Public Comment

Graffiti and Israel

By Marc Sapir
Thursday October 02, 2008 - 09:35:00 AM

Riya Bhattachargjee’s Sept. 25 article “Anti-Israel Graffiti Found Near Campus” is poor journalism. The title is fine, but the article leads with an erroneous use of the term “anti-Semitism,” which then serves as a justification for the outrage of Birgeneau and various Zionist student organizations. The UC chancellor seems to know that the graffiti was “hurtful to…members of the Jewish community.” That’s a half truth (many will agree with him of course) because many Jews, myself included, find nothing hurtful in this act aimed at countering deceptive Zionist propaganda.  

In July, I spent 17 days inside Israel-Palestine. If you visit both sides of the green line extensively, there’s no way around the fact that Zionism has established a state that is fundamentally racist and that Israel today is a segregated and segregationist society, every bit as vicious as the Deep South before 1960. Israel intends to stay that way. Though many Israelis profess to differ, most do absolutely nothing about it. That there are some examples of incorporation of Palestinians into Israeli Jewish society and social life, such as the use of the soccer star Sowan Abbas, should not be surprising. I do not need to remind fellow Jews that the Nazi’s had their model Jews—eg the model Jewish community in Aushwitz Birkenau, symphony orchestras in most death camps and the people portrayed in the movie the Counterfeiters—who they used to advantage either as a propaganda screen to conceal what was going on or for other purposes. 

“Israel is very progressive when it comes to things like gay rights, women and the environment…,” said Pini Altman of Blue StarPR the public relations firm that is promoting Israel’s positive image. This too is interesting to me because it is true that Israel is progressive on gay rights and women’s rights (we met with an ethnically integrated LGBT group who told us it is much more dangerous to be a Palestinian Arab in Israel than it is to be gay). However, much of the blather about the environment has been used as a cover to drive Palestinians from their own lands (both within the 1948 borders and in the 1967 conquered-occupied areas) under a pretense of reforestation and reclamation. After a while the seized land is usually given over to settlement cities and Israeli farmers and business concerns, by the thousands and thousands of acres.  

Can the cutting down of 300,000 Palestinian olive trees by Israel’s army ever be justified? Can this be understood as anything other than an attack on the survival of an entire agrarian-based people? How about when much of the land in the West Bank’s Jordan valley has been reclaimed from Palestinians for the planting of 5 million date palms now owned by Israeli farmers and Israeli corporations aiming for dominance in the international date market? Or the stealing of 80 percent of the water under the occupied lands which is now used to supply Israeli cities and farms, while 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank are forced to pay 3-5 times higher rates for the 20 percent of the water they may buy from Israel’s water company. Mind you the Palestinians have little or no money because Israel has consciously destroyed their economy by preventing the flow of goods—mainly agricultural—and labor via a vast network of military blockades. And most Palestinians can not ever attain basic citizenship rights. Most Bedouin Arabs inside Israel’s Negev desert are simply declared to be criminals living “illegally” on state lands, their villages removed from all maps. Those villages are not allowed basic public services such as sewers, electric power and so forth, while Israel sprays toxic defoliants on lands they plant with grass for their herds, and gives away their land to Jewish Israelis.  

The six-pointed Star of David was a Jewish religious symbol. It’s on the front of every Torah. Zionism appropriated the Star of David as a political symbol to represent Israel, a Jewish state. Jews who do not believe in religious states—Jewish, Christian, Hindu or Muslim—are many, but our identity has been hijacked by people who then call us “self-hating” Jews. In truth, we represent the American mainstream, for most Americans oppose the idea of states based upon religious groups as undemocratic. When someone’s graffiti equates the Star of David with the Nazi swastika, anyone may voice their strong disagreement with that equation. They are free to disagree. But the attempt to label that equation anti-Semitic is a ruse, a lie. Look at the flag. The Star of David is today the representation of the State of Israel, a state that would like to elimininate what it calls it’s Arab “demographic problem.” When the Zionists in power in Israel (who, ironically, are not religious fundamentalists) talk about the “demographic time-bomb” (and they do so repeatedly), the argument is often heard that if they do not ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from the land reaching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river Jews in Israel will soon be in the minority. This is an expression of racism against the Palestinian people. Today (though not 50 years ago) anyone in the United States who would argue that government must hatch schemes to prevent the U.S. population from one day becoming majority ethnic minority people (black, Latino, Asian) would be seen for the racists they are. And their schemes would be seen as plans for ethnic cleansing. The power of Zionism in the United States and the distortions by the media and political class here to prop up support for Israeli colonialism prevent many people from seeing the self-evident truth that we, Americans, through our government’s support of Israel, are a party to this catastrophe. 

I will be giving a slide show based upon my visit to the Middle East, entitled, “The Political Geography of the Jewish State—Zionism’s ‘Facts on the Ground,’” at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists on Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. 

Marc Sapir is a Berkeley resident and the former director of Retro Poll.