[News] Renouncing Israel on Principle

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Thu Dec 12 15:46:46 EST 2019


  Renouncing Israel on Principle

by Steven Salaita <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/spere5astasp6fr/> 
- December 12, 2019

When anti-Zionists discuss the Middle East, the topic of Israel’s 
existence rarely arises.  It’s almost exclusively a pro-Israel talking 
point. We’re focused on national liberation, on surviving repression, on 
strategies of resistance, on recovering subjugated histories, on the 
complex (and sometimes touchy) relationships among an Indigenous 
population disaggregated by decades of aggression.  That a colonial 
state—or any state, really—possesses no ontological rights is an 
unspoken assumption.

“Do you recognize Israel’s right to exist?” pretends to honor the 
downtrodden, but it is an altogether different proposition, transforming 
sophisticated ideas of liberation into a crude test of political 
respectability. Prioritizing the state as worthy of relief, as something 
to which we automatically owe deference, subsumes life to the 
imperatives of capital.

The fundamental goal of the question is to attribute a sinister position 
to dissidents.  It accomplishes that goal even when the dissidents 
haven’t promoted destruction.  Mere defense of Palestinian life is 
enough to evoke the settler’s existential fear.  For people socialized 
into orthodoxy, Israel is synonymous with progress, technology, and 
production.  Affirming its existence is an endorsement of the status 
quo; no matter how ludicrous as a moral premise, in capitalist spaces it 
is a perfectly sensible demand.

There are plenty of reasons to eschew the demand.  The first reason is 
practical:  we don’t advocate for the destruction of human communities, 
but of ideologies conducive to racism and inequality.  It’s both 
insidious and unethical to conflate Jewish people (of any national 
origin) with the existence of a violent, rapacious polity.  That sort of 
conflation is a grave disservice to activists and intellectuals devoted 
to a better world—and to the communities for whom a better world is a 
necessity of survival.  Nobody has ever asked me to affirm another 
nation-state’s existence, a demand I would likewise decline. Zionists 
constantly single out Israel for special treatment.

Moreover, it is remarkably impudent for champions of a state founded on 
the destruction of Palestine and now in its eighth decade of ethnic 
cleansing to ask the victims of its malevolence for recognition.  Even 
worse, recognition is only the tip of the demand.  We’re also being 
asked to legitimize apartheid and ignore the routine commission of war 
crimes.  The upshot is to validate Israel as a militarized object of 
Western imperialism—in other words, to affirm the existence of a deeply 
antihuman entity.

Let’s consider the demand in context of North America, where it’s most 
frequently issued.  Those of us operating in this geography haven’t the 
authority to abdicate nearly 80 (and arguably 100) percent of historical 
Palestine.  It’s not any Westerner’s prerogative to relinquish Palestine 
under the pressure of a spuriously humanistic insistence by Zionists 
that their perfidy be excused because it will somehow make us more 
responsible citizens.

I am happy, eager even, to affirm the right of Jewish people to live in 
peace and security, wherever that may be, a right all humans deserve in 
no particular order of worthiness.  But I won’t ratify Israel’s bloody 
founding or its devotion to racial supremacy.  Ultimately, when Zionists 
demand that you affirm Israel’s right to exist, what they really seek is 
affirmation of Palestinian nonexistence.

Beyond these philosophical, political, and practical factors, there’s a 
worthy psychological reason to refuse the demand.  Zionists are the 
bully in this supposed conflict and enjoy nearly universal support in 
centers of political and economic power.  They have more funds, access 
to corporate media, and the backing of the US military. Palestinians, 
however, hold one form of power that doesn’t require money, platforms, 
or weaponry:  the ability to withhold legitimacy from Israel.  It is a 
small power, without a material apparatus, but it is power, 
nevertheless, one that only a fool or opportunist would relinquish.  
When an oppressor makes submission the basis of civic responsibility, 
insolence is the only dignified response.

/This essay first appeared on Steven Salaita’s website: No Flags, No 
Slogans <https://stevesalaita.com/>./

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