Earlier today, the Guardian published an op-ed by Hagai El-Ad, head of the anti-Israel NGO B’tselem (“We are Israel’s largest human rights group – and we are calling this apartheid”) accusing Israel of apartheid, a piece the Guardian promoted in a separate ‘news’ article (“Israel is a non-democratic apartheid regime, says rights says”).
Perhaps even more disturbing than the apartheid smear, is a narrative in the op-ed that’s arguably antisemitic per the IHRA Working Definition, which defines as antisemitic “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor”.
This is advanced throughout the piece, particularly the accusation of ‘Jewish supremacy’:
That Israel’s definitions do not depend on skin colour make no material difference: it is the supremacist reality which is the heart of the matter – and which must be defeated.
These can risk bringing about moral judgments – and eventually, heaven forbid, real consequences. Instead, the patient, quiet, and gradual accumulation of discriminatory practices tends to prevent repercussions from the international community, especially if one is willing to provide lip service to its norms and expectations.
This is how Jewish supremacy on both sides of the green line is accomplished and applied.
In fact, one government rules everyone and everything between the river and the sea, following the same organising principle everywhere under its control, working to advance and perpetuate the supremacy of one group of people – Jews – over another – Palestinians.
The past is one of traumas and injustices. In the present, yet more injustices are constantly reproduced. The future must be radically different – a rejection of supremacy, built on a commitment to justice and our shared humanity.
The argument that the state is built on “Jewish supremacy”, and that a political solution must be found that rejects this supremacism, suggests that the state – that is, a Zionist Jewish state – is intrinsically racist and must be radically reconstituted, presumably as a non-Zionist state.
The term “Jewish supremacism” has an undeniably antisemitic pedigree and, in fact, Linda Sarsour was widely condemned just last year for making that very argument, that Israel is a state built on “Jewish supremacism”, with ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt describing her accusation as antisemitic.
El-Ad’s argument that Israel is a (non-democratic) supremacist state rests in part on the passage we highlighted above, that Israel “rules everyone and everything between the river and the sea” and that the state works “to advance and perpetuate the supremacy of one group of people – Jews – over another – Palestinians”.
Let’s unpack this. El-Ad is arguing that Israel rules not only Palestinians in PA controlled Area A, but, even more implausibly, that it rules the two million Gazans who live under Hamas rule.
Even leaving aside the suggestion that – despite Israel’s complete withdrawal 15 years ago – Gaza is still occupied, El-Ad is arguing that Israeli restrictions on the coastal enclave, and the fact that Gazans can’t vote in Israeli elections, is motivated not by security concerns stemming from Hamas’s genocidal designs, but by the belief that Jewish are ‘superior’ to Palestinians and therefore should dominate them.
However, what El-Ad and other anti-Zionists published at the Guardian get so horribly wrong is that Zionism is not the belief that Jews are superior to others people in the region, but that Jews are equal to non-Jews, and therefore possess the same intrinsic rights to safety, self-defence and self-determination that other people and nations enjoy. Throughout their pre-state history, Jews inhabited a precarious and decidedly unequal position, ever exposed to the whims and wishes of rulers and the resentment of the populace – an inequality relative to their non-Jewish neighbors that left Jews perpetually vulnerable to antisemitic violence.
Zionism, rightly understood, was a progressive, revolutionary movement seeking equal rights for Jews.
Anti-Zionism, as Israeli journalist Eylon Levy framed it, should be seen as a regressive, counter-revolutionary spirit – an effort to deny Jews the rights they currently enjoy, and to restore the old, dangerous power imbalance. It’s a movement that of course has no answer to how Israeli Jews, without the apparatuses of sovereignty, could conceivably defend themselves from regional antisemitic terror groups and state actors that seek their subjugation and murder.
Though Guardian editors have, at times, said the right things about the dangers of antisemitism, their decision to publish and promote El-Ad’s op-ed, and their consistent tolerance towards such anti-Zionist hatred, once again demonstrates the huge moral gulf between perfunctory condemnations of anti-Jewish racism in the abstract and actively fighting this scourge in the real world.