One of the most common misunderstandings about the Israeli occupation of Palestine is that it is a “conflict” between two countries, “Israel” and “Palestine”. Such language is highly misleading, because it gives the impression that these are two evenly matched countries which are fighting it out in an interminable border conflict which has been going on for thousands of years due to some sort of amorphous religious conflict.
This is simply not the case. In reality there is only one country between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. It is called Israel at the moment, which is an apartheid state whose laws privilege Jews over everybody else. Historically, prior to 1948, the only name ever used for all of this territory was Palestine.
With the rise of Zionism – a European settler-colonial movement founded at the end of the nineteenth century – a new term was invented to describe Palestine: the “Land of Israel”. Before then, the word “Israel” had generally been used only as a synonym for the Jewish people, as in the Biblical phrase “Children of Israel”.
In one Bible story Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, wrestled with man until morning. At daybreak he learned that the heavenly being had actually been God himself. Jacob was then given the name “Israel”, explained in Genesis as “one who strives with God”. (Although some modern Biblical scholars and archaeologists maintain that a more accurate translation is “Fighter for El”, El being the chief deity in the ancient Canaanite pantheon.)
As Israeli historian Shlomo Sand describes in his book The Invention of the Land of Israel, before the Zionist movement, Palestine was never viewed by Jewish communities around the world as their homeland.
Judaism, of course, had very real historic connections to Palestine, so the country was in a spiritual sense understood as the home of the Jewish faith. Palestine was also the birth place of Christianity and plays an important part in Islam, especially the city of Jerusalem.
Prior to the rise of Christianity as the established religion of the Roman Empire, Judaism was very much a proselytising faith. As such, it spread widely all over the Mediterranean basin, into Egypt and further afield. Indeed, as late as the eighth century CE, the ruling classes of the Khazar Empire (a confederation of Turkic-speaking tribes in what is today the south-eastern part of European Russia) apparently converted en masse to Judaism.
As such, it is illogical to suppose – as Zionists do – that the ancestral “homeland” of all Jewish people in the world is Palestine. Such a view is actually anti-Semitic.
A frequent theme in the history of European anti-Jewish racism was that the Jews of Europe were not really European Jews, but Jews who somehow happened to find themselves lost abroad as an accident of history. British Jews were not “really” British and German Jews were not “really” German at all, but simply “Jews in Germany”. Anti-Semites and Zionists alike actually agree on this point.
If the distinction between German Jews and “Jews in Germany” is lost on you consider this: Hitler’s Nazi government defined the country’s German population in exactly the same fashion. The Jews were not “racially” German, claimed Nazi propaganda.
Prior to the Holocaust, Hitler’s government even entered a series of agreements with the German Zionist Federation. The most well-known of these was the 1933 Transfer (“Haavara”) Agreement, which liquidated the property of well-off German Jews in exchange for allowing them to leave Germany to become settlers in 1930s Palestine, taking a portion of their wealth with them.
In this way, both parties – the Nazis and the Zionists – got what they wanted. The Nazis were happy to see Jews leaving Europe; the Zionists wanted to take over Palestine in order to build a “Jewish homeland” in a country which was overwhelmingly non-Jewish, and so needed as many Jews as possible to migrate there. For a time before the Holocaust, then, Nazi and Zionist interests converged.
However, this crossover was no simple coincidence of reluctant allies; there was also an affinity of ideology. Like previous European anti-Semites, the Nazis embraced a “racial” ideology, in which all Jews were viewed as alien to Europe; an outside influence from the corrupt, decadent and barbaric Orient.
At times, some German Zionist leaders even played up this affinity in their appeals to the Nazis to let them run their training programmes in “vocational” centres that aimed to transform German Jews into Zionist settlers ready to move to Palestine. Although this took place prior to the Holocaust, there was never any doubt whatsoever about the murderously violent and racist intentions of the Nazis towards the Jews.
At a time when German Jewish cultural and religious organisations and publications were being repressed, banned and persecuted across Nazi Germany, the Zionist organisations were the exceptions. In fact, the only flag permitted to be flown apart from the Nazi flag was that which went on to become the flag of Israel.
Ultimately, therefore, as well as being anti-Palestinian, anti-liberation and anti-freedom, Zionism is also an anti-Semitic ideology. It peddles the false idea that Jewish people do not belong anywhere in the world apart from as settler-colonist “Israelis” in occupied Palestine.
Contrary to the pro-Israel lobby’s obsessive demonisation campaign which claims falsely that “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism”, the fact is that in order to be genuinely anti-racist and rejective of bigotry against Jewish people, it is a requirement to be an anti-Zionist. As the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign often puts it: “Anti-Semitism is a crime. Anti-Zionism is a duty.”
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.