Origins of Israel’s Anti-Arab Racism

The anti-Arab racism that increasingly pervades modern Israel surfaces in the non-human images applied to Palestinians, such as the metaphor “mowing the grass” when targeting militants in Gaza. This tragic development traces back to the attitudes of old European imperialism, argues Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

By the middle of the 19th Century, the multi-ethnic empire was on its way out as the dominant political paradigm in Europe. Replacing it was the nation-state, a political form which allowed the concentration of ethnic groups within their own political borders.

This, in turn, formed cultural and “racial” incubators for an “us (superior) vs. them (inferior)” nationalism that would underpin most of the West’s future wars. Many of these nation states were also imperial powers expanding across the globe and, of course, their state-based chauvinistic outlook went with them.

Hungarian Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), considered the founder of modern Zionism.

Zionism was born in this milieu of nationalism and imperialism, both of which left an indelible mark on the character and ambitions of the Israeli state. The conviction of Theodor Herzl, modern Zionism’s founding father, was that the centuries of anti-Semitism were proof positive that Europe’s Jews could not be assimilated into mainstream Western society. They could only be safe if they possessed a nation state of their own.

This conviction also reflected the European imperial sentiments of the day. The founders of modern Zionism were both Jews and Europeans, and (as such) had acquired the West’s cultural sense of superiority in relation to non-Europeans.

This sense of superiority would play an important role when a deal (the Balfour Declaration) was struck in 1917 between the World Zionist Organization and the British Government. The deal stipulated that, in exchange for Zionist support for the British war effort (World War I was in progress), the British would (assuming victory) help create a “Jewish national home” in Palestine. It was no oversight that neither side in this bargain gave much thought to the Palestinian native population.

Years later, beginning in 1945 (at the end of World War II), the British were forced to officially give up the imperial point of view. They came out of the war with a population burdened by extraordinary high war taxes.

Retaining the empire would keep those taxes high and so the British voter elected politicians who would transform the empire into a commonwealth, granting independence to just about all the Britain’s overseas territories. One of those territories was Palestine.

It is interesting to note that in other European colonies, where large numbers of Europeans resided, the era following World War II saw their eventual evacuation as power shifted over to the natives. Kenya and Algeria are examples which show that this process was hard and bloody, but it happened.

And when it did happen, the official imperial mind set was defeated. That does not mean that all Europeans (or Westerners) saw the light and ceased to be racists, but that their governments eventually saw the necessity to stop acting that way.

Some Consequences

Unfortunately, in the case of Palestine, this process of de-colonization never occurred.  In this case the European colonists did not want the imperial mother country to stay and protect them. They wanted them out so they could set up shop on their own. They got their chance after the British evacuated in 1947.

Soon thereafter, the Zionists began executing a prepared plan to conquer the “Holy Land” and chase away or subjugate the native population. And what of that imperial point of view which saw the European as superior and the native as inferior? This became institutionalized in the practices of the new Israeli state.

That made Israel one of the very few (the other being apartheid South Africa) self-identified “Western” nation states to continue to implement old-style imperial policies:  they discriminated against the Palestinian population in every way imaginable, pushed them into enclosed areas of concentration and sought to control their lives in great detail.

If one wants to know what this meant for the evolving character of Israel’s citizenry who now would live out the colonial drama as an imperial power in their own right, one might take a look at a book by Sven Lindqvist entitled Exterminate All The Brutes (New Press 1996). This work convincingly shows that lording it over often resisting native peoples, debasing and humiliating them, regularly killing or otherwise punishing them when they protest, leads the colonials to develop genocidal yearnings.

There is evidence that the Zionists who created and now sustain Israel suffer from this process. For a long time Israeli government officials tried genocide via a thought experiment. They went about asserting that the Palestinians did not exist.

The most famous case of this was Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who on June 15, 1969, claimed that “there were no such thing as Palestinians. They do not exist.”  One of the reasons she gave for this opinion was that the Arabs of Palestine never had their own nation state.

Others took a different approach by denying not so much the existence of Palestinians, but rather their humanity. At various times and in various contexts, usually in response to acts of  resistance against occupation, Israeli leaders have referred to the Palestinians as “beasts walking on two legs” (Menachem Begin); “grasshoppers” (Yitzhaq Shamir); “crocodiles” (Ehud Barak); and “cockroaches” (Rafael Eitan).

Of course, these sentiments were not confined to the Israeli leadership. They soon pervaded most of the Zionist population because the old imperial superiority-inferiority propaganda had become a core element of their basic education. The Israelis have taught their children the imperial point of view, augmented it with biased media reporting, labeled the inevitable resistance offered by the Palestinians as anti-Semitism and took it as proof of the need to suppress and control this population of “Others.”

And, from the Zionist standpoint, this entire process has worked remarkably well.  Today all but a handful of Israeli Jews dislike and fear the people they conquered and displaced. They wish they would go away. And, when their resistance gets just a bit too much to bear, they are now quite willing to see them put out of the way.

Thus, during the latest round of resistance rocket fire from Gaza and the vengeful killing that came from the Israeli side, we heard the following: “We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water” (Eli Yishai, present Deputy Prime Minister); “There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. We need to flatten entire neighborhoods … flatten all of Gaza” (journalist Gilad Sharon in the Jerusalem Post); “There are no innocents in Gaza. Mow them down … kill the Gazans without thought or mercy.”  (Michael Ben-Ari, member of the Knesset); Gaza should be “bombed so hard the population has to flee into Egypt” (Israel Katz, present Minister of Transportation); Gaza should be “wiped clean with bombs” (Avi Dichter, present Minister of Home Front Defense); Israeli soldiers must “learn from the Syrians how to slaughter the enemy” (prominent Israeli Rabbi Yaakov Yosef).

Finally, there were the numerous, spontaneous demonstrations of ordinary Israeli citizens, both in the north and south of the country, where could be heard chants and shouts such as “They don’t deserve to live. They need to die. May your children die. Kick out all the Arabs.”

If it wasn’t for the fact that the outside world was watching, there can be little doubt that the famed Israeli armed forces would have been tempted to do all that these ministers, clerics and citizens wished. After Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a cease-fire, a group of Israeli soldiers showed their frustration by using their bodies to spell out (in Hebrew) the words “Bibi Loser” (Bibi is a nickname for Netanyahu).

It was a pre-arranged photo-op and the picture can now easily be found on the Web. What seems to really irk the Israeli citizenry is not that Bibi killed and maimed too many innocent Palestinian civilians, but rather that he did not kill and maim enough of them to grant Israelis “safety and security.”

Throughout history it has been standard operating procedure to demonize those you fight and demote to inferior status those you conquer. But as Lindqvist’s work shows, there was something different about the way Europeans went about this business. The deeply racist outlook that underlay modern imperialism made it particularly perverse.

Now that apartheid South Africa is no more, the Israelis are the last surviving heirs to that dreadful heritage. So much for a “light unto the nations.” That proposition has quite failed. Wherever the Israelis and their Zionist cohorts are leading us, it is not into the light, it is to someplace very very dark.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

20 comments for “Origins of Israel’s Anti-Arab Racism

  1. paschn
    December 3, 2012 at 13:19

    Anti Arab? Please, you’re beginning to sound a tad like Bore-at and Otto. A more succinct and to the point statement would be Anti-Goyim. Amazing how less than 1% of the world can, (with D.C. blow-fly help in spreading their “cash cows”; Central Bank / Hallow’dcaust through out the world), give them the status of Satan’s “boots on the ground” for evil,

    Either wake up or learn Yiddish.

  2. paschn
    December 3, 2012 at 12:00

    “Stolen Territory” is a much more accurate term;

  3. Rubber Biscut
    November 29, 2012 at 20:08

    Borat, your not rational. Your in denial of REAL historical facts. Your aggressive and inflammatory statements reflect the ideology of your Israeli government. In time these tactics will be Israel’s undoing. Today is a great day for the Palestinian people winning UN non member nation state observance. The world agrees that they deserve rights. They are human beings. Soon the Israeli land grab will come to a end.

    • borat
      November 30, 2012 at 17:38

      The UN while necessary in a general sense has in recent years become the pawns of the oil paradises in the sand. There w/never be a palestinian state as long as its so called “government” hamas calls for the destruction of its neighbor Israel.

  4. Hillary
    November 29, 2012 at 12:05

    -Charles Krauthammer 4/19/02.
    “Saddam survived, rearmed, defeated the inspections regime and is now back in the business of building weapons of mass destruction.
    …Time is running short. Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. He is working on nuclear weapons. And he has every incentive to pass them on to terrorists who will use them against us.”
    Yes — Charles Krauthammer used his MSM columns to lie to the American people and cheer-lead the illegal destruction of Iraq one of the biggest atrocities ever carried out by the U.S.A.

    Krauthammer a neocon Zionist was raised in Montreal, Canada where he attended the super Hebrew Herzliah High School .

    Like many Zionists Krouthammer heard the call to support Zionism even before the neocons were setting out their plan to benefit from 9/11 with the war on Terror or as they called it the promotion of democracy in the Middle East.

    It is difficult to understand how Charles Krauthammer and his ilk have not been tried for War Crimes – their loyalty is NOT to the USA.

  5. Hillary
    November 29, 2012 at 11:46

    Yitzhak Ben Zvi, later president of Israel, and David Ben Gurion, its first prime minister, accepted and both stated it on several occasions that the peasants of Palestine were the descendants of the inhabitants of ancient Judea .

    History records agree that Zionist Jews started their preplanned Ethnic Cleansing immediately their “state” was created and Israeli Jews have violently subjugated and stolen from Palestinians ever since.

    This has lasted for over 60 years condemned by the UN but supported by the US.

    Jewish MYTHICAL History is used to make their preposterous claim on Palestine.


    1. There is NO trace of the “magnificent kingdom of David and Solomon” because there never was one. In 500BC the whole region consisted of a few small villages .
    2. There never was an Exodus etc its all a fairy tale repeated by Religious zealots for centuries.
    3. Many many other historical lies.

  6. Khalil Al-Shanti
    November 29, 2012 at 11:22

    What you fail to understand is that Israel itself is completely and entirely occupied Palestinian land. There is no “Israel” that fought these wars and expanded its territory, because they don’t have any. Every inch of “Israel” belongs to the Palestinians and not the Zionists.

  7. eCitizen
    November 29, 2012 at 07:57

    “They voted in Hamas, who then took over in a military putsch and turned the newly freed Palestine into an armed camp from which to war against Israel.”

    Here we have the kind of revisionist history Krauthammer is so adept at. In one sentence he promotes the old canard that Hamas conducted a “military putsch” (note the use of Hitler era Nazi terminology). In fact, what happened was that Israel and the US pushed the Palestinians into holding elections. When Hamas won the election in Gaza, the Israelis and Americans goaded Fatah into mounting a coup attempt against Hamas in Gaza, even going so far as to supply the Fatah “insurgents” with arms and training. When Hamas prevailed in what amounted to a vicious civil war (it is referred to as such in the Wikipedia entry), Israel threw up its blockade, after which Hamas started firing rockets.

    Surely there can be nobody with less credibility on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict than Charles Krauthammer, but he keeps popping up as a touchstone for those who support Israel’s vile occupation, land theft and ethnic cleansing. Here is a perfect example of why only the uninformed or willfully blind would believe anything he says.

  8. eCitizen
    November 29, 2012 at 07:48

    As always, Oren starts his historical recollection with the Hamas rockets. Of course he makes no mention of the fact that the rockets started AFTER Israel pushed Fatah into a failed coup attempt against Hamas following its election, even going so far as to supply Fatah “insurgents” with arms. When the coup failed, and LEGALLY ELECTED Hamas prevailed, Israel threw up a blockade and got the US to pressure Mubarek’s Egypt into shutting off the Egyptian/Gaza border as well – Egypt even put Israel in charge of security at the Rafa border crossing.

    When Egypt blockaded Israeli shipping from the Straits of Tiran, Israel went to war. Maybe Ambassador Oren would do well to recall that as well.

  9. Paul G.
    November 29, 2012 at 05:46

    See It’s Mostly Punishment…”
    Testimonies by Veterans of the Israeli Defense Forces From Gaza and the Occupied Territories in Tom Dispatch Nov 25th. A very disturbing, nauseating series of admissions by IDF veterans which illustrate not only the atrocities but the attitudes that permeate the Israeli Army.

  10. F. G. Sanford
    November 28, 2012 at 19:43

    We keep hearing that leit motif about Israel’s “right” to defend itself. But the part of the melody they never play is that they are “defending” themselves against people they subjugate, occupy, intimidate and sanction. Recognizing Israel’s “right” to defend itself reminds me of Britain recognizing Italy’s “right” to subjugate Ethiopia. It requires no great intellectual leap to see the similarities between Warsaw and Gaza. Both ghettos, and the inmates in both cases can’t be blamed for fighting back.

  11. Otto Schiff
    November 28, 2012 at 19:31

    I used to belong to an organisation that advocated the philosophy of Martin Buber
    to establish an Bi national state in Palestine.
    But we lost to the fascists like Netanyahu.

  12. Hillary
    November 28, 2012 at 18:46

    I think Hellen Thomas said it best

    “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” and “Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not German, it’s not Poland…”

    When asked where Israeli Jews should go, she replied they could “go home” to Poland or Germany or “America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?”

    Chuckie above doesn’t seem to know that in the 1920s when Eastern European and Russian Ashkenazi Jews started to descend on Palestine with the idea that they were going to return to their “ancient roots” it was all part of the planned national mythology since Eastern European Jews and Russians never had any roots in the middle East.

    Israel’s Professor Shlomo Sand tells us that Jews, rather than being a race, comprise a collective of many people who have been hijacked by a national movement based on myths.

    Israel Finklestein, the reknowned Israeli state archaeologist has PROVED there was no “Great Kingdom of Israel”, ever. It was at most a client state of the Kingdom of Damascus originating @ 1000 BC.

    • De Trog Kamiel
      November 29, 2012 at 12:34

      Filistini arrived (coming from Mykene) in the XIII (B.C.D.) in the Levant.
      Israeli came more than 300 years later, and there was (indead) never a “Graet
      Kingdom of Israel” with some David or Salomon : the facts proven by archeologie
      are different from those we find in the so called holly books…

  13. Olivia
    November 28, 2012 at 18:22

    Very interesting article. It is the sad state of human affairs that those who have been a persecuted people so often become perpetrators of the same. Being mostly Scotts-Irish, I often think of these people being oppressed by the Eglish, fleeing to the Americas, and then many of them becoming slave owners too.

    November 28, 2012 at 18:10

    you really made it through an entire article about israel and never once mentioned the crippling antisemitism in the region? israel is certainly not blameless in this situation, but look what they’re up against. everyone in the region hates jews and wants them pushed into the sea, is it really that surprising that israelis feel less-than-charitable about their neighbors?

    • Khalil Al-Shanti
      November 29, 2012 at 11:11

      The source of said “anti-Semitism” is justified. The Zionists are not being “discriminated against for their religion”, rather they are hated for their practices (namely, genocide and ethnic cleansing). The hatred of Zionists that exists in the Arab world is wholly justified, and neither racist nor supremacist (as the Zionist ideology and sentiment towards Arabs is).

    • De Trog Kamiel
      November 29, 2012 at 12:25

      A lot of people are becoming “anti-semite” out of reaction to the racist atitude and actions of the Israelians against the Palestinians !!!
      I never hated Jews, but I certainly don’t love Israelian Jews…

      • montego
        December 5, 2012 at 23:00

        I can identify with that!

    • hammersmith46
      December 3, 2012 at 15:33

      Israel is an artifact of european colonialism and belongs in the dustbin of history.

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