When a former chief Rabbi participates in Jerusalem Day during which settlers rampage through the Muslim districts of East Jerusalem damaging Palestinian property and chanting “death to Arabs” (and worse), some Zionists pretend it did not happen. Others condemn his involvement. Does this mean that only some Zionists are racists?
When the former Chief Rabbi of the UK, Lord Jonathan Sacks (who died in 2020) traveled to occupied Palestine in 2017, he rallied his followers to come too.
He was set to participate in Al-Quds Day, during which Israelis celebrate their so-called “Flag Day”.
This is an annual event when Zionist settlers flood the Muslim old town and rampage around its streets. As even the BBC reported at this year’s event, there were “abusive chants and threats directed at Palestinians, with some shouting ‘Death to Arabs!’ and ‘May your village burn!’”
Lies about Jonathan Sacks?
But, when we reported on Sacks involvement in Palestine Declassified, Zionist Twitter responded by saying this was a “lie” or somehow “antisemitic”.
But the facts are that in 2017, Sacks extended a “personal invitation” to Jews outside “Israel” to join him on a trip there, which included “leading” the March of the Flags and “dancing with our brave IDF soldiers” in the far-right settler enclave inside “Hebron”. This was not just any old Flag Day, it was the 50th anniversary of what the Zionists refer to as the “Liberation of Jerusalem”. In reality, the occupation of East Jerusalem is illegal under international law, and is, in fact, a war crime.
Of course, this was not the only indication of the racism of Lord Sacks. When asked to name his favorite book for 2017, Sacks gave Douglas Murray’s “Strange death of Europe”. As Tony Greenstein has written, “It is a book that not only praises [well-known racist] Enoch Powell, but it is the bible of the far-right identitarian movement with its ‘replacement theory’, which argues that mass Muslim immigration is part of a conspiracy to replace and eradicate white European identity.”
Zionists object to Sacks
Sacks involvement with such a naked display of racism as “Jerusalem Day” prompted even some Zionists to object.
Nina Morris-Evans wrote in the Jewish News that “I’m ashamed of” the “activities endorsed by” Rabbi Sacks. She prefaced her remarks by insisting, “I’m not ashamed of the state of Israel. I’m some form of Zionist.”
In addition, a group of “British Jews living in Israel” wrote a letter objecting to Sacks involvement. One of the authors was Rob Abrams, described as “a postgraduate student of international law at Hebrew University.” He was reported in the Jewish Chronicle as saying, “The issue is that every year to facilitate the march the border police have to shut down the businesses and put thousands of Palestinians on curfew. Every year the march is full of hate speech and vandalism.”
Abrams is active in a number of self-described “Jewish” groups which claim to be left-wing, including Na’amod, a group that styles itself as “British Jews Against Occupation,” of which Nina Morris-Evans is a co-founder.
The Na’amod position
Na’amod claims to be anti-racist. Yet, it is not even consistent about which occupation it is against. It says that it does not oppose the occupation of the Golan heights since it is “Syrian rather than Palestinian territory”.
But the group is explicit that it takes no position on the main issue of racism in Palestine – the practical existence of the racist ideology of Zionism. “We do not take a single position on Zionism,” it says, “and our members include Zionists, non-Zionists, and anti-Zionists.”
What does its anti-racism amount to then? Its website section on “anti-Palestinian racism” seems mainly to conceive of this as explicit instances where Palestinians are described negatively or as a range of “prejudices” against the Palestinians held by individuals.
The website includes eighteen “testimonies” giving personal stories about witnessing anti-Palestinian racism. They are said to have “unintentionally silenced Palestinian voices.” Na’amod, it is said, “makes it clear that to treat Palestinians as human beings does not put Jewish safety at risk.” Discussing his father’s responses, one of the testimonies claimed, “To him, Palestinian existence represented a threat to the safety of his family and himself.” This was a problem about which his father would “have to be honest and work hard to vanquish the prejudice that he was brought up with.” But in reality, it does not matter how much work Zionists put into overcoming such “prejudice” if the central structures of Zionism are left intact.
“At worst”, it is said, “we were taught to fear them [Palestinians]”. But is it really the case that “fear” is the worst of racism faced by the Palestinians? There are some senses in which it is good for Zionists to fear the Palestinians since the liberation of Palestine is a genuine threat to the “Jewish state” and to its privilege in Palestine.
Zionism = racism
The idea that Zionism itself is fundamentally racist; that the “Jewish state” is structurally racist seems to escape most of the testimonial writers. This is what it means to say that Zionism is racism. It is not a matter of finding a way to “get on” at an interpersonal level with the “Arabs”.
As Heather Mendick, former Jewish community liaison for the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, put it recently, “I worry that” Na’amod “legitimates liberal Zionism. Zionism is racism so Na’amod involves working with people who hold a racist ideology.”
We need to be clear that Na’amod can posture all it likes as ‘anti-racist’ or feign concern about Islamophobia, but it cannot be taken seriously on any of these issues until it expels Zionists from its ranks and begins the work of actively de-Zionising its community, rather than merely talking hot air about particular bits of the ‘occupation’.
Yes, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was a racist, Islamophobe, and apologist for Zionist crimes, including those of the extreme settler movement. But he was not the only one.
*Article published in Al-Mayadeen.