On the Use and Misuse of the Term ‘Jewish Supremacist’

Israel's far-right Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir at the so-called 'Flag March' in Jerusalem. (Photo: via Ben-Gvir TW Page, file)

By Yves Engler

Should a person who defends and promotes a state that actively endorses Jewish supremacy be called a Jewish supremacist?

In the recent Globe and Mail commentary “Canada must rethink its friendship with Israel” establishment commentator Thomas Juneau noted that the current hard-right Israeli government “includes Jewish supremacists”. In response Norman Levine tweeted, “The term ‘Jewish supremacists’ borders on antisemitism. I’m shocked the editors at Globe and Mail allowed an article including that term to be published.”

While Levine’s objection is nonsense, Juneau’s use of the qualifier “includes” is absurd. Is anyone in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government not an aggressive Jewish supremacist?

Years before forming his current extremist government, Netanyahu declared that Israel was “not a state of all its citizens”. Referencing a 2018 law he wrote, “According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and only it.” In recent days the Knesset adopted legislation that in certain circumstances gives Jewish Israelis milder punishment for rape and sexual assault than Palestinian citizens of Israel. They also passed a law – by a large margin – effectively allowing communities to exclude non-Jews.

According to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, more than 65 Israeli laws discriminate against non-Jews. Additionally, the World Zionist Organization, Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund, which has quasi-state status, are constitutionally committed to serving and promoting the interests of Jews and only Jews. In 2021 leading Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem published “A Regime of Jewish Supremacy between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea: this is Apartheid.”

This Jewish supremacy isn’t new. Zionist ethnic cleansing in 1947–48 targeted Christian and Muslim Palestinians in a successful bid to remake the territory’s demographics into being majority Jewish. Through the 1950 Law of Return, my longtime friend in Vancouver, Michael Rosen — who hasn’t been to Israel, has no familial connection to the country and has never even been religious — can emigrate to Israel.

On the other hand, Noor Tibi, a woman I met at Concordia University in Montreal whose grandfather fled Zionist ethnic cleansing from Haifa in 1948, could not enter (let alone live in) Israel until she got a Canadian passport. Justified as an affirmative action measure to protect besieged Jewry, the Law of Return becomes patently racist when Israel refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.

Despite Israel/Zionism having always been based on Jewish supremacy, many deny it. Over the years I’ve heard leftists argue that Israel’s dominant characteristic is something more into white supremacy than Jewish supremacy.

A branch of the European colonial movement, history suggests that Zionism was in large part an attempt by European Jews to benefit from and participate in colonialism. The Theodore Herzl-led Zionist movement was spurred by the nationalist and imperialist ideologies then sweeping Europe.

After two centuries of active Protestant Zionism and two millennia in which Jewish restoration was viewed as a spiritual event to be brought about through divine intervention, Zionism took root among some Jews as the European “scramble” carved up Africa and then the Middle East. (Europeans controlled about 10 percent of Africa in 1870 but by 1914 only Ethiopia was independent of European control. Liberia was effectively a US colony).

At the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903 Herzl and two-thirds of delegates voted to pursue British Secretary of State for the Colonies Joseph Chamberlain’s proposal to allocate 13,000 square km in East Africa as “Jewish territory  … on conditions which will enable members to observe their national customs.”

The European colonial nature of Zionism is important, but its Jewish character is central.

Answering my opening question isn’t complicated. If you defended and promoted apartheid, South Africa, you were a white supremacist. If you defend and promote apartheid Israel you are a Jewish supremacist.

 – Yves Engler is the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and a number of other books. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle. Visit his website: yvesengler.com.

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