PM5611: Why I am opposed to Zionism

I’m an Australian. Now, Australia as a country does not exist for any particular ethnic or religious group. It does so happen, that from the beginning of British colonisation to the present, the majority of Australia’s population has had an Anglo-Celtic ethnic background. But Australians from other ethnic backgrounds (such as Italian, German, Chinese, Indian, Greek, Dutch, or Armenian, to name but a few) are no less Australian than Anglo-Celtic Australians. If anyone has a claim on being “more Australian” than anyone else, it is the descendants of the original inhabitants of the country (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples), who number less than 3% of the total population. Nor does Australia have in any sense an official religion. It so happens that the majority has historically been Christian, but Christianity is in decline, and it is likely that within the next few decades Christians will no longer constitute the majority of the population. Anyone, regardless of creed or descent, can become an Australian; they need to immigrate here – Australia’s immigration system is strict, but is based on ethnically and religiously neutral criteria such as level of education and professional skills – and choose to be naturalised. So long as they are willing to accept our values – which rather than being based on any ethnically or religiously particular outlook, are based on universal human values of human rights, democracy, the rule of law, gender and racial equality, etc. – then they will become as Australian as anyone else.

Australia is not in any way unique here; I can point to other countries whose self-conception (at least among the more progressive portions of their citizenry – a perspective which generally speaking has been successfully enshrined in law and public policy) is very similar to our own – Canada, New Zealand, the United States are other examples. The states of Western Europe are moving in the same direction, but often have more ethnic and religious historical baggage to contend with, so I expect the process will take longer for many of them.

A basic perspective of mine, is that all countries should in this regard be like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States – multi-cultural, multi-religious, basing their national identity on a shared commitment to universal values as expressed in a particular geographic area, as opposed to being constituted on an ethnic or religious basis. Ethnically and religious based states inevitably lead to treating minorities as second-class citizens, whatever formal guarantees of equality the law may provide.

Given this fundamental perspective, I am opposed to the existence of Israel as a particularly Jewish state, whether that particularity is understood in ethnic terms, in religious terms, or in both. Insofar as the basic objective of Zionism is to establish and maintain a state constituted in those terms, I am also opposed to Zionism. I am opposed, not only to Zionism, but to all other forms of ethnic and religious nationalism as well – Islamic, Hindu, Arab, Palestinian, French, German, Chinese – you name it.

Zionists try to smear their opponents with accusations of anti-Semitism. I cannot speak for all anti-Zionists, but there are certainly many of us who are opposed to Zionism, not because it is a Jewish expression of ethno-religious nationalism, but because of a universal opposition to ethnic and/or religious nationalism in all its forms. But Zionists want to pretend that anti-Zionists such as myself either don’t exist at all, or are such a small group so as to be irrelevant. I don’t think my viewpoint is personally unique to me; I think it is a much more common perspective than Zionists would like to admit, and our numbers are growing.

I am an Australian. In Australian history, we used to have something called the “White Australia Policy”. This was a government policy that existed for over seventy years, from 1901 to 1973, which said that Australia was for “white” people, and that immigration policy should operate in such a way to ensure that the “white” majority was maintained. If you were not “white”, you were not welcome.
Who was “white”? One of the prime targets of the policy was to prevent Chinese immigration. Pacific Islanders were another targeted group. But even some Europeans from were considered “not white”, or at least “not white enough”. After the Second World War, the policy was loosened, and the immigration intake became progressively more diverse; but restrictions on non-Europeans endured for over two further decades.

The policy was primarily enforced through a “Dictation Test”, in which the prospective immigrant was required to demonstrate fluency in a European language. In practice, people from desired backgrounds were not required to sit the test, while the test would be manipulated to exclude those considered undesirable. The law stated the test was to be in a European language, not limited to English – and the government was allowed to choose which language the test would be in. Thus, they would make sure to choose a language which the prospective immigrant did not know.
How do Australians today look back on this policy? A few no doubt look back on it fondly; but the greater number see it as a grave wrong and a source of national shame.

This policy was not unique to Australia; many other Western countries had similar policies, for example the Chinese Exclusion Acts in the United States.

Let’s now examine the seemingly never-ending negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. One of the long-standing demands of the Israeli side was that the Palestinians recognize the State of Israel; that recognition was extended by the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993. However, for the current Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, that is not enough – he wants them to recognize Israel, not just as a “state”, but as a “Jewish state”. How does this Jewish Israel Policy really differ from the White Australia Policy?

Not all Zionists agree with Netanyahu’s demand. But, their disagreement is not with the notion that Israel must be maintained as a “Jewish State”, but simply that it is necessary or helpful for Israel to demand that the Palestinian leadership endorse that label. They all support the enforcement of the Jewish Israel Policy through discriminatory immigration policy – the “Law of Return”, according to which Jewish people have an automatic right to immigrate to Israel and to quickly obtain its citizenship. Under the Law of Return, a Christian or Muslim who was born in Haifa pre-1948 and fled during the war has no right to return to their former home, but a Jewish person whose ancestors have not lived there for over a thousand years is to be welcomed with open arms. How is that in any way fair or moral?

Just as the White Australia Policy was enforced through immigration discrimination – only “whites” were allowed to immigrate, so too is the Jewish Israel Policy enforced through immigration discrimination – Jews are given a clear preference in immigration.  How do these policies differ? Ultimately, they don’t – if the White Australia Policy is immoral, then the Jewish Israel Policy is also immoral.

And yet, the Jewish Israel Policy is the very core of Zionism. If it is wrong, then Zionism too is wrong, and must be rejected.

Objection 1 – Israel does not absolutely prohibit Gentile immigration

Let me now respond to some common objections to this comparison. Firstly, that the “White Australia Policy” was an absolute bar against non-white immigration, while Israeli’s immigration policy does not absolutely bar non-Jewish immigration. It is not true that the White Australia Policy absolutely barred non-“white” immigration – there was a process in place for the government to grant exemptions from the ban, and a small number of non-“white” immigrants (including Chinese) managed to acquire those exemptions (“Certificate of Exemption from Dictation Test”). However, in any case, let us suppose it is true that current Israeli immigration policy is more open to non-Jewish immigration than the White Australia Policy was to non-“white” immigration. Why should that fact be relevant? If discrimination in immigration is wrong, does it matter whether it amounts to an absolute bar, or merely making it easier for one group than for others?

Objection 2 – The White Australia Policy was based on race, but the Law of Return is not

Firstly, we must note that despite its name of “White Australia Policy”, it was never purely and simply about race. Certainly the law was presented and justified by the government in terms of race, but the way the law was actually written was in terms of language (and thus culture), not race. Immigrants were required to pass a literacy test in a European language, not a physical examination of their skin colour or other traits. The term “European” is in fact narrower than “white”, since pale-skinned people from North Africa and the Middle East were generally accepted as “white” despite residing outside of Europe.

In actual practice, the test was manipulated by the government – immigrants considered desirable were not required to sit it, while those considered undesirable were required to sit it in a language of the government’s choice – rather than simply English, the government would choose a language they knew the immigrant was unlikely to know – such as Scottish Gaelic. In the event an undesired immigrant unexpectedly passed the test, they were often required to sit it again in a different language – the government would repeat the process until it got the outcome it desired. So a non-“white” immigrant could be excluded even if they had a fluent command of several European languages. But immigrants considered undesirable for other reasons than race also met the same fate.

What kind of category is “Jewish”? In part, it is defined in terms of descent – and so at that level, has something in common with the racial concept of “white” which was the basis of the “White Australia Policy”. It also has elements of language and culture – which correlate with how the “White Australia Policy” was expressed legally. There are some additional elements to the notion of “Jewish” under Israeli law – it includes those who have converted to Judaism, if their conversion is recognized by the Israeli government (which originally meant conversions overseen by Orthodox Jewish authorities only – the courts have expanded over time recognition to include some but not all conversions done in other Jewish denominations); for the purposes of the Law of Return, it excludes those who have converted to another religion (such as Christianity or Islam), but still includes those who have abandoned Judaism for religious unbelief.

However, the real point is this – it doesn’t matter if the grounds of discrimination in the White Australia Policy are slightly different from those involved in the Jewish Israel Policy, unless one is going to argue that those different grounds of discrimination somehow make that discrimination okay. So, by this objection, discriminating against people on the basis of their race is somehow worse than doing so on the basis of their ethnicity, culture, language or religion. Do Zionists really want to advocate for that position? For at times, Jewish immigration has been restricted by various countries; and, they could equally argue, that if Jews are not a race, then restricting Jewish immigration is okay because it is not racist. The point is, all discrimination is wrong, whether it is based on physical factors such as skin colour, or social or cultural factors such as ethnicity or religion.

Objection 3 – An exception should be made for Israel as a form of “affirmative action”

Some people agree that discriminatory immigration policy is wrong in general, yet argue that an exception should be made for Israel on the grounds of “affirmative action”. Affirmative action refers to the idea that it is permissible to discriminate in favour of some historically disadvantaged group, in order to remedy the effects in the present of past wrongs.

Now, affirmative action is a controversial concept. Many people reject it outright. Myself, I am not totally opposed to it in all cases – but I do think we need to treat proposals for affirmative action with scepticism.  Affirmative action is essentially an argument that violating the letter of equality somehow furthers its spirit; that apparent inequality produces deeper equality. As such, it is a rather contradictory concept. I don’t think that means it should be absolutely rejected, but I do think it means it should be limited in scope to when absolutely necessary, and those who advocate it have the burden of proving that it is necessary, effective, and that there are no other means of achieving the same end. It is also something which should only be maintained for a limited period, rather than something to be maintained until the end of time.

The argument that Zionists put forward, is that the history of persecution of Jews justifies the maintenance of a state with a Jewish majority. But how so? While certainly Jews (among other peoples) have endured a dreadful history of persecution, that period of history now appears to be over, and does not appear likely to repeat itself. Should Jews who live in Western Europe, North America or Australia today fear that the Holocaust is about to repeat itself? I don’t think many of them seriously do; and if any did, how could such a fear be rationally justifiable? It is sadly true that we have probably not seen the last genocide in history; but the next genocide’s victims are unlikely to be Jewish. Even if we consider, not genocide, but the lesser grade of persecution represented by say the Nuremberg laws in Germany – restrictions on Jewish employment and participation in political life – that is not the reality in Western Europe, North America or Australia today, all of which have strong anti-discrimination laws, and it seems unlikely that will change. So it is unclear that Israel is in any way necessary to protect Jews from persecution; the Western countries seem capable of doing so without needing any Jewish majority. If anything, the existence of Israel increases the danger to Jews, by inflaming much of the world against them. If Israel did not exist, who can doubt that anti-Semitism in the Islamic world would not be substantially less prevalent than it is today?

Let me clarify: I am not saying that the existence of Israel justifies Islamic anti-Semitism. But the reality of human nature is that, whenever people have a valid complaint, sooner or later some of those people will overreach what is justifiable into what is not. The fact that they had a valid complaint initially does not turn their overreach from wrong to right. But nor does the fact that their overreach is wrong, change the fact that it is the causal fruit of the original situation about which they validly complain. We must never forget, that it was the Zionists who started the present conflict, not the Palestinians; without Zionism, the conflict, and all its consequences, would never have happened.