Monday, August 2, 2010

(BLOG) Rebutting Arguments About Israel's Colonialist Origins

"Last month, 35 years ago in July 1975, a decision was passed at the First World Conference on Women in Mexico City that laid the groundwork for the most hostile UN decision that was ever ratified against Israel: The decision that was passed on November 18 of that year defining Zionism as a form of racism.

The campaign that led to this decision was predicated to a large extent on many previous decisions linking Zionism to the colonialist movements. For example, in 1973, the UN General Assembly had already managed to condemn the 'unholy alliance between Portuguese colonialism, South African racism, Zionism and Zionist imperialism'. In Mexico City, the Conference on Women called for the 'liquidation' of all colonialism, neocolonialism, foreign conquest, Zionism and apartheid.

In 1991, the UN General Assembly rescinded its 1975 decision comparing Zionism to racism, but what has survived and has even intensified in subsequent years was the comparison between Zionism and apartheid. What must Israel do to rebuff this trend? What must be the center of gravity of Israeli arguments? In his Johannesburg speech in 2008, former Knesset Member Azmi Bishara revealed that there are two components in the accusations that he disseminates worldwide connecting Israel to apartheid: racial separation and colonialism.

In other words in order to contend with those who call Israel an apartheid state, it does not merely suffice to demonstrate to the world the that no racial separation exists in Israel or that there are Arab Knesset members (as opposed to the situation in South Africa during the Apartheid era) or that Arab Israelis and Palestinians use the very same Israeli hospitals (whereas under the apartheid regime the blacks were not permitted entry into white hospitals).

It is also compulsory to address the second aspect of the accusation against Israel-the argument that it constitutes a colonialist entity. While Israel must continue emphasizing the first point, currently for many people worldwide, the driving force of the present anti-Israeli wave is the colonialist narrative.

The truth of the matter is that while modern Israel sprouted from the British Mandate that proposed the establishment of a Jewish national home, with the backing of the League of Nations, the contemporary European powers neither created nor awarded the rights of the Jewish people. The mandate document constituted 'recognition of the historic ties between the Jewish people in Palestine.' In other words, the document recognized an already preexisting right and called for 'reestablishment' of the Jewish national home.

In practice the Jews had already worked to buttress their right long before the British and French dismantled the Ottoman Empire. The Jewish people had already managed to re-consolidate the majority that they had enjoyed in Jerusalem since 1863. The rights that the mandate and the League of Nations recognized in 1922 were preserved by the United Nations, the organization that succeeded it, in paragraph 80 of the UN Charter that conserved the rights enjoyed by states and nations prior to the establishment of the United Nations in 1945.

The argument purporting that Israel has colonialist roots due to its connection with the British Mandate is most ironic, as most Arab countries owe their establishment to conquest and control by the European powers. Prior to the First World War, countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan did not exist at all and were merely provinces of the Ottoman Empire. They became states only as a result of European intervention. Such for example was the case of Iraq and Jordan, where the British transferred rule to the Hashemite royal house.

Saudi Arabia and the small Gulf states arose as a result of special agreements that their leaders signed with British India between the years 1880 and 1916. These agreements incorporated British recognition for the legitimacy of rule by Arab families over places that subsequently became states as in the cases of Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. A similar agreement between Britain and the Al-Saud family in 1915 laid the groundwork for the rise of Saudi Arabia in 1932

Finally during Israel's War of Independence, the Arab states benefited directly from arms, training, and even manpower from the colonialist powers. In the initial stages, the Arab Legion attacked Jerusalem with the assistance of British officers. Royal Air Force planes defended the Egyptian skies over Sinai and in 1949 aerial incidents were recorded between Israeli and British aircraft.

To say that Israel is a result of colonialism is to ignore the history of the Middle East in the 20th century. We are also dealing with disregard for the fact that upon its inception, Israel constituted in practice an anti-colonialist entity that helped remove the British and French Empires from the Middle East.

In recent years, efforts to depict Israel as a colonialist entity have been expanded and they include efforts to deny any historic connection between the Jewish people and its country. For this reason it was important for Arafat to deny that a temple in Jerusalem had ever existed. Many in his entourage embraced the approach, beginning with Saeb Erekat and concluding with Abu Maazen himself.

When Salaam Fayad at the close of 2008 addressed the UN General Assembly on the religious importance of Jerusalem, he mentioned Christianity and Islam, but not Judaism. In an appearance in Washington, Abu Maazen conceded the fact that the Jews appeared in the Koran, but denied that he recognized the historic rights of the Jews to the Land of Israel. It is crucial for many Palestinian spokespersons to deny the historical roots of the Jewish people in order to sustain their argument that the Jews are Johnny come latelys.

The ridiculous determination that Israel has colonialist roots does not derive from any effort whatsoever to arrive at a study of the truth but it is part and parcel of a campaign to delegitimize Israel. During the 1970s the Soviet Union and its Third World allies underpinned this effort.

Today, most unfortunately the mainstays of the campaign are the nongovernmental organizations and campuses throughout the world. While the anti-Israeli narrative gathers popularity and helps foment the accusation that one should define Israel as an apartheid state, it bears no resemblance to the truth. Israel should invest efforts and resources in order to rebuff this trend and sustain the justice of its arguments.

This article originally appeared in Israel Today and reflects the view of the author alone and does not constitute the official position of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs" (source)

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