The following was written by our friend, Bennett Muraskin, a union representative in New Jersey, who is a frequent writer on, and an advocate for, Jewish secular humanism. He wrote “The Fate of Jews in Arab Lands” in 2008. Consider also reading this recent post on a theme similar to this piece:
Is Israel a White Colonial Settler State?
When Native Americans encountered white Europeans, they had never seen white men before. Their hostility was based exclusively on the aggressive conduct of the white man in seizing their land and/or exploiting their labor. The same paradigm characterized the relationship between white settlers and Black South Africans.
Yet the relationship between Jewish settlers in Palestine and the native Arab population was different. Jews lived in that region from ancient times. Although their numbers were quite small on the cusp of large-scale Jewish immigration in the late 19th century, Jews had a large presence in Jerusalem and a larger one in nearby regions, such as Iraq, Egypt and Yemen. Jews were no strangers to Arabs before Zionism.
Based on Islamic teachings, Jews were generally regarded in the Arab world as second-class citizens at best and contemptible inferiors at worst. Discrimination against Jews in Arab/Muslim lands was common. Many Arab Christians were even more hostile toward Jews because the Christian religion condemned Jews for allegedly murdering Jesus. Violence against Jews was rare in Islamic lands, but not unknown. The Arab attitude toward Jews was therefore colored by two factors: their supposed role as agents of European colonialism and their status as a non-Muslim religious minority.
To the extent that Arab Muslims tolerated Jews, it was only as a religious minority. That Jews immigrating to Palestine might also be entitled to national rights was inconceivable. This refusal to accept Jews as a national group goes a long way toward explaining Arab opposition to sharing the land with Jews, whether in a partitioned Palestine or a bi-national state; this limited perception was finally overcome with the Oslo Accords, but not for most Islamists, especially Hamas.
European Jews who settled in Palestine had a different mindset than white Europeans who settled in North America, Australia or South Africa. Based on their religion and culture, the Jews believed they were returning to their ancestral land, which gave them a powerful emotional tie to the “the land of Israel.” Regardless of whether this was historically accurate for all the immigrants, there is no doubt that the Jewish presence in the region dates back to ancient times and that the Hebrew language began there. Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of non-European (“non-white”) Jews immigrated to Israel from Arab/Muslim lands, where many had experienced mistreatment or outright expulsion. These facts do not fit any model of a “white colonial settler state.”
Hamas’ current opposition to Israel is still, to a large extent, based on hoary prejudices and misconceptions. It can only conceive of Palestine as an Arab/Muslim land with Jews as evil interlopers. Secular Palestinians nationalists have made strides toward respecting Jewish national rights, but not quite enough—judging from their prevalent denial of Jewish roots in ancient Israel. The Arab media and press, in and out of Palestine, are susceptible to outright hostility toward Jews, based on European anti-Semitic sources, including the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” There was no parallel prejudice in the attitude of indigenous populations toward European settlers elsewhere in the world.
For these reasons, I believe that leftwing critics of Israel need to rethink their conception of Israel as a “white colonial settler state” and adopt a more nuanced approach that recognizes the national rights of both peoples—and does not tolerate a denial of that right from Hamas or any other Arab/Muslim state or movement in or out of Palestine.