we have so far known it—is so perverse, so predicated on obliterating “The Other”, that it cannot acknowledge the unvarnished truth being unearthed by archaeologists virtually every day. Then again, what does reality matter if you are fuelled by an anti-Zionist ideology that transcends the literal truth? The creation story of Palestinian nationalism is a narrative, and narratives, in our postmodernist dispensation, are beyond the scope of scientific inquiry, be it archaeology or historiography. Thus UNESCO, in October 2016, officially rejected any Jewish historic association with Temple Mount because Islamic supremacists/PA/Hamas did not feel it fitted with their relative or tribal truth about Al-Haram al-Sharif.

If Palestinian-style Zionophobia is a strain of Islamic revivalism, that is not the lens through which Western Israel-haters view the tragic violence that affects ordinary civilians in Israel and the territories, Jew and Arab alike. It is the ideology of “the settler-colonial narrative”, rather than the theology of Islamic supremacism, that shapes the thinking of progressives in the West. The settler-colonial narrative has grown so potent that even Peter Beaumont’s reporting for the Guardian on the Knife Intifada was criticised for being too hard on the homicidal Palestinian youths. As Cynthia Wang explains, in a monograph published by the Edinburgh University Press, Victimhood in the Face of Media Ideological Battle: A Critical Discourse Analysis on the British Media’s Coverage of Stabbing Incidents in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2017), Beaumont (and another British journalist) had the temerity to use the term “terrorism/terror/terrorist” in his reporting of the Knife Intifada. Wang, citing the belief-systems of Michel Foucault, Edward Said and Noam Chomsky, condemned Beaumont for referring to the deaths of Israelis on the street as “stabbings” while describing the deaths of the young murderers as “killings”. To write that the Israeli security forces engaging in a “manhunt” for the young men (with blood on their knives and meat cleavers) was, apparently, to “animalise” them. It is hard to know what would satisfy the likes of Cynthia Wang short of Peter Beaumont adopting a slightly modified version of Mahmoud Abbas’s mantra: “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for the State of Palestine.”

The settler-colonial narrative means Palestinian Arabs can never do wrong because they have been accorded the role of indigenous victims of white supremacism. Their plight is akin to the Powhatan natives ravaged by the English colonialists in Walt Disney’s animated bohemian-socialist fantasy Pocahontas (1995). Faultless Powhatan Native Americans/Palestinian Arabs existed in a state of sacred harmony until Westerners/Zionists descended on paradise like “ravenous wolves” to “devour everything in their path”. The indigenous/non-indigenous dichotomy, as Roger Sandall pointed out in The Culture Cult (2000), is mostly a zero-sum game from the standpoint of our modern-day leftist. Stabbing Zionists in the street or firing off missiles from Gaza in the general direction of Israeli citizens has less to do with common criminality—let alone crimes against humanity—than with heroic militant resistance.

Germaine Greer’s On Rage (2008), though set in an Australian context, sums up the moral landscape we now inhabit, thanks to the encouragement of Foucault, Said, Chomsky et al. Greer manages to rationalise the violence perpetrated by indigenous Australian men against indigenous Australian women and children in outback Australia, documented in the Little Children are Sacred report (2007), as a function of “hunter-gatherer” men’s rage at being disposed centuries ago of their land by “Whitey”. Greer counselled indigenous Australian men to form a movement in the name of “hunter-gatherer” resistance. What ungodly acts perpetrated by such a movement would Germaine Greer be prepared to sanction?

The documentary To Die in Jerusalem (2007), is a study of the seventeen-year-old suicide bomber Ayat al-Akhras, who blew herself up along with seventeen-year-old Israeli Rachel Levy during the Second Intifada. Norma Musih’s review of the documentary, “The Shahida’s Claim: Ayat Muhammed Lufti Al Akhras”, could be described as a hallowed feminist deconstruction of Ayat al-Akhras’s unhallowed female destruction of Rachel Levy: “Like a drag queen who is convinced that true femininity exists, al-Akhras, too, is convinced that her act …” And so forth. Is there any Palestinian terrorist undertaking that our Western leftist intellectual cannot render as somehow emancipatory? Zionists are ravenous wolves and Arab Palestinians are immaculate Powhatans, and that is all we need to know in order to understand the Israel-Palestine conflict, according to the settler-colonial narrative. No wonder there is not “an ounce of humanity” in the rapacious Israelis who are responsible for provoking the War of Independence (1947 to 1949), the Six-Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973), the First Intifada (1987 to 1991), the Second Intifada (2000 to 2005), the Knife Intifada (2015 to the present), the First Gaza War (2008 to 2009), the Second Gaza War (2012), the Third Gaza War (2014), the 2018 Gaza-Israel border clashes, and so on ad infinitum. All you need to know, if you are Zionophobic, is that Israel metaphorically poisons the well.

The settler-colonial narrative, simply put, serves the purpose disguising religious bigotry (in both its Hamas and Fatah guises) for the benefit of a mostly secular Western audience. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), dominated by Yasser Arafat’s Fatah and in turn the ruling authority of the Palestinian Authority, has continued to present itself to the world as a conventional national liberation movement. It has done so ever since 1964 when the Kremlin and various Eastern Bloc security forces reconfigured a motley collection of Fedayeen guerrillas as the PLO. Some factions had been compliant with Egyptian interests and others with the scheme for a Greater Syria, while some wanted West Palestine (the territory of Mandatory Palestine) merged with East Palestine (Jordan). The two issues the Fedayeen militias could agree on were (a) the utility of terrorism and (b) the necessity of a Jewish state being expunged from the sliver of land located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, territory that had been a part of Ottoman Syria or, more fatefully, Dar al-Islam (the Abode of Islam).

Zionophobia, therefore, is a Janus-like spirit simultaneously facing in two opposite directions: one harking back to a caliphal domain, the other looking towards Western-inspired notions of Third World anti-colonialism. Nakba Day, the Palestinian commemoration of the founding of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, is based on a twofold lie. The true catastrophe of Nakba (literally “disaster” or “cataclysm”) is not that the nascent Jewish state engaged in a systematic ethnic cleansing, involving the exodus of some 750,000 Palestinian Arabs. Rather, it was that Haj Amin al-Husseini’s Arab Higher Committee and five Arab nations refused to accept United Nations Resolution 181 and the consequent partition of Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Arab leaders, refusing to countenance the establishment of Jewish autonomy on the sacrosanct territory of Dar al-Islam, launched a guerrilla campaign and then a conventional war against the Zionists/Israelis, which culminated in their ignominious defeat. The miracle of Israel’s victory in the War of Independence is now challenged by the fabricated narrative of Nakba.

Western Zionophobes, and even some left-wing Israeli “New Historians” such as Ilan Pappé, have done their best to adapt the so-called Nakba as an exemplar of the settler-colonial narrative. This might be the ultimate fusing of Islamic revivalism and Western post-colonialism. Pappé’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006) is a case in point. Unfortunately for Pappé, however, there is Bennie Morris, also a New Historian. Morris, like Pappé, availed himself of the opportunity to study official Israeli documents linked to the War of Independence. Both Pappé and Morris quickly realised that the authorised Israeli account of the Arab exodus—there are, by the way, no official Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi or Lebanese archives for historians to investigate—left a lot to be desired. The fact that not all Palestinian Arabs opportunistically abandoned their homes and villages, with the intention of returning once the combined armies of Egypt, Syria et al had crushed the lightly-armed Jewish forces and slaughtered the Zionists (many of them Holocaust survivors) in their midst, led Pappé to surmise that David Ben-Gurion’s government pursued a systematic strategy of ethnic cleansing. Nothing could be further from the actual truth, and yet to admit that would spoil the “higher truth” of the settler-colonial narrative.   

Bennie Morris, in The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947–49 (1988) and The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (2004), provides a complex, non-ideological explanation for the departure of some 750,000 Palestinian Arabs. Some did flee at the appearance of Jewish fighters; others fled despite the appeal of Jewish leaders to remain in their homes. There was no conspiracy on the part of David Ben-Gurion, according to Morris’s research, to generate what Pappé calls an “ethno-state”. Morris strikes me as the genuine article, contrarian, sceptical, fair-minded and the servant of no dogma. Pappé, in contrast, gives every indication of being an academic-activist, dedicated to his settler-colonial creed above all else. His writings prop up the Israel-haters’ worldview that Zionism is ipso facto a form of racism that needs to be delegitimised, demonised and defeated. In the opinion of Bennie Morris, on the other hand, “you cannot rely on any one sentence” Ilan Pappé has written. Today Pappé travels the world, including Australia, speaking to the “converted” in religious-like gatherings.

The dogma of Zionophobia necessitates not only promulgating the Nakba myth but any number of other “true lies”. Take, as one example, Ghada Karmi’s anti-Israel treatise Married to Another Man (2007). The title refers to a frequently told story about the 1897 Zionist Congress in Basel. Theodor Herzl, author of Der Judenstaat (1896), allegedly received a cable from a Zionist emissary in Ottoman Jerusalem with this disobliging message: “The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.” In other words, a Jewish state might be a worthwhile idea, but the territory under investigation was already the homeland of another people. The reality, however, is somewhat different. First, by the middle of the nineteenth century there was a plurality of Jews in Jerusalem, and second, the fabled cable is truly a fable. So, Ghada Karmi, an anti-Israeli polemicist for the Guardian, has written a book that lies to us before we even open to the first page. For the supporters of Karmi, born in Mandatory Palestine, none of this is of any consequence. The 1897 Jerusalem cable might be a lie and yet it is a true lie. Even if literally false, or so the logic goes, it nevertheless conveys a metaphorical truth: the Arabs of Mandatory Palestine are as immaculate as Disney’s Powhatans.

Israel-haters, in fact, subscribe to an interminable litany of libels. Yasser Arafat, as just one instance, admonished Zionist pioneers in his 1974 address to the United Nations for believing that local Arabs were extraneous to their national project and not deserving of any rights: “It pains our people greatly to witness the propagation of the myth that its homeland was a desert until it was made to bloom by the toil of foreign settlers, that it was a land without a people.” Chairman Arafat, in that last clause, was alluding to the line attributed to Israel Zangwill from 1901: “Palestine is a country without a people; the Jews are a people without a country.” Historian Diana Muir has argued persuasively that, apart from Zangwill, the aphorism had very little—if any—currency among early Zionists. For the Israel-haters, on the other hand, the expression can be deployed to infer that a program of ethnic cleansing always lay at the heart of the Zionist project, satisfyingly corroborating the settle-colonial narrative. Just in case anybody should get the wrong idea, and interpret the line to mean that the 600,000 Arab inhabitants of Ottoman-run southern Syria did not see themselves as a nation distinct from the Arabs living elsewhere in Turkish Syria, Edward Said, in The Question of Palestine (1992), omits the second indefinite article in his citation of Zangwill: “Palestine is a country without a people” becomes “Palestine is a country without people”. Ghada Karmi, in Married to Another Man, naturally follows suit.

We have, in Australia, witnessed a sleight-of-hand with the introduction of the term terra nullius by leftist academics into the history of British-Aboriginal relations. Michael Connor disclosed, first in the essay “Error Nullius” and then in The Invention of Terra Nullius (2005), that the term terra nullius had been incorrectly used by Australian historians:

Until comparatively recently, academic historians believed that terra nullius was a phrase used by government officers and settlers in the eighteenth century. It wasn’t. In any other field of intellectual work the realisation that the basic building block of a particular area of study was flawed would have sent the practitioners immediately back to see what happened. In Australia, thus far, historians have protected their shambolic old work, for their careers are based on it, and are pretending nothing has changed. It has.

The problem, I suggest, is not so much that the academic historians have careers to protect but an ideology to protect. As Connor remarks about an academic who was “taken aback” by Connor’s findings: terra nullius still explains the way Aboriginal people were treated even if the use of that expression is not historically true.

The settler-colonial narrative, as it applies to Israel, is especially inapt because the Palestinian Arabs, properly speaking, have an ambiguous role as the indigenous victim in a zero-sum relationship with the “The Other”. To put it bluntly, it is the Jews—according to the customary rules of the settler-colonial ideology—who should have the role of “Immaculate Powhatans” because King David established Jerusalem as the capital of the People of Israel some three thousand years ago after defeating the Canaanites. The Arabs, only appearing on the scene in the seventh century AD, obviously have a problem with their aboriginality and provenance. Never mind! Saeb Erekat, the PA’s chief negotiator in the 2013-14 Israel-Palestine peace talks, made this jaw-dropping claim on PA TV at the commencement of negotiations:

We are members of this land and members of this people. The Natufians were in Jericho 10,000 years ago. And so were Canaanites, thousands of years. When Israel says to us: You must recognise us as a Jewish state; they are asking us to erase my history. Erase my culture. Erase my narrative.

Erekat’s “narrative” makes him a descendant of the semi-nomadic Natufians, a claim that would make a well-taught twelve-year-old laugh with disbelief. Nur Masalha has written a book titled Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History (2018). It is one big lie, of course, but for a lot of people it no doubt feels like the truth.

Perhaps the biggest deception of all is when Western progressives convince themselves that their Zionophobia, in the form of the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement actually helps Israeli Arabs (who make up 20 per cent of the population of the State of Israel) or Palestinian Arabs (the inhabitants of the territories: West Bank and Gaza). The truth is that Palestinian nationalism—as an invention of the Islamic supremacists—needs to be scuppered, so it might be generated all over again without anti-Semitism at its core. This is the original sin (if I may use that term) of Hassan al-Banna, Haj Amin al-Husseini, Sayyid Qutb, Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of BDS. Barghouti, for instance, believes Arabs/Powhatans should have greater rights than Jews in the territory formerly known as southern Ottoman Syria, and the State of Israel must be dissolved in favour of a one-state solution for the entirety of the former British mandate. Is it so hard to work out that Barghouti is just another Haj Amin al-Husseini dressed up in the borrowed robes of Nelson Mandela?

Can the Israel-haters in the West not comprehend that there would be no slaying of olive trees if there was a whole lot less slaying of Israeli civilians? Or that an Arab Republic of Palestine would have jurisdiction over those who would uproot olive trees if Arab leaders ever endorsed UN Resolution 181? Haj Amin al-Husseini never sanctioned it. Neither did Yasser Arafat nor Mahmoud Abbas. Now Omar Barghouti joins the list of Arab rejectionists who will not ratify an Arab Republic of Palestine so long as a Jewish state exists in Dar el-Islam. They are all bigots, which is perhaps preferable to Western Zionophobes, who are not only bigots but dupes.

Zionism is a national liberation movement that has brought incredible success to the Jewish people and the Arabs fortunate enough to be citizens of the State of Israel. Palestinian nationalism—to date—has brought nothing but suffering to the Arabs of Gaza and the West Bank, not to mention those who fled the Arab-initiated War of Independence. The acrimonious and sanctimonious bigotry of Zionophobes in the West is contingent on the zero-sum fallacy of the settler-colonial narrative.

The Islamic Republic of Gaza, to finish with this incontrovertible counterpoint, has prime Mediterranean Sea real estate: it might compete with Monaco, on some level at least, if it were not ruled by Islamic supremacists who sacrifice the potential wealth and happiness, not to mention lives, of their imprisoned subjects (imprisoned by them, not by the Israelis) in order to demonise the State of Israel.

Hamas, like the Palestinian Authority, is very good at convincing Westerners of the true lie that there is not “an ounce of humanity” in the Israelis, and yet how does that spurious achievement on the part of propagandists make it a better world? How do theories about Nazi-Zionist equivalency move us forward? How, finally, does dragging us back to the bad old days of Jewish blood libel promote the advancement of humanity?        

Daryl McCann has a blog at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au, and he tweets at @dosakamccann. He wrote “Progressive Ideology and the Ghosts of Nazism” in the March issue. 


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