Since the beginning of Zionist Jewish colonization of their country in the 1880s, Palestinians have faced demands that they carry a double burden: to fight off the Jewish racist colonists while having to defend their colonizers against anti-Jewish European Christian racism.
No other colonized people has been forced to carry such a double burden. Not even the Indigenous African peoples of Liberia were asked to defend their own Black American racist colonizers who despised them against European and U.S. anti-Black racism that targeted the Black colonists.
Neither were Black South Africans ever asked to defend their Afrikaner oppressors against the British who oppressed the Afrikaners, even placing them in concentration camps.
And no one ever demanded that Indigenous people defend their white colonizers against the religious persecution they suffered in Europe which they claim impelled them to colonize North America.
When these various colonized peoples attacked the oppressiveness of their colonizers and their supremacist and exploitative crimes, no one seemed concerned that such criticisms would be used by the former oppressors of the colonists against them, or that the colonized had no right to condemn their oppressors.
By contrast, the general demand put to the Palestinians by many European Christians and Jews and by the colonizing European Jews is that Palestinians should have ceded their homeland voluntarily to European Jews and expressed sympathy with the European Jewish plight against European anti-Semitism.
Short of that, European Christians and European colonizing Jews would insist that the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle against Jewish colonization is “anti-Semitic,” meaning that the Palestinians do not oppose the principle of the colonization of their homeland, but rather that they only oppose the right of Jews, but not other peoples, to colonize it.
Were Christians, Muslims or Hindus to colonize Palestine, the Palestinians, according to this logic, would have ceded their homeland willingly, but they refuse to do so in the case of Jews simply because they are anti-Semites.
In the last 50 years, western Christian and Jewish liberals who sympathize with Palestinians as victims of Israeli oppression, but not as anti-colonial resistors, insist that all Palestinian criticism of Israel must be carefully calibrated lest it be perceived by Europeans as anti-Semitism.
However, during the same period, the Israelis and their Western supporters have waged a major campaign arguing that all criticism of Zionism and Israel is “anti-Semitic,” a campaign that culminated in the recent adoption by European countries and the U.S. of the anti-Semitism definition concocted by the European-based International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
These accusations have centered on several suspect arguments that many Western supporters of the Palestinians-as-victims-but-not-as-resistors want to bar the Palestinians from making.
The Zionists and Western liberals argue that if Palestinians attack Jews’ right to colonize their lands, it would be anti-Semitic because in denying European Jews the right to be colonists the Palestinians would be denying their alleged “right” to self-determination. Or worse, that Palestinians would be denying the racist connection that Protestant Europeans conjured since the 16th century, namely that European Jews are fantastically somehow the descendants of Palestine’s ancient Hebrews, (something European Jewish lore also sometimes claimed) and not later European converts to Judaism!
By this logic, the Zionists argue that the Palestinians are in fact the colonists of Palestine, while the European Jewish colonists were the real natives of Palestine who were repatriating to the homeland of their alleged ancient ancestors.
In the early 19th century, many European philhellenists considered themselves the descendants of the ancient Greeks and saw the indigenous Greeks as “Christianized Slavs” who migrated south to ancient Greece and that they were more akin to the Turks.
But as no settler-colonial project was ultimately conceived for Greece, the matter was dropped in favor of Greek “independence” from the Ottomans and Greece’s appropriation as part of Europe rather than the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Zionists have never been original thinkers, as most of their arguments are derived from other European colonists. It was the French and later the Italians who argued that their colonization of North Africa was nothing short of the return to the ancient land of the Roman Empire and that the Indigenous Arabs were the actual colonists!
Indeed, Western racist luminaries like Albert Camus insisted that the Algerian Arabs were foreign colonists while claiming that “the French of Algeria are also natives, in the strong sense of the word.”
European anti-Semitism projected onto Palestinians
Should Palestinians then concede the Zionist fabrication that European Jews are the Indigenous people in Palestine and that they are the actual colonists, lest they be accused of anti-Semitism?
When Palestinians claim that the Western and U.S. media have always been pro-Israel and racist against the Palestinians, their Western supporters worry that this would be perceived as anti-Semitic, because European and U.S. anti-Semites traditionally accuse European Jews of controlling the Western media.
However, the Palestinian claim is no different from the Algerian claim that the Western media always supported French colonialism in Algeria, or the Native American claim that the Western media supports the rights of the white colonists in the United States.
That Western media, which is the media of colonizers and colonists, supports colonialism attests to a structural bias, sometimes even a conspiratorial bias, against the Indigenous peoples.
This does not mean that Jews control the Western media as the anti-Semites claim. It means that European colonists, Christians and Jews, and pro-colonists do.
Should Palestinians then not attack the endemic pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian bias of the Western media lest they be “mistaken” for anti-Semites by liberals?
Palestinians have also traditionally identified the huge financial and political power that the Zionist movement mobilized since the 1880s to fulfil its plan for the colonization of Palestine, beginning with the Rothschilds who financed the earliest European Jewish colonies in Palestine.
Again, when Palestinians speak of wealthy European or American Jews, businesspeople and bankers, who support Zionism and Israel, conceive of plans to expel the Palestinians and promise to finance their expulsion—as the wealthy American Jewish Zionist Edward A. Norman proposed in 1934—or to steal their lands, Western Christian and Jewish liberals flinch that these arguments smack of the Christian European anti-Semitic canard that all Jews are rich and run the entire financial system of the West.
But the fact that rich pro-Zionist Jews support Israel and finance the colonists is no different from the investment of European Christian businesses and states in financing the colonization of Algeria, South Africa, Kenya, New Zealand or even Israel.
Exposing wealthy European and U.S. Jews who finance Zionism is on account of their formidable colonial role and influence in destroying Palestinian society and oppressing Palestinians.
It does not imply, as the anti-Semites would have us believe, that all Jews are bankers who run the lives of European Christians, or that all Jews are rich, which they are not—even if and when, by most accounts, a majority of European and U.S. Jews have supported and continue to support Jewish colonization in Palestine since World War II, just as a majority of French and British Christians supported colonization in Africa.
Should Palestinians then remain silent on the influence of those Zionist European and U.S. Jews who contribute to their oppression lest they be mistaken for anti-Semites?
Not being European, Palestinians have encountered Jews since the 1880s mainly as armed colonists, intent on stealing their lands and expelling them from their country.
While it is true that some Palestinian political leaders sought to use European anti-Semitic rhetoric against their European Jewish colonizers to defend against Zionist colonization, the majority of Palestinian leaders have often done the exact opposite and conceded several Zionist colonial and racist claims as the writer and intellectual Yusuf al-Khalidi did over a century ago, Yasser Arafat did in 2002 and Mahmoud Abbas continues to do today.
Al-Khalidi, who lived in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century, protested the choice of Palestine as the location of a future state for European Jews on account of it being the home of the native Palestinian Arabs.
He responded to the assertions of Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, to whom he sent a letter in 1899, as follows:
By what right then do the Jews claim it for themselves?
Strangely, buying into Zionist racialist and anti-Semitic claims that European Jews were direct biological descendants of the ancient Hebrews, al-Khalidi, most likely on account of the European colonial education he had acquired, affirmed that “Zionism, theoretically, is a completely natural and just idea as a solution to the Jewish question,” and indeed,
who can challenge the rights of the Jews in Palestine? Good Lord, historically it is really your country.
However, in the interest of peace, al-Khalidi proposed that the Zionist movement look for other “uninhabited countries where millions of poor Jews who may perhaps become happy and find a secure life there as a people.”
“That would perhaps be the best, the most rational solution to the Jewish question,” he argued.
But in the name of God, let Palestine be left in peace.
Many Palestinians after al-Khalidi continue to fall for these bogus Zionist arguments.
The rewards of anti-Palestinian racism
The irony lies in the fact that the Western liberal critics of the Palestinians and those who support Palestinians-as-victims seldom take the Zionists and pro-Zionists to task for their interminable racist outbursts against the Palestinians and other Arabs, and their use of traditional European and white American anti-Arab racism that led to the murder of millions of Arabs from Algeria to Libya by the Europeans during the anti-colonial struggles, and Iraq by the Americans since 1991.
American Jewish journalist Jeffrey Goldberg revels, for instance, in his published work in having been a colonist in Israel and in joining the Israeli army and serving in its ranks as a prison guard of Palestinians jailed for opposing Jewish colonization (he was also a cheerleader of the U.S. invasion of Iraq).
Yet Goldberg is celebrated, respected and given editorial jobs in the most prestigious liberal U.S. magazines, along with journalism awards, despite his deplorable views of the Palestinians and Iraqis, not to mention his direct role in acts of persecution as a prison guard.
In contrast, if a Palestinian journalist is discovered to have expressed abhorrent views in support of European anti-Semitism in her immature and ill-informed youth, not in published work, but on Facebook, views she flagrantly mistook as part of legitimate expression of rage against her oppressors, she is fired from her job even by a pro-Palestinian media outlet.
Moreover, a journalistic award is rescinded to the satisfaction of Western liberals, even when her youthful infraction was not repeated during her journalistic career.
Meanwhile, the former Israeli prison guard continues his anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian journalistic rhetoric and his ongoing attacks on those Palestinians who defend their people against colonialism as anti-Semites.
Another prominent American Jewish journalist, Ben Shapiro, has called for the mass expulsion of Palestinians and endorsed the killing of Palestinian and Afghan civilians.
Shapiro once declared that “Israelis like to build” while “Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage.”
Yet these and other racist comments did not stop The New York Times from celebrating Shapiro as “provocative gladiator” and “prizefighter,” while at the same time noting that he has been a target of anti-Semitism.
Of course, white American and European Christian journalists such as The New York Times’ John F. Burns, who support and report glowingly on US invasions abroad, have always been and continue to be celebrated.
Jewish journalists are punished too
However, Jewish journalists who criticize Israel are dismissed from liberal Western media outlets as happened to Emily Wilder, who was let go by the Associated Press in 2021, and more recently Katie Halper who was fired by The Hill.
In the case of Wilder, her “activism in college was the real issue” that led to her firing, according to media reports.
Compare her case with the mainstream Western media’s celebration of the Israeli prison guard’s account of his encounter with Palestinians in Israel’s dungeons as grounds for his promotion, not ostracism or dismissal!
What European and American liberals want is that Palestinians remain silent on the international mechanisms that support and defend the Jewish settler-colony, that Palestinians solely oppose the oppression to which they are subjected by their Jewish colonists, but not the Jewish colonists’ right to colonize them; that Palestinians must defend their Jewish colonists against European anti-Semites; and that Palestinians stand in solidarity with the colonists-as-victims while the Palestinians are quashed under the colonists’ military boots.
Meanwhile, almost no amount of active collaboration with the Israelis in their oppression of the Palestinians, let alone regular Israeli and pro-Israeli expression of anti-Palestinian racism, even merits censure when espoused by Israelis or their Western fans.
When a majority of the Palestinian political and intellectual class heed calls by Western liberals to defend Jews against anti-Semitism, as the Palestine Liberation Organization had done in honoring the Jewish victims of the Holocaust since the 1970s, neither Israel nor its supporters are satisfied.
Their objective is not to teach Palestinians about the history of European Jews as victims of oppression, but rather to teach them why European Jews as oppressors had and have every right to colonize them and take their country away from them.
Joseph Massad is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University in New York. His most recent book is Islam in Liberalism (University of Chicago Press, 2015).