Toppling statues, Black Lives Matter, and Zionism

Across the world, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against racism and police brutality have compelled countries in Europe (and Australia for that matter) to reconsider their own racist histories. For instance, protesters in Belgium removed the statue of King Leopold II, who was responsible for the deaths of millions of Africans during Belgium’s colonial adventures in that continent. Statues of Confederate generals are being torn down in the United States.

However, not everyone is supportive of BLM.

Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organisation of America and enthusiastic Israel-supporter, denounced the BLM movement in the following words on Twitter:

BLM is a Jew-hating, white-hating, Israel-hating, conservative Black-hating, violence-promoting, dangerous Soros-funded extremist group of haters

Let’s take a look at this stinging attack on BLM, and why prominent Zionist groups find the anti-racism of BLM a strategic threat.

Klein is not alone – numerous Zionist organisations have denounced BLM in similarly vitriolic terms. Israel’s leaders and their supporters have attacked BLM as an anti-Semitic movement, conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The latter is a frequently deployed tactic to smear critics of the Israeli state as being motivated by irrational prejudice.

Ali Abunimah, cofounder and editor of Electronic Intifada, noted that it is interesting to see Klein incorporate an anti-Semitic trope, the ‘George Soros puppet-master funding protests’, as a legitimate critique. In fact, a number of advisors close to current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recycled this right-wing conspiracy theory. The ‘globalist Jew’ funding revolutionary causes is an old, outdated anti-Semitic slander deployed to discredit social movements as just dupes or pawns in the hands of the ultimate puppeteer, the Jews.

Why is a Zionist circulating an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory? Zionism at its core, is a political ideology that accepts the logic – if one can call it that – of the anti-Semite. Jews, according to the ideologues of Zionism, constitute a distinct, unassimilable, fixed entity no matter where they are born and raised. The proponents of Zionism offer a resolution of the Jewish question – building an exclusively Jewish state in their ‘old-new’ ancestral home of Palestine. Zionism has always been a racialist philosophy.

The BLM movement openly supports and cooperates with the Palestinians, not for any anti-Semitic reasons, but precisely because of Zionism’s racist conception of Palestinians and Arabs. The founders of Zionism made no secret of their colonialist and racist attitudes towards the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, and offered their services to various colonial powers – such as Britain – to construct an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine. BLM offers its anti-racist solidarity to the Palestinians.

It is no secret that anti-Semitic and far-right parties across the world look to Israel as an example to follow. They in turn provide political support for the objectives of Zionism. Ultranationalist and racist European parties have expressed their admiration for Zionism and Israel, and a number have visited that nation in a show of political solidarity. Netanyahu has been quick to reciprocate.

The United Nations, in 2017, issued a damning report comparing the practices of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians with the policies of the apartheid government in South Africa. The process of ghettoisation and partition of the occupied Palestinian Territories bear striking similarities to those implemented by the white Afrikaners towards the black South African population.

Ronnie Kasrils, a formerly leading activist the African National Congress (ANC) and subsequent government minister, wrote that as a Jewish South African, he saw the fundamental similarities between apartheid in South Africa and the policies of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians. The Afrikaners who settled in South Africa founded states for themselves – Transvaal, Orange Free State – which became the union of South Africa. They were founded on the exclusion of the indigenous Africans. Zionism has produced a similar and parallel outcome in the land of Palestine.

Recognising the colonial-settler project of Zionism is not a product of irrational and fanatical anti-Semitism, but a recognition of the dispossession and exclusion of the Palestinians upon which Zionism is predicated. Indeed, Zionist leaders from the 1920s and 30s admitted that Palestinian resistance to Zionism was based on opposition to the colonising project, and not on any anti-Semitic hatred.

Tearing down statues of racist slave-traders, such as Edward Colston in Bristol, or conquistadors such as Christopher Columbus, is not an exercise in erasing history – far from it. The United States and Britain have been compelled to recognise and understand their histories of slavery and imperialism only because of the collective struggle of non-white peoples. Erecting statues to slavers, or Confederate generals, is an exercise in reasserting white supremacy, and constructing a white nationalist view of history.

The global protests in support of BLM are not motivated by hatred of white people, anymore than anti-Semitic prejudice. Indeed, African Americans and Jews have a long history of cooperation on the issue of civil rights in the United States. Political struggles always involve asking questions that make us uncomfortable about ourselves. Ran Greenstein, writing in 972 magazine, states that anti-Zionism is not a platform for anti-Semitism but rather an opportunity to correct historical wrongs inflicted on the Palestinians.

Black Lives Matter and Palestine form a historic alliance, opposed to all forms of racism. A necessary step towards decolonisation is the removal of historic monuments to the colonisers.

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