Op-Ed, Opinion

OP-ED: The Mapping Project being awful notwithstanding, Zionism is still a colonial project

Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author(s).

Gideon Gordon (Pardee ‘24) is a student of International Relations and Middle East and North Africa Studies. He is an associate editor at the IR Review and member of the Students Learning about Israel-Palestine. He writes here in a personal capacity, and nothing he says should be taken to represent the views of these groups.

In his recent article in the Daily Free Press, Yonatan Manor set out to criticize the Mapping Project. This is not hard, or especially original.

The project is so bad it has been disavowed by the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and had to shift to a server in Iceland. I’m not sure why Manor chose February 2023 to criticize a site which hit the news more than half a year ago.

Chloe Patel | Senior Graphic Artist

He was correct that the Mapping Project is antisemitic. But as the criticisms of the project linked above indicate, this is not specifically because of the Mapping Project’s anti-Zionism. Rather, it is because the project provides a “hit list” with physical addresses to anyone who might want to attack the Boston Jewish community and blames Jewish community institutions for a range of social ills including general US imperialism, militarized policing and gentrification. 

The Mapping Project uses anti-Zionism to conceal its antisemitism, but the two are not identical. 

Manor’s article elided important differences between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, ignoring valid reasons that people have for criticizing Zionism. As a Jewish person who is critical of Zionism, I felt I should respond to his claims. 

Manor’s basic argument is that “Anti-Zionism is antisemitism.” This is because he considers Zionism “the movement of liberation for the Jewish people.” However Zionism is not just a movement for Jewish liberation, but for a very particular approach to that liberation. 

Zionists assume that liberation requires the creation of a Jewish nation-state: a state with a Jewish identity and a mostly Jewish population. A nation-state requires both a defined territory and a majority population which identifies with the official nationality. 

While Manor asserts that the Israeli Declaration of Independence guarantees “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants,” it would be extremely naive to assume that this rhetoric reflects reality. I will instead examine the history of Zionism and the concrete policies Zionists pursued to build a nation-state — using not democratic values, but colonial tactics.

Manor begins his story of Zionism with the mass movement of Jewish refugees to Israel from Europe in the late 1940s. Zionist colonization actually began sixty years earlier, in 1882.  Jews maintained a presence in the land before this point, but they did so as a minority — in 1882 we were only about 8% of the population. A territory in which the majority was non-Jewish could not support a Jewish nation-state. Colonization by European Jews would be necessary to produce a nation-state. He neglects demographic reality by telling us to “fast forward” from the Roman era to the modern day.

Zionist leaders were aware that they were colonists. For example: Ze’ev Jabotinsky founded the right-wing Revisionist Zionist movement, which gave rise to the modern governing Likud Party. In his famous “Iron Wall” essay, he argued that reconciling Zionism with the Palestinians was impossible as: “The native populations… have always stubbornly resisted the colonists.” 

The history of Zionism bears a close resemblance to that of other colonial projects. A major driver of early Zionist-Arab conflict, discussed by Israeli scholar Gershon Shafir, was the Labor Zionist movement’s policy of excluding Arab labor from Jewish-owned workplaces to ensure jobs for Jewish immigrants. This policy is similar to those adopted by South African and Australian settlers. 

Had democracy been in place across the whole of Israel’s modern territory before Israel’s war of independence, it is unlikely that Zionism would have succeeded, as the Palestinian Arab majority was opposed to the exclusionary policies that enabled Zionist state-building in 1882-1947. 

This opposition was especially evident in 1936-1939, when the Palestinians rebelled en masse against British rule, and especially against British policies which enabled unlimited Jewish immigration and land purchases.

Certainly, Zionists did not urge that complete political rights be extended to “all inhabitants” of the country at this point. Instead, they relied on British rule to facilitate colonization. Israel implemented democracy only after it had a heavy Jewish majority, after the violence of the War of Independence. 

So, let’s talk about 1948. Arab and Palestinian rejection of the 1948 partition plan effectively ensured the civil war in the British Mandate in 1947-1948. But the outbreak of civil war cannot justify the actions Zionist military forces took to cement a Jewish majority in Israel’s 1948 borders. These are the events Palestinians remember as the Nakba, or “the Catastrophe.”

The expulsion of Palestinians is a historical fact. Yitzhak Rabin, commanding Israeli forces in the area of the Arab-majority town of Lydda, issued the following orders on July 12, 1948. They are cited by Benny Morris in The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, page 429: 

“1. The inhabitants of Lydda must be expelled quickly without attention to age. They should be directed towards Beit Nabala…

“2. Implement immediately.”

It’s hard to interpret these orders as anything but explicit directions for ethnic cleansing. 

In other places, there were efforts to terrify the Palestinians into flight. There were massacres, as at Deir Yassin. For many Palestinians the simple fact of civil war in the Mandate was enough reason to flee, but “once the flight began… Jewish leaders encouraged it.” Approximately 700,000 Palestinians became refugees during the Israeli War of Independence. 

Regardless of how the Palestinians wound up physically outside their home villages, Israel’s intent to keep them in exile is obvious. Israel barred the refugees from returning, razed the villages they had left, and deployed soldiers at the border with the authority to try returnees by a military tribunal

The consequence: The 1947 Partition Plan placed approximately 397,000 Palestinians in the Jewish state, 42% of the population. After independence, Israel gained a substantial amount of territory, but the Palestinian population even in its expanded borders had fallen to 156,000, around 20% of the population. 

Force was necessary to first create and then preserve the large Jewish majority in the 1948 borders, and thus preserve the nation-state which Zionism had built. This corresponds with definitions of settler-colonialism. Wolfe (2006) notes that, regardless of the justifications they present, settler-colonial projects expel existing populations to secure access to territory for colonists. 

Because of this expulsion, wherever the Palestinians go, their position is precarious. This is a people in diaspora, like our people. As Jews, we should empathize and do whatever we can to repair the harm we have done. 

We do not need to deny our historic connections to the land and need for a home. We were also expelled from our homes and murdered in our thousands. Our place in exile has also been precarious. 

However, there is a difference between a Jewish right to return to our ancestral homeland, and support for policies undertaken in the name of creating a Jewish nation-state — or a belief that my right to return negates the equivalent right of any Palestinian. 

As a Jew, I believe in certain principles. One of these is the principle that “what is hateful to you, do not do to others.” This, according to one of our greatest sages, Hillel, is the entire core of Jewish teaching.  

Would I hate to be trapped in exile? Would I hate to be subject to the thousands of injustices of military occupation? To violence perpetrated by settlers? Would I hate to be stopped at a checkpoint or bombed indiscriminately? 

Would any Zionist claim that the experience of the Palestinians is something they would tolerate if it happened to them? Of course not. Zionists, who celebrate political leaders who fought to enable our return, should know this better than anyone. 

We must repair the evils perpetrated in our names: end the occupation of the West Bank, recognize the Palestinian right of return and grapple with the colonial underpinnings of the Zionist project. Manor’s defense of Zionism makes no progress on any of these issues.

One Comment

  1. A Bu Student

    This article does a very good job at clarifying the settler-colonial nature of Israel’s existence and explaining how the modern state of Israel is predicated on the mass murder and expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland. Since you acknowledge yourself that Zionism is a settler colonial project, and that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are two completely different things, you should know better than to call the Mapping Project anti-Semitic. You claim that the project “provides a ‘hit list’ with physical addresses to anyone who might want to attack the Boston Jewish community and blames Jewish community institutions for a range of social ills including general US imperialism, militarized policing and gentrification.” This obfuscates the fact that the Jewish institutions listed on the website are specifically Zionist institutions, as demonstrated by their large donations to the Israeli government, which as you mentioned, is actively engaged in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. The framing that these are mere “Jewish community institutions,” (which paints the picture of small Jewish business being attacked, when in reality, wealthy institutions donating to Israel are being listed) further conflates anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, a point that you explicitly criticized Manor for doing in his article.

    In addition to exposing which institutions are actively Zionist, the website proves to be an invaluable source for exposing the ways in which local institutions actively participate in gentrifying Boston, what role they play in perpetuating the military-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex, the privatization and removal of access to healthcare and vaccines in developing nations, and the list goes on. Given the broad resources that the Mapping Project provides, not just in regards to charting the support of Israel’s settler-colonialism, but also to a myriad of other injustices perpetrated locally and abroad, I can’t help but wonder if the repeated false claims of yourself and others that the Mapping Project is anti-Semitic are really just smear campaigns against community projects that actively seek to expose the ways in which struggles against the injustices of capitalism locally are connected to the injustices of imperialism around the world. I encourage everyone who is interested in resisting American imperialism and learning more about the ways in which local institutions that we interact with on a day-to-day basis (such as BU) are guilty for contributing to American imperialism to visit the site here: https://mapliberation.org/index.html. I also hope that the Freep acknowledges that the publication of articles like this and especially the one by Manor, regardless of whether they are Op-Eds, help propagandize for American imperialism. I would hope that journalists have the goal of exposing the truth rather than hiding it, but these articles clearly indicate the opposite.

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