The 2017 issue of the Tufts University “Disorientation Guide” describes the campus group Hillel as “an organization that supports a white supremacist state.” The guide is not an official university brochure. According to the Tufts Daily it is “distributed at the start of the semester by a group called the Tufts Anti-Authoritarian Collective and seeks to “provide a platform for many underrepresented, radical voices on campus and to present the option of an alternative community to freshmen.”
Among “radical voices” on campuses in the West, hatred of Israel has become a pillar of faith. It is one cause that most of the disparate groups can agree on. In the Disorientation Guide, a whole section is devoted to Israel Apartheid Week and attacks on Israel and Jewish organizations such as Hillel. The anonymous writers would argue they are not anti-Jewish, because if you read closely it’s clear some of them are Jewish and they simply want to create “alternative Jewish communities on campus to celebrate their Judaism while remaining critical of Zionism and Israel.”
The Tufts guide isn’t unique, it’s representative of a wider phenomenon that is well known. Israel is a toxic issue on campus and opposition to “Zionism” is de rigueur. This fashionable anti-Israel activism has been a hallmark on campuses and parts of the Left since the 1970s. Even in 1966 the General Union of Palestine Students sought to get the National Union of Israel Students expelled from the International Union of Students.
What is particular to the current depiction of Israel is that it has grown beyond just pro-Palestinian activism that used to be part of the anti-colonial struggle and graduated to a depiction of Israel as a “white supremacist” state to connect it to current struggles in the US and the West. They posit that Jews are “white” and enjoy “white privilege” and therefore Israel is “white supremacist” because it is an expression of Jewish nationalism, which for them is like white nationalism.
There is an irony here in that the anti-Israel activists in the West tend to have more white privilege than the average person from Israel has. They portray Israel as “white” primarily as a device to distract from their own insecurities about being white, and to try to distract from the crimes of Western countries, including the Holocaust, and foist “white supremacism” onto Israel.
Most of those who call Israel “white supremacist” don’t want to see Israel for what it is – a non-white state in the Middle East – because it would challenge their worldview that seeks to whitewash certain aspects of history, to once again make Jewish people the “other.” Jews were the ‘other’ in the 1930s and persecuted for being nonwhite and non-European, and now they are the culprit as the sole “white supremacist” state. The sole state, because in these kinds of college brochures no other state is subjected to this label.
The absence of white supremacism in Israel can be seen in the earliest days of the state. In 1952, according to an article at Ynet, “Shin Bet [Israeli Security Agency] agents were sent undercover to spy inside Palestinian village.” In the 1950s 10 Jewish men were “assimilated into Arab communities.” They married local women and even started families, while undercover. In one case a Jewish man named Meir who was posing as an Arab Muslim married a Christian Arab woman who converted to Islam so that they could marry. She did not know he was Jewish. When the men were withdrawn from their deep cover assignment, according to the article, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren agreed to aid the men’s wives to convert to Judaism.
If Israel was a “white supremacist” state how did leading Jewish and Zionist men go undercover in Palestinian Arab villages, marry women and raise families and then return to their Jewish communities without their “white” race having given them away?
In Apartheid South Africa or the US Old South would white men have been able to pass themselves off as black? Obviously not. There are numerous examples in Israel of people who have converted from one religion to another without their “race” changing.
The fact that Israel is a non-white society with roots in the Middle East doesn’t mean Israeli society does not have racism. Just as Turkey has racism, Iran has racism and Iraq has racism between ethnic groups, Israel has racism. There is racism in Israel between Jewish immigrants who came from Europe against Jewish immigrants who came from the Middle East. There is racism against Jews from Ethiopia. There is racism against Arabs. But racism is not always white supremacism.
For instance the SAT-7 PARS program “insiders,” which focuses on women, discussed the experience of an Afghan migrant to Iran who says she suffered racism at school. Ethnic discrimination and racism are common in the Middle East, but it is not as simple as waving a magic Western wand and describing one group as “white supremacist” and the other group as “non-white.”
For instance there is racism against Beduin in Israel whose origins are in Africa by Beduin who see themselves as Arab. They don’t see themselves as “white” but they replicate the kinds of prejudices whites in the West had against people of color.
The problem with the radical Left American and Western narrative about Israel is that it wants to shoe-horn primarily Jewish people into a “white-black” narrative. Only 70 years after Jews were murdered en masse specifically for being non-white and non-Aryan, the American college radical and their fellow travelers want to turn the former Jewish victims into the oppressors. This requires re-coloring them “white” and coloring Palestinians as “people of color.”
However the same activists in places like Tufts who engage in this racialization could not tell the difference between most Jews and Arabs in Israel if just confronted with photos of faces. They have created an imagined community.
Coloring people as more “white” than they are and others as more “dark” is a form of gerrymandering based on the false racist notions of the Nazi era and eugenics. This is exactly what white supremacists of the 1930s engaged in, trying to create a “racial science.” The guides they used to determine “race” are still on display at places like Yad Vashem.
It is legitimate for Jewish Americans to wrestle with their “racial” identity to find their place in the particularly American discussions about “white privilege.” To some extent, defining one’s racial identity. According to an article at the Hudson Institute, activist Linda Sarsour has said “at the end of the day it’s self-determination, so I’m Palestinian, if I want to say I’m black, I’m black, that’s on me.” Just as Americans can define themselves, for Middle Eastern people like Jews and Palestinians, the decision to choose where one fits into American racial politics is a local choice.
It is not for student activists in America to decide what race people are abroad. The attempt to color Israel as “white supremacist” is a form of neo-colonialism and Orientalism. It takes away local agency and indigenous Jewish rights. Like the colonial officers who sought to apply Western definitions to non-Western cultures, these Westerners today seek to colonize Israel’s diversity with their racial lens. They have used their opposition to Israel’s policies to strip Jews of their diversity and deny them their rights.
Jewish people should have a right to not only define their identity but to root themselves in the Middle East, where they are historically from. They were denied this right in 1942 when Nazis defined Jews as sub-human and sought to exterminate them for their race and heritage. Today’s activists who call Israel “white supremacist” seek to continue the Nazi agenda of taking away Jewish diversity, generalizing about and stereotyping Jews.
Rather than Israel being defensive and resorting to photos of Arabs and Jews sitting next to each other on the bus to claim Israel is not racist, it is imperative to interrogate the racist logic that underpins the Western slander of “Israel is white supremacist.” It is a slander derived directly from the crimes Western countries carried out against Jews.
Any attempt to deny Jews the right to define their own ethnicity and diversity is a continuation of antisemitic and Nazi crimes that sought to classify Jews. The “white supremacist” libel is the worst of all, turning one of the main victims of white supremacism into its perpetrator. It is as disingenuous as defining the Roma people, who were also victims of Nazism, as “white supremacist” when historically they are non-white and victims of white supremacism.
Follow the author @Sfrantzman.