Press "Enter" to skip to content

A Jewish anti-Zionist Perspective on Palestine

My background causes me to support the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation of Palestine including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Since 1967, I have actively opposed the U.S. military aid and ideological support for Israel, and in solidarity with Palestine.

I mourn the deaths of 26,000 people murdered in southern Israel and Gaza over the last three weeks (as of January 15, 2024), 1200 in Israel, mainly by Hamas and over 24,000 Palestinians in Gaza and 350 Palestinians in the West Bank by the Israeli military and settlers. More than 20 Palestinians have been killed for one Israeli.

My parents grew up in Vienna, Austria. The German military and Nazis were welcomed by much of the Austrian population when they invaded in spring 1938. Germany immediately annexed Austria. My dad was 22 when he was incarcerated in Vienna by the Austrian Nazis and frequently beaten. According to Nazi records, he was imprisoned for being “political” and Jewish. He was released after four months. My parents escaped a few days later to France.

My parents wanted to leave Europe because they expected an imminent Nazi invasion of France. They were denied visas to Australia and Canada because of these countries’ antisemitic immigration policies. After a few rejections, my parents were admitted to the U.S. in June 1939. My grandfather and at least four other relatives were gassed to death in concentration camps.

Antisemitism, as anti-Jewishness, has been prevalent all over Europe and to a lesser but real extent in the U.S. It continues today although less systemic. Many Jewish people as a response have seen their liberation and fair treatment as integrally connected with the liberation of all people, e.g., Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, the many socialist Jews, in the civil rights and anti-apartheid movement and in the Palestine Solidarity movement.

Because of this history of oppression, I grew up believing Jewish people would not oppress others. I was naïve. A majority of Jewish people in Israel and around the world support a Jewish dominated state. A Jewish state where Palestinians are systematically displaced from their land and are treated less than equal within the Israeli state formed in 1948; and less than human on the land Israel seized in 1967: the West Bank Gaza, and East Jerusalem. When you take someone’s land or enslave them, as what also happened in the U.S., there is a strong tendency for the dominant group to justify it.

In addition, Zionism means the right of return for anyone around the world who is Jewish while hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and their millions of descendants who were expelled from Israel’s 1948 created borders are not allowed to return. Most of the population of Gaza are Palestinians forced out of Israel in 1948 and their children and grandchildren. A Jewish dominated State where Palestinians have lived for millennia is Jewish supremacy.

I am anti-Zionist which is fundamentally different from being anti-Jewish. The Netanyahu-led Israeli government, many leaders of the Republican and Democratic Party and some Jewish groups in the U.S. try to undermine criticisms of Israel and support for Palestinian self-determination and justice by calling criticism of Israel antisemitic.

Some criticisms of Israel are motivated by hatred of Jews, e.g., white supremacist groups in the US, and we should never ally with them in opposing the Israeli occupation.

Zionism means a Jewish State where the laws, educational system and major institutions favor Jewish people, and that Palestinians are second class citizens or non-citizens. Don’t allow Zionists to define you as antisemitic because you are Anti-Zionist.

Apologists for Israel claim that the focus on Israel’s human rights violations of Palestinians is antisemitic because there are other countries that commit as bad or worse violations than Israel, e.g., Saudi Arabia. My response is that this is not antisemitic; it is important that Israel be strongly criticized. Rather than lessening our condemnation of Israel, let us increase our denunciations of other violators. In addition, no country today is a worse violator than Israel. “The number of people facing possible starvation in the Gaza Strip in the coming weeks is the largest share of a population at risk of famine identified anywhere since a United Nations-affiliated panel created the current global food-insecurity assessment 20 years ago (Stephanie Nolen, New York Times, January 12, 2024). According to Robert Mape, a military historian, “Gaza is one of the most intense civilian punishment campaigns in history” (Julia Frankel, Associated Press, January 11, 2024).

It is urgent that we in the U.S. oppose the ongoing and growing Islamophobia and racism towards Palestinians and the repression of pro-Palestinian voices in our government, universities, and mass media. Let us support all those whose jobs are being threatened because they are speaking up.

It is not an exaggeration to call the Israeli occupation, apartheid; and Gaza an open-air prison that has become a concentration camp. Violence and displacement by Israeli settlers and the IDF of Palestinians have also increased in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as has the blockade of Gaza even before October 7th. Groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the U.N. Secretary General, and the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem use these terms although we seldom find them used in the mainstream media or by U.S. politicians.

This does not justify the killing of Israeli civilians in southern Israel, but let us understand history did not begin with what happened on Saturday, October 7th, but with British colonialism and the 1948 Nakba (forced removal of Palestinians) and Israeli occupation of the rest of Palestine after the 1967 war. Moreover, Israel’s revenge, mass murder, starvation and collective punishment of Palestinians including the 16-year blockade of Gaza is a war crime that is wrong and will not bring security to Jews.

All Israeli governments, Labor, Likud, Netanyahu, and the recent mass Israeli social movement that had opposed the Netanyahu government’s increasing authoritarianism towards the Jewish population, are rejectionist. This means they do not accept Palestinians as equals, nor Palestinian self-determination, neither in the past nor present.

Whether it’s one state or a real independent two state solution, it must center economic and political justice and equality for all, especially but not limited to Palestinians. This includes the right of Palestinians to return to inside the 1948 borders that Israel imposed. I believe most Palestinian groups, including Hamas would accept this (see, Hamas Contained by Tareq Baconi).

Since 1967, the U.S. has unconditionally supported the illegal, immoral occupation of the West Bank, the annexation of East Jerusalem, and made more than a dozen vetoes in the UN security council of resolutions critical of Israel. The U.S. has since October 7th, vetoed UN resolutions calling for a cease fire and negotiations. The U.S. provides $3.8 billion dollars of military aid annually and has committed to continue this through 2029. Biden has proposed an additional $14 billion of military aid to Israel, and there is little opposition in Congress. His administration is also sending additional weapons without even getting congressional approval.

Rather than supporting a cease fire now and negotiations, the Biden administration is also sending Israel military advisers, and has given Israel carte blanche to continue its invasion of Gaza and commit the murders of tens of thousands and further ethnic cleansing. The Biden administration has carried out the bombing in Yemen of Ansar Allah (the Houthis) on January 11th and 12th. The Houthis have been attacking ships going to and from Israel and will stop attacking them when Israel stops attacking Gaza. It has become an Israel and U.S. war against Palestine and its allies.

The more we actively support the end of the Israeli occupation and U.S. support for Israel, the more we have the right to criticize the Hamas killings and taking of more than 200 hostages. The hostages should be freed, but so should the ten thousand Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

I differ from the few groups and individuals who justify the October 7th murder of Israeli civilians by the Hamas led attack. They claim because the Palestinian struggle is anti-colonial and for self-determination all actions are justified. The killing of Israeli civilians, especially those and their descendants who fled the Nazi control of Europe is wrong. Many of them were not granted permission to immigrate to Great Britain, the U.S., Canada, Australia and other countries because of antisemitism and had no place else to go but Palestine. This does not justify the forced displacement of Palestinians but makes Israel somewhat different from other settler colonialists.

I am critical of those who ignore or even worse, support the mass killing by Israel in Gaza, directly by massive bombing and the ongoing military invasion. But also, indirectly by blocking most food, water, electricity, fuel and medical supplies from getting in. To defend Israel’s genocidal policies by calling it self-defense is horrendous. The Israeli starvation of the population in Gaza, the forced displacement of 90% of its population and the resulting spread of contagious diseases and the destruction of hospitals will cause far more deaths this year of Palestinians than even the bombing and shootings. It is an Israeli war on the people of Gaza, not only Hamas.

On Thursday, January 12th, South Africa presented its strong case charging Israeli with genocide against Gaza to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). South Africa documented in great detail the various elements needed to make the legal case that Israel’s policy was genocidal, i.e., 1) Israel’s intent to destroy a group of people; and 2) Physical acts that carried out this intention. The ICJ is likely to make a finding soon that there is a real possibility of genocide and therefore, Israel must end its war against Gaza until the full case is heard. This ruling won’t get Israel to begin a cease fire but can help to strengthen our movements to work towards this end. For the full text, see Jewish Voice for Peace. Also see the Center for Constitutional Rights, a major U.S. law organization, providing legal analysis of Israel’s genocidal polices in Gaza and U.S. complicity.

Israel claims a Zionist State is the only security for Jews around the world. Long run security cannot be based on the oppression and domination of another people. People will rise up. Israel is developing formal relations with and recognition by some of the conservative Arab states in the Abraham Accords. That will not further security in the long run, as the population in Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, etc. strongly support the Palestinian struggle.

The Hamas attack of October 7th shows the limits of this immoral strategy of Israel. Even if Israel destroys Hamas, oppression breeds resistance and Israel will eventually be defeated. Moreover, this security state strategy moves Israelis further to the right.

For moral and political reasons, the security of Jewish people and Palestinian people requires the end of the Israeli occupation, the end of U.S. support for Israel, and justice for all Palestinians.

The goal of a Palestinian socialist organization, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, DFLP, is, “a people’s democratic Palestine, where Arabs and Jews live without discrimination, a state without classes and national oppression, which allows Jews and Arabs to develop their national culture together”.

A global movement in support of a permanent cease fire now and ending the Israeli siege of Gaza is growing rapidly. There were coordinated protest all over the world with this demand on January 13th, 2024. In the United States 400,000 protested in Washington DC on this date and in addition calling for the end of U.S. military aid to Israel. In Olympia, many hundreds marched in spite of the cold weather. Very hopeful is the growing social movement against the Israel war on Gaza and U.S. complicity and in support of Palestine self-determination. Contact me to get involved if you are not already, peterbohmer@gmail.com.

Let us get involved and do what we can in the streets, in letters to newspapers, by pressuring politicians to oppose U.S. military aid to Israel including proposed increases, and for ending U.S. support for Israeli aggression. Israel could not continue its war on Palestinians without U.S. government military support. Expose and challenge US corporations like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed-Martin that have profited from the sale of billions of dollars of weapons to Israel, paid by our taxes. Support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel.

Educate yourselves, friends, family, workplace and community about the colonization and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Speak up! It’s our responsibility to do what we can to change U.S. policy so that it is more in line with popular sentiment all over the world including majority U.S. support for a cease fire now. A minimal demand is for an immediate cease fire, an end to the Israeli siege of Gaza and no increase in U.S. military aid to Israel.

I often hear that Palestine-Israel is too complicated to take a position on, or there is no solution because Israelis and Palestinians are equally victims. An insightful response in a talk at Evergreen by Khader Hamide, a leading Palestinian activist who the U.S unsuccessfully tried to deport: “Palestinians are losing their land, and their lives and Israelis are losing their humanity.”

A common slogan among Jewish people and Israeli leaders is “Never Again”, which they usually restrict to Jewish people. The holocaust against Jewish people is horrendous but so is the holocaust against African people, Native and indigenous people, and others. Let us mean by “Never Again” for All People. That is both the moral and strategic position.

Thank You!

Peter Bohmer has been active in social movements since 1967, including Palestine solidarity. He has a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Massachusetts where he wrote his dissertation on the economics of racism. He taught political economy at the Evergreen State College from 1987 to 2021 and is currently faculty emeritus. He is active in Economics for Everyone and the group Real Utopia, Realutopia.org, that is committed to developing a participatory socialist society. You can see more of his ideas and activities and writings at his website, sites.evergreen.edu/peterbohmer

2 Comments

  1. Mustafa Mohamedali January 17, 2024

    An outstanding and courageous piece of work Dr. Bohmer! May this article lead to more coverage on the root causes of this conflict, to educate the American public, or at least the ones who have the in them the moral and ethical disposition to want to understand it. Thank you!

  2. Bev Bassett February 10, 2024

    Thank you Peter for your clear analysis of the genocide going on now in Gaza. I fully agree with what you have said.

    Our community is blessed to have your voice of reason, humanity and peace willing to share your annotated knowledge and life experience with us all in this time of disinformation, misinformation, propaganda and lies throughout the commercial media–making it difficult for most people to understand the truth.

    I pray for an end to the violence. Anyone who justifies any part of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is part of the problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Next:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To…