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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Answering Joseph Massad

Joseph Massad, an associate professor at Columbia University, wrote an article for Al-Ahram Weekly and reprinted at Electronic Intifada about Israel's "racism." Since he is far brighter than the typical Neanderthal that writes for EI it is worthwhile to review his argument and show that not only is Israel not racist, but his claims amount to a form of anti-Semitism.

His thesis is laid out in the first two paragraphs:
Israel's struggle for peace is a sincere one. In fact, Israel desires to live at peace not only with its neighbours, but also and especially with its own Palestinian population, and with Palestinians whose lands its military occupies by force. Israel's desire for peace is not only rhetorical but also substantive and deeply psychological. With few exceptions, prominent Zionist leaders since the inception of colonial Zionism have desired to establish peace with the Palestinians and other Arabs whose lands they slated for colonisation and settlement. The only thing Israel has asked for, and continues to ask for in order to end the state of war with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours, is that all recognise its right to be a racist state that discriminates by law against Palestinians and other Arabs and grants differential legal rights and privileges to its own Jewish citizens and to all other Jews anywhere. The resistance that the Palestinian people and other Arabs have launched against Israel's right to be a racist state is what continues to stand between Israel and the peace for which it has struggled and to which it has been committed for decades. Indeed, this resistance is nothing less than the "New anti- Semitism".

Israel is willing to do anything to convince Palestinians and other Arabs of why it needs and deserves to have the right to be racist. Even at the level of theory, and before it began to realise itself on the ground, the Zionist colonial project sought different means by which it could convince the people whose lands it wanted to steal and against whom it wanted to discriminate to accept as understandable its need to be racist. All it required was that the Palestinians "recognise its right to exist" as a racist state. Military methods were by no means the only persuasive tools available; there were others, including economic and cultural incentives. Zionism from the start offered some Palestinians financial benefits if they would accede to its demand that it should have the right to be racist. Indeed, the State of Israel still does. Many Palestinian officials in the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organisation have been offered and have accepted numerous financial incentives to recognise this crucial Israeli need. Those among the Palestinians who regrettably continue to resist are being penalised for their intransigence by economic choking and starvation, supplemented by regular bombardment and raids, as well as international isolation. These persuasive methods, Israel hopes, will finally convince a recalcitrant population to recognise the dire need of Israel to be a racist state. After all, Israeli racism only manifests in its flag, its national anthem, and a bunch of laws that are necessary to safeguard Jewish privilege, including the Law of Return (1950), the Law of Absentee Property (1950), the Law of the State's Property (1951), the Law of Citizenship (1952), the Status Law (1952), the Israel Lands Administration Law (1960), the Construction and Building Law (1965), and the 2002 temporary law banning marriage between Israelis and Palestinians of the occupied territories.
Notice how Massad states Israel's racism as a fact, and only later does he make his argument. The argument is fundamentally that since Israel is meant to be a Jewish state it is by definition racist against non-Jews, and he brings as proof various laws and national symbols that mean to maintain Israel as a Jewish state.

The rest of his long and articulate article boils down to some strawman arguments as to why Israelis believe that they have the right to be racist.

Nevertheless, he does make his argument, and the crux of the issue is that it is impossible to have a Jewish state that is not racist, by definition.

First of all, the professor's use of the word "racist" is faulty and he knows this quite well. Racism is discrimination based on race, and of course neither Jews nor Arabs form a race. A good portion of Jews in Israel are descended from Arab Jews. The word is nothing but an inflammatory rhetorical device and his use of it is as absurd as those who redefine anti-Semitism as "hating Semites."

His argument would be much stronger, more accurate and not nearly as inflammatory if he used the word "discriminatory." But since that word can apply to pretty much every nation and clearly defined ethnic, racial, religious or gender group on the planet, he purposefully chooses to use a word that forces a more visceral reaction from the reader. Notice how his entire argument loses its punch if you substitute "discriminatory" for "racist" - he is not arguing based on facts, he is inciting. This is more than dishonest.

Back to his argument, framed correctly: is there discrimination in Israel against Arabs? Well, yes, there is. It is not news that there is a tension between the desire for a Jewish state and a desire for a state where all citizens are treated absolutely equally.

What Massad dismisses is the need for a Jewish state:
It is important to stress that this Zionist rationale is correct on all counts if one accepts the proposition of Jewish exceptionalism. Remember that Zionism and Israel are very careful not to generalise the principles that justify Israel's need to be racist but are rather vehement in upholding it as an exceptional principle. It is not that no other people has been oppressed historically, it is that Jews have been oppressed more. It is not that no other people's cultural and physical existence has been threatened; it is that the Jews' cultural and physical existence is threatened more. This quantitative equation is key to why the world, and especially Palestinians, should recognise that Israel needs and deserves to have the right to be a racist state. If the Palestinians, or anyone else, reject this, then they must be committed to the annihilation of the Jewish people physically and culturally, not to mention that they would be standing against the Judeo-Christian God.
Here is one of his straw man arguments. Do Jews deny the right for, say, Kurds or Armenians or any historically oppressed people to have their own state? His thesis of Jewish "exceptionalism" would imply that Jews want only an exclusive Jewish state and that no other people deserve one - a claim that is manifestly absurd.

To deny the right for Jews to have a state of their own, while (in this case, implicitly) allowing other peoples to have their own states, is simply a form of anti-semitism. One can argue that a Jewish state should not have been established in Palestine because of other issues - but this is not Massad's argument. He is the one who is suffering from exceptionalism, by denying only a single group of people the right to have a state where they suffer no discrimination.

If he argues just as strenuously against Saudi Arabia's discriminatory laws, or the fact that the Queen of England is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England or against the fact that many European flags have crosses - then he might not be guilty of the "racism" that he accuses Israel of. But as far as I can tell, his writings on the topic exclusively speak about the Jewish state, not any other group of people.

His answer to this is not an answer - it is simply the use of the word "racism" as a club in the way that he accuses Jews of using the term "anti-semitism:"

As for those among us who insist that no resolution will ever be possible before Israel revokes all its racist laws and does away with all its racist symbols, thus opening the way for a non-racist future for Palestinians and Jews in a decolonised bi-national state, Israel and its apologists have a ready-made response that has redefined the meaning of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is no longer the hatred of and discrimination against Jews as a religious or ethnic group; in the age of Zionism, we are told, anti-Semitism has metamorphosed into something that is more insidious. Today, Israel and its Western defenders insist, genocidal anti-Semitism consists mainly of any attempt to take away and to refuse to uphold the absolute right of Israel to be a racist Jewish state.
His sleight of hand is in never defining "racism" in any meaningful way, and then affixing the reprehensible label exclusively on Jewish Zionists repeatedly. It is a classic example of Arab projection. Forgetting the fact that non-Jews in Israel have more rights than minorities in most nations do (and certainly in Israel's neighbors), ignoring the fact that Israeli Arabs have risen to unimaginable political heights - even without those arguments which he would probably dismiss as apologetics, the fundamental issue remains that Massad denies Jews the rights that he seems to allow all others.

And his repeated misuse of the word "racist" shows clearly that his argument is fundamentally an emotional one clothed in pseudo-rationalism, rather than based on any facts.