How Arab nationalism hides behind Zionism

Arab nationalism (also known as pan-Arabism) and Zionism have driven perpetual turbulence in the Middle East since the retreat of European colonial forces. These two ideologies each constitute reactions to oppression, with Arab nationalism as resistance to European imperialism and Zionism as a rejection of ongoing discrimination and eventual genocide. Yet, despite the “West versus the rest” narrative espoused by de-colonial thinkers like Edward Said, Arab anti-Zionism didn’t form as a response to European colonialism. Instead, anti-Zionist pan-Arabism represents a reiteration of the resistance to Ottoman replacement of centuries-long Arab hegemony.

Arab nationalism at its core, however, arguably arose with the Arab caliphates’ spread of Islam across Spain and the Middle East and North Africa to eventually India. Under these caliphates, the ruling Arabs lorded over Jews and other non-Muslims, stipulating their security on subjugation as dhimmis. Since then, pan-Arabism has seen a plethora of attacks on Jews by Arabs. Notwithstanding, Western post-colonial guilt has portrayed non-Western associated peoples as incapable of holding imperialist ideologies. Thus, while Jews and eventually Arabs have lived for millennia in the region re-named from Judea to Palestine by the Romans, the unique Palestinian Arab identity emerged as the most recent form of pan-Arabism in reaction to the perceived Western infiltration of more Jews into the region.

Recently more openly denigrated as Jewish supremacy, Zionism has long aroused ire across the global community both at the political level and on social media. Since the outbreak of the post-October 7 Israel-Hamas war, a new subreddit r/international news, identifying as an alternative to alleged pro-Zionist existing global news subreddits, has taken off. Even the recent social media praise of Osama bin Laden by impressionable Western youth showcases the effectiveness of this moral superiority cast upon and leveraged by people seen as non-Western. As Zionism is viewed as Western-associated thanks to some Jews being ousted to Europe by Rome, the much smaller land claim is played up as hegemonic, while the willingness to concede is downplayed. This zeitgeist has demonized the long-standing struggle for Jewish sovereignty as by definition a genocide and ethnic cleansing rather than a conflict and, most recently, a war – even in the face of constant Hamas rocket barrages and promises to attack Israel ad nauseum.

Meanwhile, attempts to discuss pan-Arabism/Arab nationalism are often dismissed as deflection or even racism. Thereby, the definition of Zionism is conflated as Western-fueled racism that cropped up in the 1800s, when “next year in Jerusalem” as well as continuous Jewish presence in Israel suggest otherwise. Just because Arabs had the privilege of staying on their lands and don’t suffer as much of an identity crisis due to such widespread diaspora doesn’t make Arab nationalism any less prone to hegemonic aspirations than Zionism.

Despite Arab Islamic conquests often depicted as either peaceful or a thing of the past, the hegemony in places like South Sudan demonstrates a continued risk. While recent Israeli policies with regard to Palestinian statehood have contributed to roadblocks, the expansionist nature of pan-Arabism cannot be ignored. Instead, it remains pertinent to bear in mind the destabilization risks posed by an Arab nationalistic Palestine.

While opposition to Israel’s government amid an impending Rafah offensive certainly does not by default constitute antisemitism, suggesting that the reclamation of a Jewish homeland is inherently racist due to alleged white supremacy and ties to the West divorces Jews of not only an age-old passion for their homeland but also penalizes Jews ousted to Europe by framing them as incapable of returning to their ethnic roots without carrying along a malevolent agenda set by their oppressors. In fact, the current right-wing government rose in response to multiple rejections of peace agreements and anti-Israeli violence campaigns by pan-Arabist Palestinian leaderships against accepting offers that wouldn’t grant them the entire region. Thereby, any viable solution to predicting and handling how Zionism and Arab nationalism will affect steps toward peace must take into account the ramifications of both movements.

For instance, the prevailing narrative insists that Israel’s “power” granted by US support – and indeed, supposed Western favoritism of Judeo-Christianity versus its Islamophobia – will always eclipse the might of the Palestinian cause and even Arab nationalism as a whole. However, a nuclear Iran coupled with rising international opposition to Israel could end up overshadowing the alleged power of Zionism by a long shot. Such an ambush of the Jewish state would eventually yield not only its destruction but eventually endanger the Jewish diaspora amid continually spiking antisemitism.

At such a point, anti-Zionism would equal antisemitism, and it might be too late.

About the Author
Sarah Katz is an author, screenwriter, and security professional with a bachelor degree in Middle East Studies from UC Berkeley and a master degree in counterterrorism. Her work has appeared in the Jewish Journal and Middle East Forum as well as Cyber Defense Magazine, Cyber Security, Dark Reading, Geopolitical Monitor, Infosecurity Magazine, ISACA Journal, 365 tomorrows, AHF Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review and Thriller Magazine. Her book "Back to the Tribe: Intersectionality through a Global Jewish Lens" discusses the dangers of stealth antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism on the Western left.
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