Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Rationalism, Context, and Blaming Israel

When debating the Israel-Palestine issue, it is essential to first establish with whom you are debating. Your arguments will likely be irrelevant unless you know where you share, or don't share, common ground. For example, if one side privately holds that Israel has no right to exist, there is no sense in the other side arguing that Israel is defending itself. An "invading colonialist aggressor" has no right to self-defense, therefore arguing over what qualifies or doesn't qualify as defense is pointless. The goal would be to bring this viewpoint into the open so that the debate can shift towards the actual point of contention.

Establishing common ground and context is basic debating 101, yet it is no longer done in most debates that I've seen nowadays. Assuming both sides are being rational, this can make all the difference towards understanding exactly where you agree and disagree. More importantly, it's like trying to build the second floor of a building before the first floor is ready. This is absolute futility. If we break down the above example, self defense assumes that you have a right to exist because there is no justification for protecting something that shouldn't be there in the first place. If this foundation is skipped, one side will keep arguing that Israel is protecting its citizens from evil terrorists, while the other side will accuse Israel of doing evil things to resistance fighters, while, in actuality, the problem in this debate is Israel's existence. Aggression is only evil if it is unjustified and it is therefore the justification that must be debated, not the outcome and its interpretation. These two sides are not talking the same language; each is based on a different ground floor and assumption, and they are not arguing the assumptions but their consequences. Therefore, as is common today with many debates, matters could rapidly devolve to mudslinging and yelling, each side accusing each other of being evil, due to both sides living on different planets.

This is not always as obvious at it seems until the logical foundation of an argument is explicitly exposed. To reiterate using my example, "Israel is defending itself" versus "Israel is the aggressor committing crimes against Palestinians" may initially seem to be two statements that directly relate to each other, interpreting the same events in opposing ways. However, if you think about it, you should notice that there is no way to prove which side is correct. This is because they are simple statements, not arguments; they are based on underlying assumptions and it is these assumptions that must be attacked, which will also provide a possible coup de grĂ¢ce with which to conclude the debate.

Of course, Israel's right to exist may depend on further underlying assumptions on which you disagree, which will force you to shift the argument further down the premise chain.

Similarly, the question of whether the war in Gaza involves evil often revolves around the foundation of whether Gaza was being occupied unjustly. If Gaza was free, then any attack from Gazans is an act of war and Israel is defending itself. If Gaza is occupied, or at least occupied unjustly, then a Gazan attack is an act of resistance. Once again, the debate must shift to underlying assumptions and only then the debate could potentially reach conclusions. Otherwise, people would only be throwing the words 'resistance' and 'defense' at each other with no hope of resolution, and no thoughtful material is provided over which an audience can deliberate.

Therefore, a few basic questions and definitions should precede any debate on specific issues: Does Israel/Palestine have a right to exist? When you say that Palestine will be free, which part of the territory are you talking about? Precisely what does this freedom look like for Jews currently living there? Are you willing to share land and equal rights with peaceful Jews/Arabs? What about non-peaceful ones? When you say 'war crime' does this mean any killing of a woman or child, or are you referring to international law and its precise definitions? What is your definition of 'apartheid'? 'Occupation'? What are the minimum requirements for genocide? And so on.

Further down below, I will be presenting what I think is the most common and definitive context missing from rational debates on Israel.

Of course, all this assumes that your opponent is being rational, is listening and not driven by blind hate, not dismissing you as a propagandist before you even open your mouth, and there is an actual chance that your words will reach their intended target, even if they don't convince. Otherwise, why are you wasting breath on such a debate? The first question should be: "Since I am pro-Israel, is there any chance that I will speak the truth, or am I pure evil?". Then again, this would start the debate on awkward footing.

While it is perfectly possible that the other side is indeed a propagandist and knowingly lying through their teeth, the more important question is whether you are listening carefully to what they are saying, as well as to what they are not saying. Understanding the foundation upon which an argument is based is the key to dismantling it, as I explained. If you wish to undermine their argument, you have to find their ground floor.

On top of all this, online debates may be even worse if the debaters are talking to the audience instead of each other. When this happens, they merely heave random inflammatory statements designed to provoke emotions instead of searching for the ground floor or even exchanging words that actually relate to each other.

I've dealt with some of these inflammatory, over-the-top accusations in some of my previous articles, and the truth is, they are generally easier to dismantle and undermine because of their extremism. For example, in the case of genocide, as I argued, the primary challenge when using that word is that even war crimes and millions of horrible war tragedies still do not qualify as genocide, therefore proof of genocide would have to be equally extreme or deal with the elusive proof of intent. I've also argued easily against the claim that Zionism is racism, and dismantled many of the contradictory claims against Israel's right to exist and Israel's alleged evil actions. On the other hand, the more subtle claim that Israel is going too far in the Gaza war was more difficult. All arguments of this type would be a waste of time if the intention is not to discuss but to destroy Israel with the help of inflammatory remarks. The problem, however, is that even rational people may be swept away by irrational, hateful people and their passionate accusations, and then one has to argue these points logically and systematically. When millions of irrational Palestinians around the world accuse Israel of deliberately killing their children, rational people tend to listen. Emotional conviction is contagious, and latches on to rationalizations.

Even with extreme, irrational arguments, however, the ground floor is important: When I watch online debates, no matter how rabid one side may be, I listen very carefully to every word. If I hear an argument or fact I have not encountered before, I will always perform research. Even if I don't agree with their conclusions (in most cases, they wildly exaggerate or distort actual facts, extracting whatever their biases dictate), I do learn many new things and discover problems with my side of the debate. More importantly, I learn how to dismantle their arguments; but this is only possible by listening carefully. In a rational debate, I would expect my opponent to do the same.

But let us return to sanity and rational arguments. Since this article is one-sided and not a debate, I am going to define my own opponent based on a viewpoint I've seen countless times: You believe Jews do have a valid claim for the land of Israel, and you do oppose Palestinian terrorism, but see Israel as the culpable aggressor throughout much of history, and wish it had a different government and mentality. You think that if only Palestinians had gotten their state, things would be different, and extremism wouldn't be rampant. You disagree with extremist Palestinians and condemn Palestinian terrorism, but blame Israel, or at least its controlling political elements, for fermenting and provoking these extremists. Like me, you listen carefully to what people say, but always remind yourself of this historical context of Israel the aggressor and obstacle to peace. Whenever Palestinian atrocities are mentioned, you think of aggressive actions by Israel that preceded these, especially failed or blocked peace agreements for which you blame Israel and/or the USA. You understandably, firmly believe that all this defines you as rational, humanist and fair.

Allow me to attempt to undermine your ground floor; I am going to tell you a true story:

Once upon a time, there lived a country that was brutally invaded by powerful countries much bigger than itself. This extreme war lasted six years, resulting in between four and five million military deaths, and almost half a million civilian deaths within this invaded country. If we use a rough estimate of 20% for children, this means roughly one hundred thousand children were killed by the invaders. Obviously there were also countless wounded. Even after the war, hardship continued for several years with millions of refugees not only within the invaded country, but also for its people in other countries, resulting in an additional estimated 0.5-2 million deaths. This country was not only invaded but occupied for 45 years after the invasion, controlled with military force as well as foreign governance and management, the invaders not allowing the country to self-determine for decades.

Those of you with basic historical knowledge may have realized that I am referring to Germany in WWII and may think I am playing a dirty trick. (The post-war German refugee problem causing 1-2 million deaths is a lesser known aspect of WWII). Nevertheless, the point I am making is worth contemplating at length because it is more subtle than it seems. In this story we see a horrifying number of dead children and civilians, brutal bombing campaigns by the Allies, some of which are debated until today as to whether they constituted war crimes, an incredible number of dead civilians due to expulsions, and an occupation that lasted 45 years. There were also many cases of civilian deaths caused by US/UK/Soviet soldiers, and many reports of rape. After the war, even Germans that had lived in foreign countries for centuries were expelled, and some were subjected to violence, forced marches, and confiscation of property. Germans were even used for forced labor by all of the Allies as reparations. Some of these actions could be seen by some as war crimes today, and indeed, the Geneva Convention was established based on events in WWII. 

Although the East/West German Republics and their governments were established in 1949 with some German sovereignty, the occupation continued for 40 more years until 1991. Allied forces retained military control over key strategic areas and infrastructure. While the Allied Control Council didn't function properly after 1949 due to the Cold War, the ACC continued to claim its rights and powers over Germany even in 1971, and the individual occupying countries continued to make key decisions affecting Germany's political, economic, and social spheres. Moreover, they imposed the Cold War on Germany, often raising tensions and clashes, making the local population suffer, and building the famous Berlin Wall in 1961. Germany's foreign policy was controlled and restricted, requiring approval by its occupying powers. All this should leave no doubt that Germany was occupied for 45 years.

And yet, despite all of this, despite the hundred-thousand dead children, expulsions, wall-building, and the decades-long occupation, nobody in their right mind sees the Allies during WWII as the aggressors. In fact, the occupation is seen as legal and morally justified.

While this may seem obvious, it firmly demonstrates the pivotal importance of context versus numbers. Even proven war crimes do not turn a country into the aggressor, nor does it prove intent to commit genocide, etc. based on the context. If, on the other hand, the UK were seen as the aggressor in WWII, how would the bombing in Dresden be interpreted in terms of intentions? Indeed, even thousands of military mistakes or war crimes can be put away in a box and dealt with as excusable or at least incidental and ancillary errors in judgements, mistakes or exceptions, thanks to context and the perceived intent of its perpetrators.

I'm sure by now you see where this is going, although you may be still adhering to your views that Israel is the aggressor. Before we get back to Israel, however, let us expand the story of Germany with an alternate imaginary history and thought experiment. After the end of WWII, German resistance against the Allies was very minimal. Although a resistance movement such as Werwolf was formed, its threat and attacks were largely insignificant and unsuccessful. But what would have happened if German resistance had continued fighting ferociously for decades after 1945 in the form of guerilla warfare and IRA-style terrorist bombings? What if German resistance not only continued to fight the occupying forces, but also escalated over the years, and even gathered support amongst the occupied German civilians?

Although this is speculation, it would be easy to imagine the realistic reaction by the Allies and Germans in this scenario: Attacks would continue year after year, Allied responses would consist of attempts at diplomacy and agreements as well as violent repression, raids, punctuated battles and incursions into belligerent locations in Germany. The occupation would become increasingly restrictive, intrusive and repressive as counter-insurgency policies were implemented. The occupation would not only last beyond 1991 until today, it would become increasingly violent and repressive. Many German children would die as casualties over many decades from these continuing bouts of violence, children that would die from bullets of its occupiers. And the occupying forces would be unable to withdraw from Germany for fear of a Fourth Reich taking control of Germany and eventually starting WWIII given the Nazi mentality of its insurgents.

Let us add a new character to our imaginary story: A university student from Europe, currently studying in Austria, exposed to a movement of pro-German students that inform her of the many dead children dying from UK/US/French guns for decades, and a never-ending occupation of Germans that only desire to be free and achieve self-determination. She learns of the atrocities in WWII committed by the Allies and the mass expulsions, she sees the faces of crying wounded children in German hospitals, the pictures of dead babies shot by French soldiers, etc. What would her inevitable conclusion be if she didn't study history properly or adequately observe the intentions of these neo-Nazi insurgents?

Never-ending occupations and dead children do not prove aggression. Neither do stronger powers bullying smaller countries; not if the country being occupied started the war, and continues to demonstrate aspirations for genocidal intent continuously over decades. The fact that dead civilians are innocent victims does not alter this equation. In our scenario, the stronger super-power Allies should and must continue to occupy a long-suffering Germany to stop the Nazis from rising for as long as Germans do not give up their murderous intentions and actions. This would be extremely justified if a large chunk of the civilians supported these 'insurgents' and no leader emerged that condemned them and fought the Nazis.

If pro-Palestinian students and rationalists only studied history, they would see and understand similar important facts that completely alter the context and therefore also their interpretation of Israeli actions.

Israel is not an outside colonial aggressor. Jews owned the land for centuries before Islam even existed, and have maintained a presence in Israel for 2000 years since then. The only reason Jews have not had a majority in Israel since then is because of occupying empires banning or massacring Jews. If Palestinian grandchildren of refugees deserve a Right of Return after 75 years, then why does this right not apply to Jewish refugees?

Additionally, those arguing that most Jews were immigrants conveniently forget that 80% of Arabs in Palestine in 1948 were also new immigrants from the previous century.

Therefore, the picture of Israeli colonialists expelling an ancient indigenous people is blatantly wrong on several levels, as proven by basic history. And this is a history that is easily verified for those seeking the truth.

In addition, one must not forget the historical context that Palestine was temporarily managed, new territory administered by the British after the defeat of Ottomans in WWI, a territory that was not even called Palestine by its locals or by the Ottomans. The partition of the area into Jordan/Syria/Lebanon/Israel/Palestine was a brand new venture that attempted to take into account all locals and claims to the land, including Jews. It was not a violent replacement of one state with another, but an establishment of new states in territory that had been occupied by outsiders for centuries.

As I have previously argued, some Zionists indeed had expansionist aspirations and plans for population transfer, but attempted to implement this non-violently through land purchases and agreements. Even today, population transfers could be legal if done properly, and, at the beginning of the 20th century, they were seen by several countries as necessary hard solutions to hard problems, just like the India-Pakistan transfer of 1947. The violence, however, during the first few decades, was initiated exclusively by Arabs. This Arab violence happened mostly in the period between 1920-1948, but there were pogroms before then, and all of this happened before Israel existed as a state and before the war. Even when the war started, it took several stages before Jews shifted from defense to offense. The argument that Arabs reacted with violence due to Israeli aggression does not hold water due to all this context. There is not a single attempt by Jews to expel Arabs using force until 1948 (and even then the context is a war of self-defense). Arabs, on the other hand, regularly attacked Jews for decades. Additionally, Arabs started both the civil war in 1947 and the inter-state war in 1948. Later, both the PLO and Hamas charters called for the destruction of Israel. In the case of the PLO, their charter did this even before Israel occupied the territories of 1967. And finally, Palestinian polls regularly prove that a majority of civilians support terrorism and the destruction of Israel until today. This is all verifiable history.

As we demonstrated in the story of Germany, any subsequent Israeli war crimes, mistakes, questionable tactics and plans, expulsions, dead Palestinian children, necessary occupations, and even refusal to allow Palestinians their self-determination and sovereignty in their current state of mind, absolutely must be placed within this context. The primary aggressor must first be established, as proven by history. Once this is done, debates have a chance of sharing a ground floor. Once this uncontested history is known and clarified, we can then discuss whether Israel is making questionable judgements and war crimes, or whether Israel is merely defending itself. If this is not established, however, debates will be futile, as they will not be based on history and context.

To clarify, I am not claiming that this larger context excuses any crimes committed by Jews, nor am I denying that some Jewish actions were questionable or even criminal. What I am saying is that this context changes how these actions are perceived and whether they denote a top-down systematic policy and overall aggressive intentions. I am comparing this to the difference in the way we perceive a war crime committed by a German soldier following orders in WWII versus an identical war crime committed by a war-crazed UK soldier in WWII. One is a genocidal act, the other is not, even though they both targeted a civilian.

The UN, and various world diplomats continue to harp on about context when it comes to the Gaza war. Ironically, it is they who are ignoring the larger context. If the context starts with the Nakba of 1948, this is equivalent to studying WWII starting from the bombing of Germany. If the Allied occupation of Germany is taken out of the context of WWII while ignoring Nazi intentions, that would not be merely ignorance, but willful distortion. An endless occupation may not only be legal under such circumstances, but even a moral imperative if placed within proper context, as we saw in Germany. 

One must always start from the ground floor, and the ground floor consists of Arab aggression and refusal to accept Israel, not only in 1920 and 1948, but until today in 2024. Once this is kept in mind, the simple motivation behind Israeli political leaders that block a harmful peace process due to Arab ulterior motives will be understood. The occupation will be seen as the necessary evil that it is. And so on. All the 'cycles of violence' in Israel-Palestine originate from this context. Even circles originate somewhere; it only requires that you go further back in time. This is the context most overlooked or ignored by humanist rationalists. Whether they ignore this due to ignorance or wilful hatred and bigotry is another question.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Is Zionism Racism?

Frankly, I never understood the claim that 'Zionism is racism' since it is almost never backed by solid explanations or definitions, let alone evidence. On the part of the accusers, it is assumed that a people with aspirations for a return to their homeland is somehow racist, and on the other side, the counter-argument is that this claim is antisemitism. Neither side presents any logic or rationale worth debating. There's not much one can say or discuss when it comes to mudslinging.

What could possibly be racist about a people wanting a homeland or being proud of their homeland? Are Tibetans racist for wanting Tibet to be free and a safe home for Tibetans? Under these qualifications, most of the planet would be classified as racist. Tibetans would only be racist if they desired to implement specific racist ideologies and laws in their future state of Tibet, and accusers would have to provide evidence of this. Similarly, waging war for one's homeland against hostile foreigners is not racist in itself; there has to be evidence of racism. (If you are thinking that a 'Tibetan' is not the same type of classification as a 'Jew', then see below). Anyone that thinks otherwise seemingly doesn't understand what Zionism is all about.

The consensus is that this claim emerged from PLO propaganda in the 60s when Palestinians accused Zionism of being a colonialist and racist ideology. It gained traction and popularity, however, thanks to the Soviet-backed UN resolution 3379 in 1975 which received 72 votes in favor. Sixteen years later this resolution was revoked (seemingly the only UN GA resolution to ever be revoked) in resolution 46/86 with 111 votes in favor of revocation. The notion, however, survived the revocation, and is chanted until today. I looked at the original (very short) resolution for a justification, and all it said can be summed up as: "We agree that racism is bad, and since some people said Zionism is racism, we condemn Zionism". This absurd resolution with absolutely no explanation and justification, and the fact that they inexplicably changed their minds after sixteen years, only bolster my argument that this whole issue is illogical mud flinging.

If it were only antisemitic mud used as propaganda without an ounce of demonstrable truth, then this article would end here. But one nagging matter remains: Is a 'State for Jews' a racist idea? Aren't Jews a race and if so, isn't this a racist state? Furthermore, some people back this claim with accusations of exclusionist ideologies and plans by early Zionists, armed with a list of incriminating quotes from Zionists especially regarding population transfer, and accuse Israel of systematically expelling and killing Arabs during the 1947-1948 wars (and thenceforth). What could I possibly say about all of this?

First, a disclaimer: I am actually an anti-Zionist defending Zionism from very different anti-Zionists. I definitely do not condone everything Zionists did and their ideologies; all I am doing here is arguing against these specific accusations.

Many pro-Israelis use the demonstrably flagrant reality in Israel since 1949 until today to disprove this claim that Zionism is racism. All one has to do is visit Israel for a few hours and look around to invalidate this absurd claim. The growing population of millions of Arabs living both in Israel and in Palestinian territories for the past 75 years easily demonstrates that Israel is not only not expelling or killing other races, but that Israeli Arabs also enjoy full citizenship and equal rights. Israeli Arabs have their own government parties, work alongside Jews in everyday life and in close neighborhoods, and share all of the same state benefits. If there is racism, it is only at the level of racist individuals, not at the level of state laws, akin to most other free countries in the world. 

Note that this very effectively dismantles the related accusations of 'apartheid' in Israel as well. The only arguments I saw that justify this claim specifically use the occupied territories as evidence of different laws applied to Jews and Arabs. This is what most people see on the internet when it comes to claims of apartheid and racism: The walls, the raids, the checkpoints and barriers between Israel and occupied territories. But these are temporarily and legally occupied for reasons of self-defense, and are not part of Israel proper; obviously there would be different laws and barriers there, just like Germans in Germany were occupied legally by many countries between 1945-1989 and had different laws applied to them apart from the occupying countries and their citizens. Did Germans in 1950 have the same rights and laws as a citizen in New York and London? Was the occupation of Germany apartheid because Germans had different laws applied to them and couldn't vote in the UK?

While this simple and straightforward counter-argument is valid, there are some leftovers that aren't covered: The ideology of Zionism (even if it hasn't been implemented), those aforementioned incriminating Zionist quotes, as well as the Nakba in 1947-1948.

I previously discussed Zionism in the context of Israeli politics and demographics and what it means to Israelis in this article. One relevant point is that most Israelis (not all) view Zionism as merely nationalism and patriotism, and that even historical Zionism rose amidst a wave of many other nationalist movements. And, as I argued above, nationalism is only racism if it has demonstrable racist elements.

Another relevant point from that article is that aspirations for a homeland and state do not automatically correlate with aggression and violent means by which to attain these aspirations. Some Zionists are aggressive to different degrees, most are not. If Tibetans dream of not only gaining independence but also of one day owning every inch of their ancestral land, this does not make them aggressive, let alone racist. Other methods are also possible through diplomacy, and a dream of a 'grand return' may or may not involve violent aggression. One does not necessarily follow the other, and extremist individuals or sub-groups do not reclassify the whole stream.

War of Self-Defense

Zionists, ideally, wanted to establish a state through diplomacy and agreements and did not want to displace Arabs living in Palestine unless it was necessary. This is preposterous, I hear you say; what about the many quotes from Zionists about population transfers and actions by the army cleansing villages and expelling Arabs?

The key word in my statement is 'necessary'. There is an obvious distinction between self-defense and ethnic cleansing. Consider the following harsh realities: 1. Arabs attacked, shot at, and massacred Jews regularly for many years between 1920-1948. They also started the civil war in 1947 by killing civilians in buses, and started the inter-state war in 1948. 2. Arab leaders declared their intentions many times of destroying Israel, and rejected multiple British or UN partition plans. 3. They constituted a majority in Palestine. This last point means they could instantly overrun the state and support anti-Jewish laws and massacres if they were included in a single democratic state, because of their majority. A hostile majority is what caused East Timor to break away from Indonesia after many massacres, and in our case, Palestine didn't even exist as a state yet. (A majority does not mean they have a right to prevent 'Palestinian Jews' from establishing their own state since Jews were native to the land as well, or have a historical claim, and Palestine/Israel did not yet exist and were in the process of being partitioned and created).

Given these unambiguous and harsh realities, the only possibility of Jews ever re-establishing a state in the region without being destroyed instantly was if: 1. They kept Arabs and Arab villages that were proven murderous or dangerous out of the state. 2. They had a majority of Jews and maintained this majority. These requirements are not only basic and compulsory elements for establishing any nation for its nationals, they also involve basic survival and self-defense. Also note that the Geneva Convention allows for legal expulsions due to military reasons for as long as hostilities exist.

How is this different from ethnic cleansing and racism, you ask? Very simple: Note that we are talking about majority not purity, and we are also talking about ejecting dangerous elements, not all Arabs. In addition, the intent and goals are different. The goal is self-determination and self-preservation, not purity of race and ethnic cleansing, and the results on the ground speak for themselves. Just as a single example of many: not all villages were attacked or expelled during the war. Why? Because they were peaceful and non-threatening villages, and Israel had no problem with peaceful Arabs living inside Israel, QED.

To continue our comparison: if Tibet, after gaining independence, subsequently expelled some specific Chinese residents due to their belligerent behavior, this would be classified as self-defense, not racism. As long as they don't implement laws to expel every single Chinese resident from their land regardless of security. Likewise, this is the case in Israel: Some Arabs were expelled due to exigent reasons of war started by Arabs, but plenty of Arabs remain until today.

Compare this with the Jewish population in many Arab states which has been reduced to virtually zero since 1948. Now that is racism and ethnic cleansing. Israel, in comparison, currently has 2 million Arab Israelis.

If one approaches Israel with prejudice or antisemitic views, it would be easy to interpret what happened in 1947-8 as ethnic cleansing instead of what it actually was: Practical solutions for a survival emergency. Ironically, many pro-Palestinians selectively use quotes from a 'new historian' such as Benny Morris to argue their case for ethnic cleansing, yet Morris himself concluded that all the mountains of evidence he gathered about expulsions or bad behavior from some IDF soldiers don't prove a plan for systematic ethnic cleansing. (Morris compiled a definitive study with comprehensive detail of the Palestinian refugee problem which is used and criticized by both sides; always a good sign). 

Morris also provided mountains of evidence to the contrary: Israeli military leaders that ordered soldiers not to touch civilians in some areas and villages, and leaders that wanted and even begged Arabs to stay. He also meticulously documented each and every lost Arab village and the specific cause of its downfall during the war, many of which were emptied due to Arabs fleeing in fear of the war, and others due to Israeli evictions after attacks from Arabs or due to security reasons. For example, at first, Israeli soldiers were only acting in defense mode, then they switched to counter-offense and conquered belligerent villages while reducing civilian casualties as much as possible, but every time they left a village standing, the militants came back repeatedly and killed more Jews, leading them to the conclusion that strategically dangerous villages had to be cleared/destroyed and its citizens expelled. This happened in stages, with strategic decisions such as these made based on fatal experiences and repeated losses. In addition, they had to contend with dangers from a looming massive invasion that would take place in a couple of months where such villages would become an even bigger problem. As mentioned, many villages were left untouched because they were not dangerous. All this is why Morris reached his nuanced conclusion that there were a variety of people with different goals, as well as a variety of stages and areas with different military goals that only sometimes demanded expulsions, but no general plan to expel all Arabs. His nuance was lost on critics and propagandists, but the results of millions of Israeli Arabs thriving in Israel speak for themselves.

With the 1947-8 war, similar to Israeli behavior today when launching wars in self-defense, one could find cases where Israel could be accused of overreaction, not enough caution, or even cruelty, but there is a very large qualitative gap between recklessness and ethnic cleansing. Antisemites do not care about this gap; if Jews are evil, then everything they do or say points towards evil intentions.

To further buttress this view that expulsions and attacks were based on each specific village's hostility and not on racism, most Christian and Druze communities surrendered and cooperated with Jews, and even welcomed Jews, and accordingly were allowed to stay.

Population Transfer

What about the quotes from Zionists about general mass population transfers even before the war, you ask? As opposed to some pro-Israelis, I don't deny these exist in great numbers and the evidence is undeniable that Zionists did pursue and desire a population transfer. But consider the following points in defense of this policy:

  • The transfer was for basic self-preservation; without it, Israel could not exist, as I have argued.  This is an incontrovertible fact due to murderous intentions and actions of many Arabs, combined with their majority.

  • A population transfer is not a war crime if it is based on general agreement on both sides and covers basic humanitarian concerns. In addition, this was before these international laws were ratified. Diplomatic ventures were launched to achieve this goal with British and Arab leaders. At some stage, there were talks with leaders for making it compulsory due to intransigent civilians, but with financial compensation.

  • This didn't only originate with Jews but also with the British. In their first attempt at a partition plan, the Peel Commission in 1937 proposed giving Jews only 20% of the territory, and in order to ensure survival, included a plan for population transfer of Arabs out of this tiny territory. The British, too, recognized that a partition plan without a population transfer would not be viable, having witnessed the many pogroms first-hand. (The Arabs rejected this plan despite getting 80% of the land.)

  • The transfer would have involved transferring Arabs from Palestine to Palestine. In some early instances of the idea, this meant transferring them to Syria or Jordan which were also part of Palestine before they were partitioned. In other cases such as the Peel partition plan, this meant transferring them to their own partition within the leftover British Mandate territory. The transfer would also involve moving a minority of Jews from Arab territory into Jewish territory.

  • There have been several population transfers during this period due to similar practical and security reasons. One example is the India-Pakistan massive transfer of civilians in the same period in 1947 due to insurmountable and intractable violence between the two peoples. Another one is the Greece-Turkey exchange in 1923, also implemented in order to solve problems with mass killings and security. Therefore, population transfer was seen at the time as a hard but practical solution to hard problems. And it could still be a practical solution to the killings today if both sides agreed.

  • Israeli leaders gave up on the idea of a complete population transfer since 1949, and stopped talking about it (there are no quotes after this period). Arabs, on the other hand, never gave up on the idea of destroying Israel and never stopped talking about it.

As Benny Morris argues and demonstrates using historical documentation, given this state of mind at the time, it would be safe to conclude that it had an effect on decisions made during the wars of 1947-8. Arabs that didn't already leave due to fear of the war were often encouraged or pressured to leave and move elsewhere in Palestine, and Israelis had strong security-based motivations to not take any actions that would allow them to return. It's one thing to allow the return of refugees, but quite another to allow many thousands of hostile militant 'civilians' mixed amongst the peaceful ones. After much debate, Israel allowed for exceptions to return, subject to security screening, or alternatively, as part of a wide peace agreement. All of this is why it does not qualify as ethnic cleansing as it was fueled by exigent survival needs, and, in addition, was very inconsistent and dependent on the commander in charge, the military imperatives specific to a village, and the number of attacks from that village. In other words, there was no plan to cleanse everything during the war, only to reduce the danger as much as possible by taking advantage of the situation and encourage or even force a 'transfer' of hostile or strategically dangerous villages. Finally, some Israeli leaders spoke of peace agreements with the Palestinians after the war in return for a number of returning refugees, but, once again, Arabs wanted nothing to do with a peace plan with Israel.

Naturally, one could criticize Israel for some of these decisions made during the war, and I have big questions and issues with some of these decisions myself, with some actions involving unnecessary cruelty even if they were justified, while others seemingly were not justified. However, one would have to provide an alternate solution to the serious problems at hand in order to criticize fairly. We must not forget that Israel tried other, more conventional solutions first (such as surgically clearing villages of only the militants), and these failed to solve the problem. In addition, this was a fledgling army facing insurmountable odds and dangers from surrounding Arab states, as well as from hundreds of hostile villages within. The key point, however, is that none of this would have happened if the Arabs had not started the war and killed Jews continuously for decades before the war. If there are no bad neighbors, then there is no reason to evacuate them, and evacuating hostile neighbors, even when involving questionable tactics, doesn't even begin to qualify as racism. The fact is that many peaceful communities that cooperated with Jews were left alone, and a large minority of 150,000 Arabs were allowed to stay within Israel, proving definitively that this had nothing to do with racism.

If one denies Israel's right to exist and sees Jews as aggressive colonizers rather than natives with an ancient claim to the land, then any actions taken by Jews would be seen as aggressive crimes rather than acts of self-defense and self-preservation. This is why Palestinians describe all of Israel's actions as crimes, since they view all land as theirs. Once one views all Jews as evil colonizers, actual crimes could be interpreted as genocidal rather than actions made by overly aggressive individuals or objectionable battle decisions. Except that the state of Israel does have a right to exist, and the only chance it has to exist requires an immediate solution to the problem of being surrounded by hostile Arabs intent on destroying Israel; therefore any aggressive actions, whether justified or objectionable, must be analyzed within this context. In other words, any military action will be strongly colored by one's bias against that soldier.

Ideology & Jewishness

This leaves the question of Zionism as an ideology and the concept of a 'state for Jews', as well as the Law of Return to Israel, a law which singles out Jews. This raises the question of the precise definition of a Jew, and why Zionists established a new state based on Jewishness. Obviously, for a nation that has been persecuted and massacred for over 2000 years, the primary goal was to establish a state that would protect Jews, but this was not the only reason, as I will explain below.

We have used Tibet as an example of a nation wanting to re-establish its homeland, but surely a country such as Tibet consists of many races amongst its citizens, whereas Jews are a single race? Think again:

  • Although Jewishness is inherited based on the mother, which seemingly makes this a biological and racial category, the father can originate from any other race. Add to this the twelve tribes of Israel and the fact that Jews have lived and intermarried for many centuries in many countries around the world, and you will understand why one sees a wide variety of Jews in Israel with many ethnicities, skin colors and cultures, from Ethiopian Jews to Russian Jews. In contrast to this definition of a Jew, did racist Nazis identify people as Aryan if their mother was German and their father was Jewish?

  • In case you think the mother rule still makes it racial, do not forget that anyone can also convert into Judaism, as long as one performs the correct ritual and accepts one's new responsibilities (and accepts that one will be hated by the world). Did Nazis allow any Jew to convert and become a protected German as long as they dipped in a ritualistic pool?

It is ironic that antisemites, including Hitler, made the Jewish question a racial issue and waged a racial war based on racial theory. But in view of this distinction, hatred of Jews is a special category of religious discrimination that may or may not be associated with racism. At best, Jewishness is a spiritual 'race', which means that people converting to Judaism receive a new category of soul. This would mean antisemitism is arguably a supernatural hatred, if you believe in souls, that is. Nevertheless, this type of discrimination is not racism since it is not biological and does not qualify as racial under its most common definition which makes use of heredity or physical characteristics. One could argue that Jewishness is a culture and religion and therefore it is religious and cultural discrimination, but the word 'racism' is the key here which is based on race. Moreover, Jews assimilated many cultures and practices, including Arabic culture.

Just to be clear, a Jew can be racist and espouse racial theories, and Zionism could be racist for other reasons. However, my argument here only concerns the concept of a 'state for Jews', which is not racial for the reasons I demonstrated.

Even if one would persist in arguing that religious discrimination is still democratically immoral despite difficulties in classifying it as racism, then consider the following pivotal and overlooked point concerning Zionism (which I briefly mentioned in a previous article): How does a nation that is trying to re-establish its homeland decide who gets to be a citizen of the new-old state? If the state in question was lost only recently, then the answer is simple: Collect all citizens with papers proving their citizenship. In the majority of cases, these people would still be living in the same area that used to constitute this nation. However, expatriates could also be collected with this simple paper proof. As examples, take Latvia, Estonia and Serbia which re-established independence; collecting their citizens must have been a relatively simple job.

But what if the homeland hasn't existed for centuries? Conducting ancestral research or demanding papers that prove citizenship becomes increasingly impossible the further back we go. Which raises the question: How can Israel collect all of its refugees that have been wandering the world for 1900 years?

Obviously, the only viable solution is Jewishness. Looking at it this way, Jewishness is equivalent to citizenship papers, as it was the only possible avenue to solve this problem. When Israel says all Jews have a right to return if they are Jewish, it is the same as Latvia saying all Latvians can return, and be given immigration priority over non-Latvians, if they have citizenship papers. Even if Jewishness were a racial category, and it isn't, it is being used in this case as the only possible criterion for citizenship. Which brings us right back to the same conclusion that Zionism is merely nationalism.

This does not mean that existing locals could not and should not be given citizenship as well in addition to a nation's refugees, as long as they agree to live in peace with the new state. Latvia most probably gave citizenship to Russians living in Latvia at the time of its renewed independence, as long as they were willing to be loyal citizens. It is the same with Israel, hence the two million Arabs living in Israel today. It is the hostile locals that were ejected, not their race.


In summary, there is no trace of racism in Zionism, not at the level of its ideology nor in its practices. Of course, at the level of individuals, some do entertain racist views; there are extremists in every group. But only a mudslinger could claim Zionism is racism.