In recent times western left-liberalism has been criticised for its ‘cancel culture’, because of an obsession with language and individual identity politics. Yet reactionary cancel culture has been around much longer, with its McCarthyist purges. To this reactionary camp we should add ‘zionist cancel culture’ (ZCC), where those critical of the Israeli colony in Palestine are purged from political, academic and media platforms.
These purges carry with them intimidation of public debate where, after accusations of ‘antisemitism’, many are driven to avoid criticism of Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing in favour of ‘safe’ moral equivalence clichés, like the ‘Arab-Israeli conflict’, calling for ‘even handed’ treatment or ‘mutual restraint’ in face of the massacres and dispossession which remain central to the colonising process.
ZCC is characterised by its artificial charges of ‘racism’ (‘anti-semitism’) against those who dare to criticise the colony. What was once an issue of deep discrimination and genocide in Europe has become a global cliché used to defend the Israeli colony. This ‘racism’ claim is peculiar, as most deep seated racism arises from the crimes of colonisers who (like the Israelis) seek to degrade and disqualify the original inhabitants of colonised land. In the case of Israel, the mostly European and north American colonisers masquerade as victims of racism, even as they ethnically cleanse the indigenous Palestinian people.
Jewish communities which suffered centuries of discrimination in Europe, mostly under the Christian empires, spawned their own colonial movement which imposed its own reign of terror on the people of Palestine. The extreme efforts carried out to cover up this simple historical fact tells us that the battle for legitimacy matters.
But why is so much effort expended in this battle, at this time? I suggest it has to do with the vulnerability of the colony and its strategic importance to Washington, the principal author of the New Middle East wars of the 21st century. Israel sits at the eye of a storm of multiple wars across West Asia.
Many imagine that, through its military domination of Palestine and its powerful allies, Israel is in a strong position. This is a misunderstanding. In the 1980s Apartheid South Africa also had nuclear weapons, appeared invincible in the region and was backed by the USA and the UK. Yet within a few years that system collapsed (Eby and Morton 2017).
As many Israeli leaders are well aware, the roots of the South African collapse lay in resistance and illegitimacy. Former Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert have both said that, once the seven decade illusion of ‘two states’ disappears, Israel faces an unwinnable anti-apartheid campaign (McCarthy 2007; Sommer 2017). So we should look more closely at resistance and legitimacy, to understand the recent efforts to prop up Apartheid Israel through zionist cancel culture.
1. Recent ZCC efforts
Zionist cancel culture is a concerted effort to extinguish voices which expose the apartheid nature of the alleged ‘only democracy in the Middle East’. The main targets are those who actually side with the resistance.
The use of fake claims of ‘anti-semitism’ to purge political leaders has its best recent example in the purge of former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Although leftist Corbyn was disliked by the British oligarchy for other reasons, it is no coincidence that ‘anti-semitism’ was central to the pretext used by his successor Keir Starmer to ‘suspend’ Corbyn from the party he once led (Scott 2020).
The move against Corbyn was part of a broader purge of critics of Israel within the alternate wing of the British state (Winstanley 2020; MEMO 2020). Now while Britain was the ‘mother’ of the zionist colony it is no longer the key hegemon in the West Asia. Nevertheless, a British government committed to the rights of the disenfranchised Palestinian people would have been a bitter blow to the colony. That threat has been removed, for now.
In academia the purges have been most intense in the UK, France and the USA, countries which matter most to the Israel lobby. The aim has been to remove platforms for critical voices in support of the disenfranchised people of Palestine, and of the regional resistance.
A recent Guardian article cited several British academics on the problem of university managers trying to “silence academics on social media”. This was said to be part of a tension between the corporate university and social media, where “on the one hand unis are pushing their staff to be more active online … but when that individual voice is in conflict with the official brand it creates a tension … about brand protection” (Reidy 2020). The corporate media has also discovered it can use this tension to goad management to move against select academics.
The Israel lobby has spent time and effort in this territory, in particular by trying to vilify public figures who criticise Israel. It is claimed they are acting in a ‘racist’ manner against Jewish people. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has had some success in its attempts to extend the definition of anti-Semitism “to criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights” (England 2017). But I am one of many who have written that there is no legitimate basis for conflating criticism of a state or government with inciting hatred against a people (Anderson 2020).
An Israel lobby group in the USA, under the guise of ‘protecting Jewish students’, targeted as ‘biased’ more than 200 academics who supported the boycott against Israel (AMCHA 2014). Academics and teachers have been hounded from their positions in the USA, the UK, Australia and New Zealand because of their comments on Israel, including those who have raised legitimate academic questions about ‘ethno-nationalist settler colonialism’ and of ‘victims becoming perpetrators’ (Flaherty 2016; Sales 2020).
Jewish writers have not been immune from these attacks and some have hit back, confirming that ‘unfounded allegations of anti-Semitism [are used] to cover up Israeli apartheid’ (Handmaker 2019; Weiss 2019). More recently, sixty Jewish and Israeli academics criticised the German parliament for its attempts to equate the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement with ‘antisemitism’ (O’Malley and Gardner 2019).
Similarly, a 2017 letter signed by more than 200 British academics complained of the Israel lobby’s repeated attempts to link academic criticism of Israel, and support for the Palestinian people, with anti-semitism. These moves were “outrageous interferences with free expression” and “direct attacks on academic freedom”. The group said “we wish to express our dismay at this attempt to silence campus discussion about Israel, including its violation of the rights of Palestinians for more than 50 years. It is with disbelief that we witness explicit political interference in university affairs in the interests of Israel under the thin disguise of concern about anti-semitism” (Rosenhead 2017; England 2017)
Of course, hegemonic states reinforce this process. In the USA President Donald Trump signed an executive order to withhold funds from universities which did not do enough to stop “anti-Semitic practices”, specifically including criticism of Israel (Basken 2019).
Increasingly corporatised universities, for their part, feel vulnerable to possible damage to their reputation, and that is compounded by special interest group sponsorship plus ‘foreign influence’ laws which seek to bring academies into line with official government policy.
Importantly, the western corporate and state media, for the most part, systematically exclude commentators critical of Israel, along with those who support resistance to Washington’s ‘New Middle East’ wars. This was well illustrated by CNN’s severing of its connection with US academic commentator Marc Lamont Hill (AP 2018).
When strong denunciations of Israeli apartheid are removed, western debate more readily moves back into moral equivalence clichés, alongside demands to avoid alleged ‘antisemitism’ which targets the apartheid colony. That has led to delusional campaigns about supposed anti-Jewish racism in the (post-Jeremy Corbyn) British Labour Party, simply because of that party’s strong pro-Palestinian sentiment (Winstanley 2020).
2. Fragility of the zionist colony
The current state of Israel grew from demands of the late 19th century European and Russian zionist movement, in reaction to centuries of discrimination and direct repression. While a concession was secured from Britain at the end of the First World War, based on land taken from the Ottomans, zionism was not popular even amongst European Jews until the Nazis’ attempted genocide of 1941-45 (Black 1984). After the Second World War, in reaction to the Nazi Holocaust and the death camps, liberal Jews joined the zionists with the idea that a Jewish refuge might be created, so long as it was not at the expense of the native Palestinians.
Liberal Jews including Albert Einstein were uneasy about the idea of a ‘Jewish state’, and denounced the Irgun terrorism aimed at clearing the Arab population. But they eventually reconciled with the idea of an Israeli state so long as it was “based on the concern for the welfare of both Jews and Arabs in Palestine” (Jerome 2009: 152-4, 189). Even though the people of Palestine were never consulted, in the late 1940s there was an illusion, based on a UN report, that an Arab state might be created alongside the Israeli state.
Yet the idea of cooperation and two states was always a myth. As Israeli historian Ilan Pappe pointed out in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine the chief architect of the colony, David Ben Gurion, aimed at seizing “eighty to ninety percent” of British occupied Palestine, removing most of the Arab population. “Only a state with at least 80% Jews [would be] a viable and stable state”, he told his party faithful in 1947 (Pappe 2006: 26, 48). Consequently the final ‘Plan Dalet’ of 1948 aimed at “destroying villages”, wiping out armed resistance and making sure any resisting Arab “population [was] expelled outside the borders of the state” (Pappe 2006: 39). There followed multiple massacres, including the infamous razing of the village of Deir Yassin (McGowan and Hogan 1999).
Yet more than seven decades later, with no Arab state, and despite ongoing ethnic cleansing on the occupied West Bank and the occupation of the Syrian Golan, the Palestinian Arab population has not diminished. Rather, it has begun to outnumber the Jewish Israeli population. Palestinians refused to disappear. Despite the denials of some zionist writers (Faitelson 2009; Eldar 2018), the Palestinian population has grown relative to the Jewish-Israeli population. This is despite the colony recruiting more immigrant Jews, mainly from eastern Europe and the USA.
Israeli sources confirm the pro-Palestinian shift. The Jewish Virtual Library shows that the Jews of Israel (1948 Palestine) have declined from a peak of 88.9% in 1960 to 74.7% in 2017 (JVL 2017). In parallel, officials from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and the military-run civil administration of the Occupied Territories (COGAT) say that the Arab population of Gaza, the West Bank and Arab citizens of Israel, along with residents of the annexed East Jerusalem municipality, add up to 6.5 million, about the same number as ‘Jews living between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean’ (Heller 2018). That is before we include the millions of exiled and refugee Palestinians
Further, the Palestinian cause has grown in legitimacy, helped by Israeli brutality and arrogance. In 2018 an Israeli journalist published details of 2,700 assassinations carried out by zionist secret services: ‘more people [murdered] than any other country in the western world’ (Bergman 2018: xxii). The open arrogance over such ‘achievements’, the journalist says, blinds the colony’s leadership to its strategic failures (Bergman 2018: 629). Despite a powerful Israel lobby in Europe, which tries to sanitise the occupation, 65% of Europeans recognise that Israel engages in religious discrimination (Abdullah and Hewitt 2012: 41-42, 279). The Zionist argument that opposing Israel is seen as racist or ‘anti-semitic’ is losing ground in Europe. Just over half (53%) the Europeans over 55 years of age still believe this but only 45% of 18-24 year olds (Abdullah and Hewitt 2012: 292).
Recognition of Palestine at the UN level has grown while that of Israel has weakened. In 1988 the UNGA acknowledged the proclamation of the state of Palestine and began to use ‘Palestine’ in place of the PLO, for the delegation. In 2011 Palestine was admitted to UNESCO (MSPUN 2013). In reaction, in 2017, both Israel and the USA withdrew as members of UNESCO, citing ‘anti-Israel bias’ (Beaumont 2017). When the UN’s Human Rights Council passed several motions against Israel, including the call for an arms embargo, the zionist state’s foreign minister reacted by calling for Israel to withdraw from that body (JPost 2018).
In 2012 the UNGA accorded ‘Non-member observer state’ status to the delegation, ‘marking the first time that the General Assembly considered Palestine to be a state’ (UNGA 2012). By 2018 137 UN member states recognised the State of Palestine (MSPUN 2018). One of the advantages of this advance has been the new capacity of the Palestinian Authority to recognise and adopt treaties such as the Statute of Rome, allowing Palestine to refer the zionist slaughter of civilians to the International Criminal Court as ‘crimes against humanity’ (Morrison 2018). This was not possible before 2012.
Yet the ongoing colonisation of the West Bank, despite occasional feeble European and US protests, has undermined any real possibility of a “two state solution”. All that is left now is a type of fragmented Bantustan solution, such as that presented by Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, just before that system crumbled (Swift 2020). However the seven decade long fiction of an ‘Arab state’ is maintained because, as former Prime Ministers Olmert and Barak have recognised, without the two state illusion the colony will face an anti-apartheid campaign (McCarthy 2007; Sommer 2017). Without ‘two states’ and with no real possibility of expelling three generations of European colonists, a post-apartheid Palestine can only find peace in a single democratic state.
The move towards that state will almost certainly be through an anti-apartheid campaign, based on Palestinian resistance, further strengthening of the international legitimacy campaign and, most likely, relative unity amongst the Palestinian and regional resistance forces and relative disunity amongst the sponsors of the Israeli colony (Anderson 2018).
3. Strategic importance of the Israeli colony
The survival of Israel as an apartheid state is not simply a matter of concern to zionists, who influence but do not control Washington. The colony was facilitated by Britain but then inherited by the USA, which has used it as a means to destabilising and controlling the Middle East region. Its strategic role has become particularly acute as Washington fears its loss of influence in both Europe and Asia.
Former top US official Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, outlined Washington’s need to block the impending peaceful integration of Eurasia, as that would put an end to US global power. The extreme jealousy of the USA at the rise of China and the role of Russia, alongside the multiple ‘New Middle East’ wars of the 21st Century (Anderson 2019), should be seen in this light. These considerations remain valid, notwithstanding Brzezinski’s own realist adjustments, before his death: “as its era of global dominance ends, the United States needs to take the lead in realigning the global power architecture” (Whitney 2016).
Israel (alongside Saudi Arabia, the key sponsor of sectarian terrorism) remains the central tool of US influence in the Middle East region. That relationship was spelt out, more than once, by incoming US president Joe Biden. In 1986 Biden said that Israel “is the best three billion dollar investment [per year] we make. Were there not an Israel the United States of America would have to invent an Israel, to protect our interests in the region” (Candidate Research 2019). In 2013 he repeated much the same line: “if there were not an Israel, we would have to invent one to make sure our interests were preserved” (HDN 2013).
It is in this context - of the desperation of the Israeli colony to avoid facing an open anti-apartheid campaign and the urgency of Washington, in face of the rise of China and Eurasia, to not lose control of West and Central Asia - that we can best understand the artificial ‘anti-racist’ campaigns driven by the Israel lobby.
Zionist cancel culture (ZCC) has tried to redefine racism, perversely, to force a defence of its colony in Palestine. A key mechanism has been a recent ‘working definition’ of antisemitism’ by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). In 2016 the IHRA, which had previously focussed on opposing “holocaust denial,” adopted a “working definition” of anti-Semitism. That document has gained endorsement from a number of European governments, as well as from Israel and the USA. However, eight of its twelve “illustrations” focus on Israel. In effect, the paper conflates Jewish people with Israel and so seeks to disqualify all criticism of Israel (Anderson 2020).
This artificial attempt to recreate ‘anti-racism’ is complemented by an actually racist campaign to pretend that the Palestinian people and Palestine simply ‘do not exist’ (Greenfield 2019; Harsanyi 2019, MEE 2019). This is an adjunct to the constant ethnic cleansing of the West Bank, which succeeds in stealing land but fails to displace most of the colony’s non-citizens.
Attempts to ban discussions of ‘victims becoming perpetrators’ and re-colonisation are going nowhere. Indeed, the phenomenon of victimised European Jews moving to victimise and colonise Palestinian Arabs has historical precedents. For example, in the 19th century many poor Scots and Irish, driven off their lands by famine and clearance (Coogan 2012; Richard 2016), came to Australia and took part in the dispossession of Australia’s indigenous people.
Meanwhile we are presented with distorted discussions about racism, from relatively privileged European and north American zionists, backed by billionaires. They secure their second passports and cry ‘racism’ when criticised for dispossessing Arab Palestinians. That is the perverse narrative Zionist Cancel Culture has helped create, another aspect of what the late Eduardo Galeano called the ‘upside down world’.
*(Top image: Demonstrators rallied outside the Best Buy store in Manhattan's Union Square to oppose Israel's recent incursions into al-Aqsa mosque, along with its ongoing political imprisonment of Palestinians, as members of the Jewish Defense League protested across the sidewalk. Credit: Joe Catron/ Flickr)
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