Something colonial: Can Zionism be fixed?

Something colonial: Can Zionism be fixed?
Comment: Israeli policy remains driven by Zionism, and the country refuses to move from a 19th century colonial enterprise into a modern, democratic state for all, says Ramzy Baroud.
9 min read
16 Dec, 2016
A group of anti-Zionist Jews Orthodox Jews stage a protest outside the UN [Andalou]

On December 16, 1991, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 46/86. It was a single, statement of withdrawal: "The General Assembly decides to revoke the determination contained in its resolution 3379 of 10 November 1975."  

This was a pitiful reversal of an earlier resolution that equated Israel's political ideology, Zionism and racism.  

The text of the initial resolution, 3379 of 1975 was significantly longer, and was based on a clear set of principles, including UN resolution 2106 of 1965 that defined racial discrimination as "any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin."

Paradoxically, both Israel and the US had voted in favour of that resolution, only to denounce Resolution 3379 as anti-Semitic, 10 years later.  

The original Resolution 3379 was backed by strong evidence of racial discrimination practiced by Israel: after all, Israel was a state manufactured as an outcome of British-Zionist colonialism dating back to the early 20th century; it was made possible through a massive campaign of ethnic cleansing that oversaw the dispossession of nearly one million Palestinian Arabs, replacing them with millions of European Jews.

The reversal of that resolution was the outcome of vigorous US lobbying and pressure that lasted for years. In 1991, Israel had insisted that it would not join the US-sponsored Madrid peace talks without the prior disavowal of 3379. With the UN being one of the Madrid Talks sponsors, the US pressure paid its dividends at last, and UN members were obliged, albeit unconvinced, to overturn their early verdicts. 

The reversal of that resolution was the outcome of vigorous US lobbying and pressure that lasted for years

The question was never really settled, and Israel's past and current leadership understand that well. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and other Israeli leaders rarely miss an opportunity to remind the UN of what an anti-Semitic 'moral farce' it supposedly is; and with that, sending a reminder to Israelis themselves, that the whole world is against us', that the painful memories of the past will continue to haunt them, simply because the world has never truly changed. 

However, equating Zionism with racism is not the only comparison that is often conjured up by Israel's critics, all generating an equal amount of official Israel ire.  

Just recently, Ecuadorian envoy to the United Nations, Horacio Sevilla was adamant in his comments before a UN session, marking November 29 as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.  

After he rejected "with all our strength the persecution and genocide [unleashed by] Nazism against the Hebrew people," he added, "But I cannot remember anything more similar in our contemporary history than the eviction, persecution and genocide that today imperialism and Zionism do against the Palestinian people". 

Sevilla was not comparing ideologies per se - Zionism vs. Nazism - but rather the practical implications of these political ideologies: Eviction (as in ethnic cleansing), persecution and genocide.   

Click to enlarge

Of course, a tirade of condemnations followed, as Israeli officials were given yet another chance to hurl accusations against the United Nations of anti-Semitism and of persistently targeting Israel, while, supposedly, excluding others from censure.

The Ecuadorian diplomat's comparison is not new, but is an echo of a constant stream of criticism of Israel, its military practices and its political ideology, namely Zionism.  

Yet in most, if not all, of these instances, there is yet to be an open, intelligent discussion, involving Israeli itself, regarding the applicability of such comparisons.

Instead, Israel often responds with its typical retort, questioning the actual motive behind the criticism, labelling its detractors anti-Semitic and calling upon its western allies to outlaw condemnation of Israeli practices as a form of anti-Semitism. Some readily oblige.  

Based on empirical evidence, as far as Israel is concerned, any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, any serious questioning of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land is anti-Semitic; any demands for accountability from Israel regarding its military conduct during war is also a form of anti-Semitism.

If one is to avoid the label, one is compelled to either avoid the subject altogether, or to see the history of Israel, its establishment atop the ruins of Palestinian towns, and political interpretation of the current tragic reality through Israeli eyes only.

Indeed, even sympathy with Palestinians, as far as Israel is concerned, can be labelled anti-Semitic.  

Israel knows precisely what it is - a settler, colonial state

Even if Horacio Sevilla chose a different comparison, for example, similar to the one made by former US President, Jimmy Carter, accusing Israel of practicing apartheid, the diplomat's remarks would still have been called anti-Semitic. In fact, Carter himself was accorded such a label. Repeatedly.  

But why is Israel so concerned with definitions - of itself, of its Zionist ideology, of its own identity, as a 'Jewish and democratic state'? Should not a country as militarily powerful as Israel be so comfortable with its own status and prowess, that is not bothered by the disparaging comments of an author, words of a diplomat or some marginal social media debate?  

Yet, this is not the case. At the heart of Israel's very existence is a lurking sense of vulnerability, one that all the nuclear warheads and firepower cannot redeem.  

Israel knows precisely what it is - a settler, colonial state - but rather than confronting its own demons, its past and equally grim present realities, it lashes out at those who dare point out that if Israel does not change, its future is likely to be horrifically bloody.  

Zionism is… (fill in the blank)  

For Israelis, Zionism is many things, and for Palestinians and their sympathisers it is, ultimately, a single ideology.  

In an article published in 2012, Israeli author, Uri Avnery,  acknowledged the many shades of Zionism: Early socialist Zionist (obsessed with the colour red, and mobilising around Jewish-only unions and Jewish-only Kibbutzim); religious Zionists who see Zionism as the "forerunner of the Messiah"; right-wing Zionists to whom Zionism means a "Jewish state in all of historical Palestine" (i.e. the whole of so-called Eretz Israel), and secular, liberal Zionism as envisioned by the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl.  

The Palestinian perception of Zionism as a form of colonialism is shared by many countries around the world, and that prevailing perception is not a product of collective anti-Semitic illusion, but rather a historical fact.

Avnery chastises the "many fanatical anti-Zionists around the world, including Jewish ones" for viewing Zionism as a single monolith, "so as to make it easier to hate."  

While one appreciates the breakdown of the various strands of Zionism, as offered by Avnery, one is also bewildered by Israel's – and Israelis' - expectations of its enemies.  

For a Palestinian whose land was illegally confiscated, home demolished and life endangered by a 'Zionist' solider, or a fanatical 'Zionist' settler, Avnery's itemisation matters little. Such dissection is a mere academic concept, for the outcome remains similarly violent.   

In his article, "Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims", the late Palestinian Professor Edward Said elaborates: "It is not unreasonable to find that the entire Palestinian-Arab experience seems unanimous about the view that Zionism visited upon the Arabs a singular injustice," and that even before the British handed Palestine over to Zionist settlers upon which to formally establish a state in 1948, "Palestinians universally opposed and variously tried to resist Zionist colonialism".

The Palestinian perception of Zionism as a form of colonialism is shared by many countries around the world, and that prevailing perception is not a product of collective anti-Semitic illusion, but rather a historical fact. 

Herzl's diary included a letter he wrote in 1902 to a powerful British colonialist, Cecil Rhodes, who had colonialized large swathes of land that belonged to the Shona people in Africa and renamed it Rhodesia. The Zionist leader wanted to enlist Rhodes' help to obtain Palestine, 

"All things considered, you are the only man who can help me now ... You are being invited to help make history... [I]t doesn't involve Africa, but a piece of Asia Minor; not Englishmen but Jews… How indeed? Because it is something colonial … [Y]ou, Mr. Rhodes, are a visionary politician or a practical visionary… I want you to... put the stamp of your authority on the Zionist plan." 

The British stamp arrived 15 years later in the form of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, in which 'Her Majesty's Government' announced its intentions to grant Palestine to European Jews. Upon that land, the Zionist dream was finally achieved and the native Palestinians were mostly made refugees. 

A nightmarish 'dream' 

Zionism, since then, has branched off and evolved into an assortment of political ideologies with religious, secular, nationalist, ultra-nationalist twists.

But all seem in agreement over the colonial nature of the enterprise; they all agree that the land must be preserved for Jewish citizens from anywhere in the world, and that Palestinians have no moral, historical, political or religious claim, not even by virtue of the fact that they had existed on that very land for millennia. 

Zionism had morphed from an ideological conception to state building to military occupation to a form of apartheid

Zionism had morphed from an ideological conception to state building to military occupation to a form of apartheid, while using violence, and ethnic cleansing to achieve its malevolent objectives.  

For the Palestinians, Zionism remains a menace that has devastated their homeland, traumatised them as a nation and continues to delay their globally-supported aspirations for dignity and a homeland.  

The reason why the question of Zionism - and the debate over Zionism must not waver in the face of intimidation – such as attempts to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism - is that the essence of Zionism never matured, evolved or changed from its early version, when it was merely 'something colonial'. It remains something entirely colonial.

Israeli historian Ilan Pappe agrees. "The Zionist ideology and strategy has not changed from its very beginning," he wrote. "The idea was 'We want to create a Jewish state in Palestine but also a Jewish democracy'. So the Zionists needed to have a Jewish majority all the time. They had hoped that the Palestinians... would just leave, but this did not happen. Therefore, ethnic cleansing was the only real solution from the Zionist perspective, not only to have control over Palestine, but also to have a Jewish democracy..."

This remains the main driving force behind Israeli policy towards Palestinians, and Israel's refusal to break away from a 19th century colonial enterprise into a modern, democratic state for all of its citizens.  

To do so, would be to sacrifice the core of its Zionist ideology, constructed on an amalgam of ethno-religious identities, and to embrace a universal form of democracy in a state where Jews and Arabs are treated as equals. 


Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of

His books include "Searching Jenin", "The Second Palestinian Intifada" and his latest "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story". His website is