Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
November, 2001

If It Walks Like a Duck…”: The Racism of Zionism
By Donald Neff

You don’t need to see racism to recognize it. Unlike pornography, which often is in the eye of the beholder, racism in nations is self-evident. It comes in the form of a constitution, the laws that a nation adopts and the behavior of its citizens toward minorities. Yet the United States failed to recognize racism when the American delegation walked out of the recent U.N. World Conference Against Racism in sympathy with Israel. Significantly, it was the only country in the world to do so.

What is it that the rest of the world sees when it looks at Israel that Washington doesn't? Other nations note that Israel has no constitution. But it has a body of what are called “Basic Laws” that serve the purpose of a constitution. Among these laws are a number of statutes that enshrine exclusive rights for Jews above all other religions and peoples living in the state.

One such law is the Right of Return, granting any Jew—but no one else—automatic Israeli citizenship. It was passed in 1950 by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in which there are few non-Jews beyond token members of minor minorities.

In the words of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion: “This is not only a Jewish state, where the majority of the inhabitants are Jews, but a state for all Jews, wherever they are, and for every Jew who wants to be here....This right is inherent in being a Jew.”1
Another of the Basic Laws is one defining Israel citizenship, passed by the Knesset in 1952. It is the Law of Citizenship, sometimes called the Nationality Law. It set citizenship rules so stringently against non-Jews that many Palestinian residents of Israel (stuck there when Israel captured their land in 1948) were denied citizenship even though their families had lived in Palestine for many generations.

In fact, the law was so restrictive against granting citizenship to goyim—a Hebrew term to define all non-Jews—that it caused concern among some Jewish communities outside of Israel. Irving M. Engel, president of the American Jewish Committee, later met with Ben-Gurion and urged him to have the law changed. Engel said he was embarrassed by the restrictive nature of the law, since his organization had crusaded throughout the world for equal treatment of Jews. Now, he added, when Jews got their own their country they were discriminating against non-Jews. Ben-Gurion rejected any changes to the Nationality Law.2
In the same year, 1952, the Knesset passed the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency (Status) Law, which legalized special economic, political and social benefits for Israeli Jews. It gave exclusive rights not to all citizens of Israel but to Israelis of “Jewish nationality,” including the right to purchase land. Jewish institutions such as the Jewish National Fund were prohibited by law to sell the land they owned in Israel—some 97 percent—to non-Jews and were enjoined to hold all land “for the whole Jewish people.”

Israel is a democracy for Jews only.

Racism has many other manifestations in Israel beyond official statutes. Most notable of these prejudicial practices is the ban against Palestinians serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Even though Palestinians make up nearly 20 percent of Israel’s population—a larger minority than blacks in America—they are left in the paradoxical position of being denied the basic duty of protecting what is supposedly their country.

Palestinians never gain entry to the higher levels of the Israeli government. There has never been a Palestinian cabinet minister, much less a prime minister or a minister of foreign affairs.

Their cities and towns receive nowhere near the financial aid from the central government that their Jewish counterparts receive, nor do their educational and health systems. Needless to say, the quality of life of the average Palestinian citizen of Israel is far lower than that of Jewish “nationals.”

By any definition of racism, Israel qualifies. Its laws and practices define it as exclusionary and for Jews only. While Israel most certainly is a democracy, it is a democracy for Jews only. Goyim are not welcome or accepted as equals.

Palestinians are at best second-class citizens, casualties of a bloody history that left them stranded inside what became Israel. In fact, all non-Jews, whether Palestinians or American Christians, are discouraged from living in Israel. Marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew cannot be performed there. Nor is religious tolerance exactly a hallmark of Israel’s democracy. From time to time Israel’s Knesset has passed laws against proselytizing by Christians, decreeing prison terms for both the converted and the converter.

Given this reality, it was hypocritical in the extreme for the U.S. to thumb its nose at the World Conference Against Racism. Surely this country, as one of the world’s few true democracies, has a duty to stand up against racism wherever it sees it. Instead it brusquely quit the conference in September as a show of solidarity with Israel’s walkout.

Israeli Apartheid

Secretary of State Colin Powell specifically cited as one of the reasons for the U.S. action the charge by some non-Jewish delegates that “apartheid exists in Israel.”3 How could they say otherwise? Anyone who has ever visited Israel knows that apartheid is alive and well in the Jewish state. What else is the cruel Israeli military occupation and isolation of three million Palestinians—complete with travel permits, checkpoints, “whites-only” neighborhoods and other former trademarks of South Africa?

Powell also complained that delegates regarded “Zionism as racism.”4 But, by its own definition, Zionism is racist. How could it be otherwise? Zionism is specifically for Jews, excluding all others, so by its very nature it is racist. What else could it mean when Jews proudly proclaim Israel is a Jewish state? They mean goyim are not wanted.

What could Secretary of State Powell have been thinking when he uttered these absurd justifications for leaving the conference? Surely it wasn’t reality. His charge that Israel was being unfairly discriminated against lost any trace of credibility when not one of the other 163 nations in the world followed Washington’s lead, not even such traditional allies as Britain or France.

In fact, after the United States and Israel quit the conference the remaining delegates—i.e., the rest of the world—went on formally to express their concern about the “plight of the Palestinians under foreign occupation.” Israel and the United States were left standing alone, in shame.

In the end Powell and his boss, President George W. Bush, sacrificed an important international conference to pander to Zionists and their powerful American political lobby. In the process they besmirched their own reputations and that of their nation.

1Sachar, Howard, A History of Israel, p. 383.

2New York Times, 6/24/57.

3Colin Powell, State Department release, 9/3/01.


Donald Neff is the author of the Warriors trilogy and 50 Years of Israel, available from the AET Book Club, and of Fallen Pillars.