Zionist Anxieties Upon Looking in The Mirror
An utterance of the phrase “from the river to the sea” is nearly guaranteed to make Zionists apoplectic. As Emmy and Peabody-winning journalist Laila Al-Arian distills: “They want you to think that wiping out entire Palestinian families and bloodlines isn’t genocide, but it’s genocide to say ‘from river to the sea.’”
It is dreadfully boring but absolutely necessary to point out that an argument asserting that the phrase is a call to antisemitic ethnic cleansing is fundamentally based upon a racist dehumanization of the Palestinian people. The Zionist claim is something along the lines of, “They might say they want liberation, but they can’t be trusted. What that really means is that they want to push all the Jews into the sea.”
To be clear, this is patently false. Article 6 of the Palestine National Charter of 1968 states unequivocally: “The Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians.” According to the foundational documents of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Palestine includes Jews.
However, the Zionist imaginary of what Palestinians really want becomes an excuse for their continued subjugation, in the same way that white nationalists claim “Black Lives Matter” is a coded call for “white genocide.”
Why is it so easy for Zionists to imagine this racist fantasy? Perhaps because it is exactly and precisely how the State of Israel established itself, right down to pushing Palestinians into the sea.
On April 25, 1948, nearly three weeks before the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, Zionist paramilitary forces, including the infamous Irgun, began shelling the Mediterranean city of Jaffa, the largest Palestinian city with about 100,000 inhabitants. Over the subsequent weeks, nearly all Jaffan Palestinians became refugees.
As the battle neared its end, Jaffa was so isolated from other routes of escape that 10,000 to 20,000 Palestinians were forced to flee by boat. As Israeli architect and architectural historian Sharon Rotbard writes in White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, “Such was the sense of panic at the port, many died in their desperation to escape, drowning after being forced off overcrowded boats or from swimming out to reach them. Of all the numerous, unwarranted times the phrase ‘push them into the sea’ has been flippantly bandied around … this may be the only instance in its history when the expression has literally taken form.”
In its twisted logic, Zionism equates Jewish liberation with its own national ambitions, and the realization of these ambitions meant the Nakba of 1948—the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians—and both the preceding and ongoing genocide. So, when Zionists make this disingenuous claim about Palestinian motives, they are staring into a mirror.
It is interesting how closely this Zionist propaganda, known as hasbara, parallels antisemitic canards, like the infamous blood libel, which were used time and again across Europe to justify the expulsion of Jews or to confine them to specific territories, such as the Russian Pale of Settlement, where they were constantly subjected to state-sanctioned antisemitic violence.
This coincidence may seem odd to many, but if we know a bit about the history of the early Zionist movement, we can begin to see why this is the case. Contemporary Zionist hasbara aggressively promotes the idea that Zionism and the state of Israel exist to protect Jews. But this does not stand up to a modicum of historical scrutiny.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the intellectual forefather of Netanyahu’s Likud Party and the founder of the Zionist paramilitary group the Irgun, infamous for brutal massacres of Palestinians right up until it was absorbed into the IOF, said, “Our starting point is to take the typical Yd of today and to imagine his diametrical opposite … because the Yd is ugly, sickly, and lacks decorum.” On the other side of the Zionist political spectrum, Aaron David Gordon, an early proponent of Labor Zionism, claimed, “[W]e are a parasitic people. We have no roots in the soil; there is no ground beneath our feet. And we are parasites not only in an economic sense but in spirit… .We in ourselves are almost non-existent, so of course we are nothing in the eyes of other people either.”
To state the obvious, neither of these analyses would sound the least bit out of place in the mouths of the most vile antisemites. The intellectual and political descendants of these men have no business as the self-appointed arbiters of antisemitism.
Furthermore, the Zionist focus on creating a Jewish nation in Palestine, over and above the lives of diaspora Jews suffering under antisemitism, was so total that in 1938, shortly after the Kristallnacht pogrom, David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel, said at a Mapai Central Committee meeting, “If I knew it was possible to save all [Jewish] children of Germany by their transfer to England and only half of them by transferring them to Eretz-Yisrael, I would choose the latter.”
Not to be outdone, Yitzahk Greenbaum, the first Israeli Minister of the Interior, said, in 1943, as the Nazis were exterminating European Jewry, “When they come to us with two plans, the rescue of the masses of Jews in Europe or the redemption of the land, I vote, without a second thought, for the redemption of the land.” If that was not enough, he added: “The more said about the slaughter of our people, the greater the minimization of our efforts to strengthen and promote the Hebraization of the land. If there would be a possibility today of buying packages of food (for starving Jews under Nazi rule) with the money of the Keren Hayesod (United Jewish Appeal) to send it through Lisbon, would we do such a thing? No! And once again, no!”
The lie that “from the river to the sea” is actually a threat to throw Jews into the sea dates back to Israeli hasbara campaigns after the 1967 War. It is a new blood libel promulgated by the inheritors of a settler-colonial apparatus that only ever valued Jewish life insofar as it could further the colonial project.
The widespread demonization and censorship of this liberatory cry by university administrators across the US, including right here in Rudolph Hall, is a cynical and cowardly capitulation to the most vile Zionist hasbara under the guise of protecting me and my fellow Jews. It is not true. The erasure of Palestinian suffering and struggle does nothing to make us safer. As a Jew, the removal of such a banner has made me lose confidence in the Yale School of Architecture’s commitment to my safety, given how it cheapens and trivializes the serious danger of antisemitism. Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. But conflating the two sure as hell is.
From the river to the sea, Palestine must be free.