Dr. Joseph Massad gave a talk on democracy in Israel on Thursday, Sept. 27 in which he argued that Israel has established a racialized democracy that disenfranchises non-Jewish citizens. Speaking in Viking Theater at the invitation of the Political Awareness Committee (PAC), Massad recounted the history of Zionism and Israeli colonization in support of his argument that Israel has a racialized system of democracy.
Serving as Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, Massad is a prolific scholar who has published dozens of books and academic articles. In Massad’s introduction, a PAC representative described him as one of the rare “voices that speak incisively about ongoing injustices that occur around the world.”
Massad’s lecture focused primarily on the history of Zionism and the links between racialism, Zionism and the founding of the state of Israel. Massad argued that Zionism is a fundamentally racialist political philosophy that was integral to the founding of Israel. Massad also described the many ways that he thinks Israel discriminates against Palestinian residents and examined Western support for Israel despite these practices.
Massad began his talk by summarizing the two counter-arguments he most frequently encounters: that racialized democracy is a Zionist aim that need not be an Israeli goal, and that Israel actually upholds universal democracy contrary to Massad’s claims. In response to these arguments, Massad first listed and described the many laws and regulations that he argues discriminate against Palestinians.
“Israel currently has upwards of 65 laws that discriminate against non-Jews, and it continues to refuse to commit legally to the principle of equality of citizens, especially as the country lacks a constitution or even a basic law,” Massad said.
He then gave a thorough account of the historical background of what he calls a racialized democracy in Israel, giving special emphasis to the role of the Zionist movement in swaying Jews and Israeli leaders to support an explicitly Jewish state.
Massad first described the premise of Zionism as defined by Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism.
“Herzl’s solution to end antisemitism and that of the Zionist movement after him was to remove Jews from Gentile communities and concentrate them in one holy, exclusive Jewish state,” Massad said.
Massad argued that racialized democracy is thus inherent to Zionism. He went on to cite Jewish congressman Julius Kahn and 300 Jewish figures’ 1919 statement opposing Zionism on the grounds that it is “contrary to the principles of democracy.” He also referenced numerous Zionist figures’ and the British government’s support for the compulsory expulsion of Palestinians. This support was enshrined in a number of British government plans for creating a Jewish state, plans that World War II put to a halt.
Massad recounted how after World War II, the UN partition plan arose as the latest framework for creating the state of Israel. While the British Peel Commission’s plan involved confiscating Palestinian land and expelling native Palestinians, the UN Partition Plan would only divide state lands between Israelis and Palestinians.
“The Zionists accepted the UN Partition Plan, except that they violated all its precepts.” – Joseph Massad
“Unlike the Peel Commission, the United Nation’s plan explicitly forbade confiscation of private land and the expulsion of the population,” Massad said. “The Zionists accepted the UN Partition Plan, except that they violated all its precepts.”
According to Massad, when the state of Israel was established on May 14, 1948, over 440,000 Palestinians had already been expelled, and 360,000 more would be expelled in the coming months, violating the UN Partition Plan.
Massad went on to examine how Israeli leaders subsequently treated the remaining Arab population in light of their desire for a Jewish state with Jewish citizens. According to Massad, soon after the establishment of the state of Israel, the country’s leaders instituted a military government to enforce racial separatism between the remaining Palestinians and Jews.
“While the racist military regime ended in 1966, the laws that guaranteed Jewish racial privilege continue to operate, with new laws added to them periodically,” Massad said.
Massad went on to address the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
“Palestinians in the 67 occupied territories are denied any national or citizenship rights altogether in an even more austere Jewish racialist regime of land confiscation, Jewish colonization and the exclusive building of Jews-only roads and Jews-only housing,” Massad said.
Massad spent the last portion of his talk addressing Western support for Israel, arguing that Western nations have joined Israel in a public relations campaign to conceal Israel’s commitment to racialized democracy.
“This campaign, now going into its 70th year, is part of a tacit understanding between Israel and official Europe and the US that they would all pretend, for the sake of propaganda and international public opinion, that Israel’s racialist democracy does not contravene universal democracy,” Massad said.
In fact, Massad argued, the US and Western Europe’s support for Zionism stems in part from the US and Europe’s own past and present racialism.
Currently, according to Massad, the Trump administration is attempting to strike a deal that would uphold Israel’s racialist democracy, while mitigating and obscuring its most visible effects.
“The Trump deal essentially aims to have the Arab countries and the Palestinian Authority help Israel appear less racist and less anti-democratic through a deal which will continue to deepen its racism and anti-democracy indefinitely,” Massad said.
Massad ended his talk by predicting that Palestinians will continue to be marginalized for the foreseeable future if Israel’s laws and policies do not change. He then spent roughly half an hour answering questions about a variety of topics, including self-determination, the Birthright Israel organization, the BDS movement and a number of other subjects.