Israel: A White Colonial Settler State?

Israel: A White Colonial Settler State?

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.

By | 2013-03-19T09:06:00-04:00 March 19th, 2013|Blog|3 Comments


  1. Thomas G. Mitchell March 22, 2013 at 7:18 pm - Reply

    I agree with Mr. Muraskin that Israel has several historical features that are not found with settler societies. For this reason I agree with Israeli Jews that they are “returned natives” for the purpose of legitimacy. However, because the Arabs did not accept them as natives because of the lapse of time, their European culture and connections, and traditional Muslim attitudes towards non-Muslims, Zionists found themselves in a situation common to settler societies and as a result developed similar institutions. The only Western countries with traditions of former senior officers involved in electoral politics besides Israel are the United States and South Africa. It is because of these similarities that we can look to historical situations like antebellum America, postbellum America, South Africa in the 1980s, and Northern Ireland for clues about different aspects of contemporary Israel. Not all aspects of the comparisons will be identical, as Israeli nationalists like to remind us when they are challenged about comparisons between Iran and Nazi Germany or Arafat and Hitler. But by making the comparisons focused on a particular aspect that is comparable insights can be gained.

  2. C. Bendavid April 13, 2013 at 3:32 am - Reply

    Good, but you miss the point

    Everything you have written in this article is accurate. However, you fail to mention that while it is true that early Zionists of the 1st aliya (which took place at the end of the 19th Century), were influenced by European colonialism, ever since the 2nd aliya, which began in the early 1900’s,most Zionists were no longer colonialist.
    In fact, the Zionists of the 2nd aliya condemned colonialism unequivocally. The Poalei Zion party’s manifesto, for example, condemned unambiguously this practice.
    Furthermore, the Zionists of the 2nd aliya offered an alliance to Arab nationalists, not once, nor twice, but several times. As early as 1913, the Zionist movement initiated steps to reach an agreement with Arab nationalists, by sending a delegation to the First Arab Congress, held in Paris, in order to offer a formal alliance to the Arab Decentralization party.
    In the 1920’s and during the 1930’s, the Zionist movement went further, when Ben Gurion met Philby, Alami, Abd El Hadi, Arslan… and all the Arab leaders he could possibly meet, in order to offer the creation of what he used to call a ”Semitic confederation” (a Jewish-Arab confederation).
    Frankly, I’ve never heard of colonizers wanting to form a confederation with the people they wish to dispossess.

    The radical left knows all this, but its anti-Western ideology makes it lose all rational thinking. The radical left accuses Israel of colonialism, merely because the founding fathers of Israel came from Europe, during a period when colonialism was still very mainstream in the West. However, not all Europeans were colonialists, especially on the left. And even though the radical left knows Zionists opposed colonialism early on, they bypass this contradiction by saying that the Zionists just wanted to ”hide” their colonial dimension of their enterprise. It’s nothing less but a baseless conspiracy theory, and anyone who knows just a little bit about Zionist constructivism of the 2nd aliya, knows that Ber Borochov and his companions loathed colonialism.

    Unfortunately, the radical left is crazy and its anti-Western ideology (I don’t think they’re antisemitic, they just hate the West, which is not better!), makes them hate Israel.

    On the other hand, regular people who want to know about this conflict go on the internet, and they buy anything radical crazy post-Marxist thugs write, without even realizing that these left-wing fascists (to use Theodor Adorno’s expression),are the same as those who blamed 9/11 on the US.

    I think it’s about time that we retaliate this onslaught. After all, left-wing Zionists have never supported the occupation, and we speak the language of the moderate left. It’s really time for us to occupy the space we should, and delegitimize BDS, the same way as those thuggish post-modern, post-truth ideologists, deligitimize Liberal Zionists.

    I hope you’ll excuse my broken English!

  3. hassan January 28, 2021 at 11:39 am - Reply

    white jews dont tolerate colored jews coming from etyopia and your article ask for tolerance blah blah blah…

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