Why Israel is a racist state

By Kim Bullimore

The Australian Labor government joined the all-white boycott of the UN’s Durban Review Conference held in Geneva on April 20-24. Labelled by Israel and its supporters a “hate fest”, the conference was boycotted by Australia, along with Canada, Germany, Italy, Israel, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Poland and the US because the conference’s draft “outcome” document reaffirmed the Declaration and Program of Action (DPA) adopted by the UN’s 2001 World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa. At the end of the Geneva conference the draft document was approved by delegates representing 182 countries out the UN’s 192 member-states.

The Durban conference’s 341-paragraph DPA included a paragraph stating: “We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion.” In 2002, by a vote of 134 for to two against (Israel, United States), with two abstentions (Australia, Canada), the UN General Assembly endorsed the Durban conference’s DPA.

The April 4, 2008 Tel Aviv Haaretz daily reported that Israel and the US had “decided a few weeks ago to boycott the Durban II conference scheduled for early 2009… According to a senior government official, the joint decision was made after discussions among senior US State Department and local Foreign Ministry officials, and after being raised in talks between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice… Israel and world Jewish organizations have begun a campaign against the upcoming conference, although it still has no final date or location.”

The campaign against the Durban Review Conference was stepped up by Israel and its supporters in the wake of the Zionist state’s 22-day war on Gaza over December and January, during which the Israeli military killed 1417 Palestinians, only 236 of whom were resistance fighters. In the wake of widespread condemnation of Israel’s war crimes expressed in large demonstrations on the streets of cities all over the world, the Zionist state has been struggling to present itself as the victim of Palestinian “terrorism”. Fearing that the Durban Review Conference might criticise Israel’s war crimes, the Israeli and US imperialist rulers stepped up their campaign to present the conference as an “anti-Semitic hate fest”. They encouraged other imperialist states, including Australia, to threaten to boycott the conference if its “outcome” document had any, even the mildest, criticism of Israel.

This was not the first time Washington had boycotted UN anti-racism conferences. The US government boycotted the UN’s anti-racism conferences in 1978 and 1983 objecting not only to the inclusion of any references to the oppression of the Palestinian people by Israel but also to a focus by the conference participants on South Africa’s brutal apartheid policies. In 2001, after dragging its feet as to a decision of whether or not it would participate in the Durban conference, US government officials walked out of the conference on the third day, objecting to both the inclusion of calls for an apology and reparations to victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and any mention of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.

At the 2001 Durban conference, pro-Israeli Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, Bnai Brith, Hadassah and the Wiesenthal Center, attempted to have a paragraph included in the final declaration that equated any criticism of Israel as a “contemporary form of anti-Semitism”. This included labelling Israel’s policies against the Palestinian people as “genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and apartheid”. As Badil, the Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights based in Bethlehem noted in a paper for the Durban conference, had this paragraph been adopted, it “would have meant that any human rights critique on the State of Israel could be labelled as ‘anti-Semitism’”.

Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has been an openly racist state, founded by European colonial settlers and using both legally sanctioned discrimination and military force to ethnically cleanse and oppress the indigenous Palestinian people. While Palestinian citizens of Israel are supposedly afforded full citizenship rights, Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, notes that the Israeli state systematically discriminates against its Palestinian citizens, who account for more than 20% of Israel’s total population. According to Adalah, Israel has never sought to integrate its Palestinian citizens and instead resorts to “treating them as second-class citizens and excluding them from public life and the public sphere. The state [has] practiced systematic and institutionalised discrimination in all areas, such as land dispossession and allocation, education, language, economics, culture and political participation.”

Repeated surveys in Israel have recorded the racism that is endemic in Israeli society. For example, a March 2007 survey by the Israeli Centre Against Racism found that more than half of the Jewish population in Israel believes that marriage of a Jewish woman to an Arab man is equal to “national treason”. Seventy five per cent of Israeli Jews polled did not approve of apartment buildings being shared between Arabs and Jews. Sixty per cent said they would not allow an Arab to visit their home, 55% said “Arabs and Jews should be separated at entertainment sites” and 30.7% felt hatred when they heard Arabic being spoken on the street.

In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where 5 million Palestinians live under Israel’s brutal military occupation, Zionist racism is even more overt. Subject to more than 700 military laws, Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem not only have their legal identity controlled by Israel, they are also subject to laws that control their movement and that prevent them from using roads or entering areas reserved for Jewish colonial-settlers. Israeli military law allows for the Zionist state to confiscate Palestinian property, land and water resources in order to redirect them for Jewish-only use, preventing Palestinians from accessing land that their ancestors had owned and cultivated for centuries. Under the Israeli military regime, Palestinians living in the West Bank have no legal protection against the Israeli state’s human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests and detention without charge or trial, or the demolition of their homes.

Since 1948, Israel’s ethnic cleansing and wars of aggression against the Palestinian and other Arab peoples of the region have had the consistent backing of successive US governments. All of these governments have sought to ensure that US corporations control the extraction and export of the vast energy resources (oil and natural gas) that exist in the Middle East. Israel has become US imperialism’s chief ally in the region, the US-Israel alliance being based on shared political interests — opposition to any form of Arab radicalism that would threaten imperialist economic domination of the region.

Washington’s imperialist role in the Middle East was the focus of the speech given by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Durban Review Conference. Far from being an “anti-Semitic rant”, as Israel and its supporters claim, Ahmadinejad devoted a large part of his speech denouncing the US for its wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. With regard to the Western-backed Zionist colonisation of Palestine, he said: “Today many racists condemn racism in their slogans and speeches but when some powerful countries give themselves the right to make decisions for other countries, using their discretion, and based on their own interests, they can easily trample on all rules and human values. As they have already proven.

“After the Second World War, by exploiting the Holocaust and under the pretext of protecting the Jews they made a nation homeless with military expeditions and invasion. They transferred various groups of people from America, Europe and other countries to this land. They established a completely racist government in the occupied Palestinian territories. And in fact, under the pretext of making up for damages resulting from racism in Europe, they established the most aggressive, racist country in another territory, i.e., Palestine.”

Despite the fact that Ahmadinejad’s speech did not contain any anti-Jewish remarks, Australian PM Kevin Rudd has attempted to use the speech to justify his government’s boycott of the Durban Review Conference. Rudd told an April 24 meeting of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce that “inflammatory remarks of President Ahmadinejad of Iran at the conference are unacceptable and underline the Australian government’s decision not to attend the Durban Conference”. Rudd admitted that his government never had any intention of participating in the conference because Canberra “would not support a document which reaffirms the 2001 Durban Declaration and Program of Action”, because the “2001 declaration singled out Israel” as the only state guilty of racism. However, the Durban DPA does no such thing. It merely expresses concern “about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation”.

While Israel continues to have the support of governments in other imperialist countries such as the US and Australia, more and more people around the world have supported the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law. In the lead up to the Durban Review Conference, thousands of people from around the world attended the Israel Review Conference, also held in Geneva, organised by pro-Palestinian groups. The IRC included a range of workshops which developed proposals for a global campaign against the Jewish National Fund, as well as initiatives for prosecution of Israeli officials for war crimes.

The BDS campaign was launched by over 100 Palestinian organisations in July 2005. In the wake of Israel’s Gaza war, support for the campaign has snowballed. The March 29 Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli Manufacturers Association acknowledged that its members were losing markets due to the growing BDS campaign. The head of the IMA’s foreign trade committee said: “In addition to the problems and difficulties arising from the global economic crisis, 21% of local exporters report that they are facing problems in selling Israeli goods because of an anti-Israel boycott, mainly from the UK and Scandinavian countries.”