Photo: Israel Defense Forces/Wikimedia Commons
When discussing the history of the establishment of Israel, a commonly parroted trope within anti-Israel and antisemitic circles is that the nation was founded by Jewish people who “colonized” the land and displaced more than 1 million Palestinians in 1948. This is an absurd and historically inaccurate narrative.
National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) and its chapters across the country are infamous for spreading this libelous claim. For instance, the website for its New York chapter states, “We are unapologetically anti-Zionist and take that as a non-negotiable tenet of our unity. We identify the establishment of the state of Israel as an ongoing project of settler-colonialism that will be stopped through Palestinian national liberation.”
The land of Israel is the indigenous homeland of the Jewish people. With a continual presence in the land dating back thousands of years, and widespread cultural and religious themes of a return in Diasporic communities, Israel’s founding is a story of liberation, not of colonialism.
In 1947, Jews and Arabs lived in what was the British Mandate of Palestine. This territory included what is now modern-day Israel, in addition to the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza, and not, as some claim, a country named “Palestine.” No such country ever existed. With the impending expiry of the mandate, in November 1947 the U.N. General Assembly recommended partitioning the land into two states—one for Jews, encompassing areas of a Jewish majority, and one for Arabs in an Arab-majority area.
The Jews agreed to the proposed partition plan after it was presented in late 1947. However, the plan was never implemented because the Arabs rejected it and started a war — which was formally joined by several Arab states after Israel’s declaration of independence on May 14, 1948 — and has not ended.
Jewish Voice for Peace and similar organizations level accusations that Israel is some kind of white, colonialist endeavor; this hateful rhetoric erases the Jewish people’s ancestral ties to the land and simultaneously neglects the fact that the country is primarily composed of people of color, Jews and Arabs alike. More than 50 percent of Israelis are Mizrachi or Sephardi whose families lived generations in Arab and/or Muslim lands, including Jews from North Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Iberian Peninsula—today, areas of Spain and Portugal. Living in those foreign lands, Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews were second-class citizens who faced discrimination, subordination and worse.
In 1941, Iraqi Jews fell victim to vicious antisemitism that resulted in 180 Jews murdered and thousands more attacked and even raped, with religious sites demolished in a pogrom known as the Farhud. This resulted in the mass emigration of Iraqi Jews to Israel—more than 120,000 Jews fled to the Jewish state. Just seven years later, another 850,000 Jews fled or were expelled from across the Middle East and North Africa. They would follow suit in their emigration to Israel.
More recently came waves of Ethiopian immigrants, members of the tribe who brought with them their own traditions, cuisine and culture.
This means less than 50 percent of Jewish citizens of the State of Israel are considered “white” European expatriates—those who historically maintained a strong connection to the land of Israel. During the first World Zionist Congress headed by Theodor Herzl, which took place in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland, more than 200 Jewish delegates gathered to discuss the goals of the organization and established the Basel Plan. That made the formal assertion that the aim of Zionism was to establish a home for the Jewish people in their ancestral land. Although often ignored, it is precisely the Jewish people’s unrelenting yearning to return to their homeland that largely led to societies in which they lived “othering” them, fueling antisemitic attacks.
Organizations such as SJP maliciously denigrate the identities of Israeli Jews, leading, quite literally, to a white-washing of the country’s diverse population. Not only is this a rejection of history; it’s an antisemitic canard. The false narrative that groups such as SJP employ furthers an antisemitic agenda under the guise of social justice on college campuses across North America.
A slightly different version of this article was originally published in jns.org.
Contributed by 2020-2021 University at Buffalo CAMERA Fellow Chloe Greenfield.