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US House votes Israel isn't racist state. Why is this even needed?

Israel flag with a view of old city Jerusalem and the Western Wall.
Israel flag with a view of old city Jerusalem and the Western Wall. | Getty Images

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a symbolic resolution in July refuting the libelous claim that Israel is a “racist” and “apartheid” state, while also denouncing all other forms of antisemitism.

The resolution was approved by a resounding 412-9 majority. This vote certainly served as undeniable evidence that the US-Israel alliance remains largely unshakeable, and the mainstream bipartisan consensus at its foundation was underscored by the announcement of a congressional delegation’s planned visit to Israel led by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

The question lingers, however, why was the resolution needed in the first place?

Following Israel’s victories in defensive wars against its Soviet-backed Arab neighbors in 1967 and 1973, the campaign to delegitimize and demonize the world’s sole Jewish state was expanded far beyond the battlefield and into places like the United Nations. In 1975, the USSR and Arab UN member states mobilized support for Resolution 3379, which designated Zionism as a form of racism. Sufficient backing for this resolution came as a result of newly-independent states gaining membership in the UN, convinced that opposing Jewish self-determination was somehow akin to combating colonialism and imperialism. The resolution passed and was only overturned 16 years later.

Israel has been the only state on the international stage to have endured a vote in the UN General Assembly on whether the national liberation movement responsible for its statehood — amidst the ashes of the Holocaust and wars of extermination launched by neighboring Arab countries — ought to be regarded as “racist.”

The charge was leveled against Israel in an international forum again during the 2001 UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa. In Durban, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat addressed the audience on the opening day of the world conference and condemned what he said were Israel's “racist” practices in dealing with the Palestinians.

Shortly after the conference, a letter written by Arafat in September 2001 marked the one-year anniversary of the Al-Aqsa Intifada (2000-2005) and called for wider support for the ongoing terror wave against Israeli civilians. What was the justification used by the Palestinian leadership for this terror campaign? The need to combat “the nations of oppression and the darkness of racism.”

Ultimately, the Second Intifada would result in the death of more than 1,000 Israelis, with thousands more sustaining injuries. Throughout the intifada, suicide bombers blew up buses, restaurants, and night clubs; all while receiving financial assistance from the Palestinian Authority. The terrorists involved in the planning of a deadly suicide attack against a Sbarro pizzeria in 2001, for example, received upwards of $900,000 from the Palestinian Authority over the years.

The term “racist” has been directed at Israel for decades for two specific purposes. The first is to demonize the Jewish people’s right to self-determination while arguing that it seeks to establish ethnic supremacy over Palestinians. Hypocritically enough, this charge is often made by those who support the establishment of a Palestinian state, making it clear that their issue is not with national self-determination, but with Jewish self-determination. Secondly, the racism charge has been used to justify and condone terrorism against Israeli civilians.

While the House resolution was introduced to push back against the allegations made by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, who had called Israel a “racist state,” its introduction legitimized a debate that, in itself, held Israel to a unique standard. After all, members of Congress have never felt the need to introduce resolutions to determine whether other countries, friends or foes, ought to be regarded as “racist” states.

The resolution should obviously be celebrated as evidence of the steadfast commitment American lawmakers retain toward supporting Israel’s right to exist and combating antisemitism. Yet the resolution should also serve as a reminder that the far-left antisemitic ideology that originated with Soviet propaganda is alive and well in the halls of Congress today and is rooted in the normalization of discourse that is solely, and obsessively, applied to Israel.

Although the resolution passed, its few opponents did not entirely lose because they managed to legitimize a conversation that is not held for any other sovereign state. After all, U.S. military aid to Latvia and Estonia amidst the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is not questioned as potential support to “racist” nations that have outlined in their constitutional preambles their nations’ right to pursue self-determination, but on the basis of realpolitik. Israel should not be held to a different standard.

From the U.N. to the halls of Congress, to campuses around the world, this is how far-left antisemitism operates. Combating this form of bigotry, therefore, must involve a careful balance between denouncing hateful rhetoric and giving credence to allegations leveled against Israel.

In his recent joint address to Congress, Israeli President Isaac Herzog proclaimed to unanimous applause, “Questioning the Jewish people’s right to self-determination is not legitimate diplomacy, it is antisemitism.” Similar to antisemitism on the far-right, far-left antisemitism – through the blatant demonization of Israel – seeks to portray the Jewish state as an outsider among the community of nations. In our efforts to combat this form of antisemitism, we must beware of legitimizing conversations guided by standards that are not imposed on any other sovereign state.

Yoni Michanie is the Combat Antisemitism Movement's (CAM) Research and Data Manager. Yoni holds an MA in Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution from Reichman University. Originally from Argentina, Yoni is currently based in Boston.

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