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The Trouble With Israel

Guest Column
Aimee Smith

It is hard to talk about the history of Israel and the relations of people in the region of historic Palestine in the US because most of us “Americans” have been kept from learning much about history or even basic geography.

When I read the column about the visit of Israeli Knesset member Benny Elon [“A potential Middle East Solution,” Oct. 18] by Maxim Shusteff and Jake Solomon, I noticed that the authors described the event as demonstrating much academic decorum, somehow further legitimated by the diverse spectrum of questions.

I do not believe the event lived up to the ideas of openness and academic freedom. The questions in fact covered a wide spectrum, from “great, but how are we going to do it” to “have you lost your humanity entirely?” but the audience was very averse to any sort of critical questions and did try to cut those questions off.

To the moderator’s credit, he did stand up to the mob mentality and allowed the questions. Even if one should or could listen coolly as Mr. Elon gave his “creative” solution of transferring the remaining Palestinians in the occupied territories east of the Jordan River into Jordan, by force if necessary, there was one incident which was particularly disturbing. Before stating my question during the Q&A session, I asked him why he wanted the full names of those asking questions, and if he was planning to pass my name off to the JDL (The Jewish Defense League, a Zionist terrorist group.) He responded that he would if he didn’t like my question. I suppose he intended to be amusing, but I think the joke brings out a deep contradiction in this conflict. Palestinian resistance to being driven out of their homelands is given endless scrutiny and condemnation, but pro-Israeli naked military aggression and Kahanian style terror used to maintain this immoral colonization project on the homeland of other people is hardly mentioned, let alone scrutinized.

In spite of his real or joking threat, I want to thank Mr. Elon for his candor on other points. He mocked the state that was offered to the Palestinians as being nothing more than bantustans that are only connected by airplane routes and have no control of the resources or borders. The laughter to his joking analysis from the audience indicates that many of them must agree, although I believe I have heard some of these same people argue to the contrary. The other important point that Mr. Elon made was that many Palestinians were in fact driven from their homelands in 1948 -- i.e. Palestine was not in fact “A land without a people for a people without a land” as the racist myth goes.

His argument for why Israel belongs to the Jews? Simple: God gave it to the Jews. If using God as a justification for conquest and ethnic cleansing is not at odds with modern notions of intellectual discourse and democracy, I don’t know what is. But my Palestinian friend whose grandfather was shot to death by Zionists in 1947 and whose grandmother died at a checkpoint last year says it best: “I didn’t know God was a real estate agent who could steal land from one people and give it to another.”

The problem with Israel is that it is a racist, colonial, settler state built on ethnically cleansed lands. I use the word “racist” here to describe the inherent nature of any colonial project set up by white Europeans to evict and control land that is populated with non-Europeans. Some might call this “Western Cultural Imperialism,” but I would argue that implementing such a program would not be possible without first objectifying and demonizing the those who populate the target land. And further, this is not an unusual or new sort of problem.

We saw a similar colonization project carried out in South Africa. There, under apartheid, legal segregation was explicit and enforced until quite recently. Israel has an apartheid structure based on a unique mix of culture and religious identity, but however convoluted the scheme for determining who gets first class status and who gets no status, the differences are marked clearly on identity cards and license plates. Certainly no one has any right to blame Judaism for this implementation of the goals of Zionism. In fact, those who wrap their Zionist ideology in Judaism are lying because Judaism the religion and Zionism the ideology have nothing in common.

Just as most Muslims reject the actions of the 9/11 hijackers, many Jews reject Zionism as a form of racism that has attempted to hijack their faith. Moreover, failure to criticize the implementation of Zionism, which is Israel, is racism. For United States citizens, when the weapons used to enforce it and expand it are stamped with “made in USA,” failure to criticize is complicity.

Aimee Smith is a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.