Denial of Jewish people’s right to self determination

By Ella Mishan

Claims that Israel’s very existence is racist, colonialist, apartheid, and/or ‘malicious’ are often made in order to advocate for the destruction or disestablishment of Israel. These claims deny the Jewish people’s right to self determination, a right guaranteed to all peoples under the founding charter of the United Nations. The argument “that the Jews alone do not have the right to self-determination” is antisemitic.

The idea that different people and ethnic groups should have equal rights and entitlement to self determination, in the form of a state if that is what they wish, is not antisemitic. It of course also applies to the Palestinian people just as it applies to all other peoples. This is why the two state solution is the only way to recognise the rights of both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. A claim that one side or the other has absolute right to all the land between the river and the sea, the territory controlled in places by Israel, in others by the Palestinian Authority, and in the case of Gaza by Hamas (who violently seized control from the Palestinian Authority in 2007) is by definition a denial of the human rights of the other group. 

This denial of human rights can be seen in the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. Created by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (the PLO) shortly after it was formed in 1964, as the Associated Press reports, “By 2012, it was clear that Hamas had claimed the slogan in its drive to claim land spanning Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank”. As Hamas is a proscribed terrorist organisation in many countries, some like Germany have banned the phrase as an expression of support for a banned terrorist group. 

Related to the effort to delegitimize Israel, and suggest Israel has no right to exist, are claims that Jews are ‘illegally occupying countries’, ‘not indigenous to Israel’ and/or ‘white European settler colonialists’. These claims deny thousands of years of Jewish history connected to Israel, the indigeneity of the Jewish people to the land, and the Jewish struggle for freedom from persecution and a return to being a sovereign people in their own state. 

The first example we examine is a post on Facebook and uses content related to Neturei Karta. A small sect of Ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist Jews, Neturei Karta on religious grounds do not believe in Jewish self determination. They present themselves as the “real Jews” and argue that ‘Zionist Jews’, those who believe in the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel”, are ‘Fake Jews’. As the Foreword explains, Neturei Karta “have allied themselves with enemies of Israel, including those that have voiced open antisemitism, such as Iran and Hezbollah.” In their anti-Israel zealotry some members of Neturei Karta went so far as to support and attend an Iranian Holocaust denial conference and were criticised even by other Ultra-Orthodox Anti-Zionist Jews, including other Neturei Karta members.

The example we show here is not Neturei Karta content, but rather uses pictures of them waving Palestinian flags along with commentary from the poster. The commentary is antisemitic because it denies the identity of the majority of the worlds’ Jews and their belief in and right to self determination. It suggests that Jews who are Zionists (pro the existence of the Jewish people in Israel) are “imposters and hijackers of Judaism”. While Jews can disagree over their religion, when a non-Jewish person denies a Jewish person their identity by calling them a “fake Jew” that is antisemitic.

The second example, from Facebook, is a picture of search results from Google including the abstract of the Neturei Karta website and one a website (now down) called West African Jews. It was posted as a picture and without any commentary from the poster. The most seems designed to delegitimize the Jewish connection to Israel and to undermine mainstream Jewish identity using fringe views that appear online. 

The Neturei Karta website summary says, “Zionism (the belief that Jews are entitled to live in the land of Israel) is based on lies … and any observant Jewish person who supports the Zionist-Sate of Israel is a heretic”. This comment is attacking an integral aspect of Jewish identity for the majority of world Jewry, religious or not. It blatantly rejects Jews who believe in Israel’s right to exist, in direct contrast to the much larger religious Zionist movement which sees it as an essential religious aspect of Judaism. 

The  West African Jews website (which is now down) appears from its Facebook page to belong to a Hebrew Israelite person / group. As the Foreword explains, “Hebrew Israelites are people of color, mostly African Americans, who view the biblical Israelites as their historic ancestors.” The article notes that Black Jew, Hebrew Israelite and Black Hebrew can all be synonymous, but most Hebrew Israelites do not identify as Jews, and they are a distinct group from Ashkenazi, Sephardi or Mizrachi Jew, and from Jews of colour who belong to Orthodox, Conservative, Liberal streams of Judaism. Like Neturei Karta, this website is not representative.

The next example is from Instagram and says Israel is ‘Palestinian land’ and “This fight is not with the Jews, it’s with the zionists who have illegally occupied the State of Palestine”. This comment contradicts itself because although they try to be politically correct in stating “this fight is not with the Jews”, they go on to clarify, it’s only the Jews that live in the state of Israel that they are against which is a little under half the world’s Jews. They also say “it was never a problem until European Jews came and wanted Palestinian land”. These statements single out Ashkenazi Jews and deny their indigeneity, or indeed that they and Sephardi Jews are the same people. It also fails to acknowledge the reason Jews from Europe came to Israel and seeks to blame them as the source of all problems relating to Palestinans.  

The next post, from Telegram,  compares Israel’s current prime minister and the Israel Defence Force (IDF) to Hitler and his Nazis. Not only is this an inappropriate comparison that distorts the facts of the Holocaust itself, it implies Israel’s existence is based off the same theories Hitler’s Germany was and paints Israel as  ‘a country trying to eradicate non Jews’ like Hitler tried to eradicate Jews and those he saw as impure to his Aryan Race. This is entirely untrue and an extremely racist false narrative. 

This next comment, found on Facebook, states that “when it comes to Israel (described by the commenter here as a “terror state”), malicious intent is the only type of intent that exists”. This comment uses inflammatory language to denounce the legitimacy of the state of Israel as an indigenous home for the Jewish people by saying it’s a country created by/based on ‘malicious-ness’ and that the land should be “returned to us so we can make it great again” which neglects any Jewish presence in the land pre 1948 and Jewish indigenous rights to be in Israel. 

This post compares the Palestinians “without sin” to the Jews who have “no genetic descent at all from ancient Israel and have contributed nothing there”. Again, this ignores thousands of years of Jewish history and indigeneity to the land and fuels a misleading narrative about the Jews vs Palestinians as an oppressor vs oppressed situation.

The line between criticism & racism

Editorial note by Andre Oboler, CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute

The examples in the briefing above are different to the antisemitic use of Zionism or Zionist as a code word for Jew as discussed in an earlier article. They are also different to, and should not be confused with, legitimate discussions of racism within Israeli society. Both racism and criticism of racism exists in Israeli society, just as they do in Australian society, New Zealand society, American Society, or any other society one cares to name. What differentiates the comments above, in this article, from mere criticism of racism in a particular country is the way the crititism is used to demand an end to the Jewish state, a denial of self-determination to the Jewish people and indeed to Israeli people.

By way of comparison, there is racism in China (notably targeting the Uyghurs and Tibetans), and international campaigns against this racism, but no one calls for China to be eliminated. Closer to home, there is still systemic racism against Australia’s First Nations peoples, and their rights are asserted with statements like “always was, always will be Aboriginal land” and “Sovereignty has never been ceded”, but even those in the Black Sovereignty Movement see this as demanding a treaty between Indigenous people and the Australian Government, not an effort to have Australia itself disestablished.

This is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which explicitly states that “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, people, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the United Nations or construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States.”

Those calling for Israel’s disestablishment and replacement with a Palestinian state (rather than a two-state solution) often made a comparison with Apartheid South Africa. The comparison is flawed as all Israeli citizens have equal rights, regardless of religion or ethnicity and this includes about 20% of the Israeli electorate that identify as Palestinians. Palestinians who do not have these rights are those who are not Israeli citizens, and can be dived into two groups: The first live in Israel as permanent residents in Jerusalem but are not citizens, they don’t get to vote in elections but otherwise enjoy equal rights, just as occurs with permanent residents in many other countries. Those who are permanent residents can apply to become Israeli citizens and about 5% of them have. The second group are those living in the West Bank and Gaza. They are not Israeli and live under Palestinian government and vote in Palestinian elections (not Israeli elections). The last Palestinian elections, however, were in 2006, the year before Hamas violently overthrew the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. Freedom House lists both Gaza and the West Bank as “not free” and both Israeli security arrangements and domestic Palestinian issues contribute significantly to this. Israel itself is listed as “free”, highlighting the problem with the South African comparison.

Apartheid South African was a very special case and the country changed as a result of the vote being extended to all. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the solution is a two state solution with negotiations on territory agreed between the parties. Palestinians already have the right to vote, assuming elections for the Palestinian Authority are called. In light of this a solution to disestablish Israel because non-Israelis can’t vote makes no logical sense.

From these comparisons we can see that the IHRA definition’s statement that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic” and its example of antisemitism as “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” are consistent. No other people are denied their right to self determination by claiming the existence of their country is a racist endeavor.