Israel’s Inverse Exceptionalism

‘Critics of Zionism and Israel, writes M. Shahid Alam, ‘have charted an inverse exceptionalism, which describes an Israel that is aberrant, violates international norms with near impunity, engages in systematic abuse of human rights, wages wars at will, and has expanded its territories through conquest.’

Critics of Zionism and Israel – including a few Israelis – have charted an inverse exceptionalism, which describes an Israel that is aberrant, violates international norms with near impunity, engages in systematic abuse of human rights, wages wars at will, and has expanded its territories through conquest. This is not the place to offer an exhaustive list of these negative Israeli exceptionalisms, but we will list a few that are more egregious.

As an exclusionary settler-colony, Israel does not stand alone in the history of European expansion overseas: but it is the only one of its kind in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Since the sixteenth century Europeans have established exclusionary settler-colonies in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand – among other places – whose white colons displaced or nearly exterminated the indigenous population to recreate societies in the image of those they had left behind. By the late nineteenth century, however, this genocidal European expansion was running out of steam, in large part, because there remained few surviving Neolithic societies that white colons could exterminate with ease; in tropical Africa and Asia, the climate and the pathogens were not particularly kind to European settlers.

The Zionist decision in 1897 to establish an exclusionary colonial-settler state in Palestine marked a departure from this trend. In 1948, some fifty years later, the Jewish colons from the West would create the only state in the twentieth century founded on conquest and ethnic cleansing. Israel is also the only exclusionary colonial-settler state established by the modern Europeans anywhere in the Old World.

In Israel, moreover, settler-colonialism is not something that belongs to its past. After their victory in the June war of 1967, the Israelis decided to extend their colonial-settler project to the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan Heights. In recent decades, the demand for another massive round of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the ‘Occupied Territories’ – and even inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders – has moved from the extremist fringes of the Israeli Right to the mainstream of Israeli politics.

Israel is most likely the only country in the world that insists on defining citizenship independently of geography. On the one hand, it has continued to deny the right of return – and, hence, rights of citizenship – to millions of Palestinians who or whose parents and grandparents were expelled from Palestine in two massive rounds of ethnic cleansing since 1948. At the same time, under it Law of Return, Israel, automatically and instantly, grants citizenship to applicants who are Jews, persons of Jewish parentage, or Jewish converts. Under this law, as Mazin Qumsiyeh puts it succinctly, “no Jew emigrates to Israel; Jews (including converts) ‘return’ (hence the name of the law).” In addition, the Jewish immigrants receive generous support from the state upon their arrival in Israel. In other words, Israel turns internationally recognized rights of residence and citizenship on their head, denying these rights to those who have earned them by birth, while granting them freely to those who claim them because of ancient religious myths.

In recent years, critics have increasingly charged Israel with practicing legal discrimination against Palestinians. Such discrimination is massive and blatant in the ‘Occupied Territories’ where Israel has established Jewish-only settlements, connected to pre-1967 Israel by Jewish-only roads. Since June 1967, the Palestinians in these territories have suffered under a system of military occupation, which shows even less regard for their human rights than South Africa’s apartheid. A former US President, Jimmy Carter, has recently dared to acknowledge the existence of apartheid in the ‘Occupied Territories’ in the title of his new book, Palestine: Peace not apartheid. Instantly, America’s mainstream media – led by Zionist censors – began savagely attacking President Carter for mentioning the unmentionable. Not a few political and academic careers in the United States have met a premature end for lesser offenses. Jimmy Carter, the octogenarian former President, had little to lose.

Inside its pre-1967 borders too, Israel has allocated rights based on ethnicity. Until 1966, Palestinians in Israel were governed under martial law, which severely restricted their civil and political rights, including their right to free movement, to establish their own media, and to protest or form political parties. Since its founding, Israel has openly tied its immigration policy to Jewish ethnicity. Israeli law defines land to be a property of the Jewish people, owned on their behalf by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a quasi-governmental organization. Israel nationalized all the lands belonging to the Palestinians it expelled in 1948, and it has continued to expropriate Palestinian lands under a variety of arbitrary measures. As a result, the JNF today owns 93 percent of all the lands in pre-1967 Israel. Yet, even in his moment of daring, President Carter shrank from addressing the presence of apartheid inside pre-1967 Israel.

Israel is the only country in the world that refuses to define its borders. Its de facto borders have shifted with impressive frequency. At first, the armistice line of 1948 served as Israel’s borders; but they expanded outwards in 1956, 1967 and 1982, because of wars and conquests. On a few occasions, Israel had to retract from the territories it had conquered: from the Sinai in 1957, from the Sinai again in 1978, from Southern Lebanon in May 2000, and from Southern Lebanon again in August 2006. In addition, since the Oslo Accord of 1993, Israel has defined a new set of internal ‘borders’ inside the West Bank to contain and neutralize the Palestinian resistance in a set of regulated Bantustans.

If Israel has not yet reached or exceeded the borders of the mythic David’s Kingdom, it is not because of any lack of ambition. The constraint is demographic. In order to expand beyond its present borders, Israel would need a more ample supply of Jewish colons willing to assume the risks of colonization. Fortunately, for the Arabs, these colons are in short supply, as they were before the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Had Israel succeeded in attracting five million Jewish colons after 1967, the Sinai would still be under Israeli occupation, and its borders in the north would extend to the Litani River and across the Jordan River in the east. Luckily, for the Arabs, Israeli expansionism has been stalled by the poverty of Jewish demography. That could change very quickly, however, if Israel decides to soften the requirements for conversion to Judaism. Millions of Jewish converts from the poorest countries in the world, attracted by the promise of a ‘better life,’ could start pouring into Israel under its Law of Return.

M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University. He is author of Challenging the New Orientalism (2007). Send comments to Visit the author’s website at

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

2 thoughts on “Israel’s Inverse Exceptionalism”

  1. Proof positive that the Talmudic/Zionist claim that Jews would never be allowed to integrate in Europe was propaganda-lay in the fact that in 1903 the British offer that they might settle in Uganda was dismissed out of hand.

    The Zionist claim that persecution of Jews in Russia meant they must be allocated the piece of real estate that,with the aid of British arms,might soon be on offer in Palestine,is here exposed for what it was-utterly fraudulent.

    That Zionist claims on the Holy Land were based on the evil designs of an ancient Talmudic nationalist-political project that had no relevance whatever to the lives of the vast majority of people who defined themselves in solely religious terms as “Jewish” across Europe and Russia is clear for all to see.

    What brings the deceitfulness of the Zionist position at that time into even sharper relief is the fact that in the years immediately succeeding this refusal of the British offer of Uganda-a huge majority of the early settlers in Palestine(whose views as pioneers/slaves were never taken into account by those who controlled the flow of immigration to the colony)expressed the wish that they might be allowed to avail themselves of the opportunity afforded by the British and move to Uganda!

    From 1967,with the extension of their settler project to W.Bank,Sinai and the Golan Heights,is it any wonder that the “Holocaust”-saturated culture in which we have all since had to live,began to really establish itself in the Western imagination.

    Yes,the Israeli imperialists then needed the self-ascribed victimhood status their self-interested sponsors in the West were all too ready to grant them,more than ever.

    The so-called “Law of Return”,which pretends to be based on the separatist Talmudic prophecies (that were rejected by the ancient Israelites and Hebrew prophets)is actually a typically self-serving attempt with the forlorn hope that the Zionists can overtake the indigenous Palestinians in demographic terms.

    Most of us have worked out that Israel was created by force,is sustained by force and cannot exist based on its present raison d’etre of Jewish supremacy.It’s an utter nonsense when the influx since WW2 has been from the overwhelmingly non-semitic Askenazi communities of Russia.

    The satanic state has been a failed dark experiment in a new form of invented nationhood with nothing but religious hokum to sustain it.

    Obviously this was never going to work notwithstanding any of the “Holocaust”-type aversion therapy US Zionists were especially keen that the Nazis should dish out during WW2.

    The Israeli predilection for degrading the Palestinians is complemented by the separatist treatment meted out to its Arab citizens by the satanic state.For example,Israelis and Arabs driving within the state itself are forced to display separate registration identity plates.

    The similarities between this type of discrimination and that practised in Nazi Germany under the Nuremberg Laws are glaringly obvious.

    Lest we forget-the Zionist Association of Germany in 1933 endorsed the Nuremberg proscriptions against mixed marriages as well.

    The confiscation of Palestinian land,that became a state-funded JNF enterprise later,began in the early years of settlement when Jewish colonizers found buying land easy and were bound by Talmudic injunctions which decreed that land bought from Gentiles could never be returned.

    Carter,like previous twentieth century US Presidents,Wilson and Roosevelt to name but two,was tightly controlled by the Zionist Lobby during his term in office.Like the former,Carter has shown signs that he would now like to undo the multitude of sins he was encouraged to commit in the past.

    Such Presidents,in case anyone has still failed to notice,are picked years in advance by the Lobby to ensure that they have certain skeletons in their cupboard that will make them vulnerable to later exposure and disposal when the need arises.

    Thus while Roosevelt had a long career as an investment broker prior to entering politics that could well have proved embarrassing if divulged during his Depression administration,and Carter had a long psychiatric history-so too Obama may in due course turn out to have had a gay liason while at college and may even be a closet muslim to boot!

    As it seemed in the Zionist colony’s early days,and as Alam is right to point out now,it may prove that, regardless of who is in charge in London or Washington,demographics will yet prove to be the undoing of Israel.


  2. I love to see how Arabs are always crying over “human rights” of Arabs living in Eretz Yisrael, but ignore the truth that they have more rights in Israel than they do in any Arab nation.

    And should we forget that the Jews were booted out of the Arab nations after 1948? Where is their “right of return” or restitution for what they lost? Or the fact that the few Jews who still live in Arab lands have ZERO rights and live as dhimmis.

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