Michael Jackson

Zionism is not colonialism

To some, this statement is obvious. To others, it is a lie. This article examines it from definition, history, comparisons, demographics, and intent.

  1. Definition

One online definition reads “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.”

Merriam-Webster defines colonialism as “domination of a people or area by a foreign state or nation: the practice of extending and maintaining a nation’s political and economic control over another people or area.”

The population of Palestine in 1890 which was before significant Jewish immigration was 6% Jewish and 94% non-Jewish. The non-Jewish population was predominantly Muslim. Defining “settlers” as people coming from another country and settling permanently in a new land, then Jewish immigrants between 1890 and 2020 do fall into that category. Also the part of the definition “full or partial political control” applies to the Zionist movement. The Merriam-Webster definition of “domination by a foreign state or nation” has not been realized since the Zionist control post-1948 was not of a “foreign state” and the “foreign nation” only applies if we consider the Jews that settled in Israel were a “foreign nation”. They were from foreign countries but not from one nation.

I think that these definitions imply that Zionism is a form of colonialism. However, the Anglos and Saxons’ incursions and later settlement in Britain (afterward called “England” or “Angle-land”), the Magyars into Hungary, the Europeans into the US and Canada, the Arabs into North Africa, and the Spaniards and Portuguese into Latin America were also colonizations. Zionism started too late; a few hundred years at least after these colonizers. The other settlers mentioned above settled long before the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949).

  1. Historical examples of colonialism

There are four basic types or categories:

  1. a) Tiny % of settlers – Caribbean, Haiti, India/Pakistan, Indonesia. All of these eventually became independent countries controlled by their native peoples
  2. b)  Substantial % of settlers without integration and intermarriage – Algeria, Ireland. 
  3. c)  Substantial % of settlers with integration and intermarriage  – Latin America
  4. d)  Large % of settlers – USA, Canada, Australia. In these, the natives were marginalized in reservations or equivalents with no political influence. In New Zealand, Maoris are about 17% of the population but were a lower percentage about a century ago.

Israel has a far too high % of Jews to fall into category a). It has far too high a % of non-Jews to fall into category d). The lack of civil marriage, i.e. between Jews and Muslims (as well as between others) means that option c) is not possible. Israel, having roughly equal numbers of Jews and Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank is thus closest to option b). There are more Jews than the settlers in countries in option b) but a much lower % than in the countries in group d).

Some object to the term “settlers” as applied to Jews in Israel. Jews were 6% of the Palestine population in 1890 compared to 94% non-Jews. Most Jews living in British Palestine in 1948 had all of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents born in other countries.

  1. Intent of colonialism

Both definitions in part 1 above refer to economic control or exploitation. The British in India and the Caribbean, the French in Algeria and the Caribbean, and the Spanish in Latin America exploited the country. A tiny class back in the home country benefited immensely from these colonies. In the issue of exploitation, Zionism differed markedly from European colonialism. Jews sent money to the developing Jewish community in Palestine. Money did not flow from the colony to the settlers’ original home country. This is a major difference between Zionism and colonialism.

  1. Demographics

The settlers left all colonies in which the settlers were a small percentage of the population (category a)).

French Haiti had a slave population of 90% and had a successful slave revolution.  The British left British India which eventually became India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In countries where there was a substantial % of settlers but still a minority, native independence came as in Algeria and most of Ireland (category b)). 

The British “Anglo” colonies of North America (future USA and Canada), Australia, and New Zealand (category d)) had a big influx of settlers. These large numbers demographically and militarily overwhelmed the native populations. Algeria and Ireland (category b)) had much larger percentages of settlers and violent conflicts that lasted well into the 1960s and beyond.  

Let’s consider Israel in the pre-67 borders plus the West Bank, Golan, and Gaza. The percentage of Jewish settlers to this larger Israel in today’s numbers is roughly 50% i.e. lower than the ex-British “Anglo” colonies but much higher than other British colonies, Dutch Indonesia, or the integrative Latin American colonies. It is also higher than the larger settler percentages in Ireland and Algeria.

  1. Results of Colonialism

In countries where the settlers have taken over (category d)), the results are awful for the natives. The USA and Australia are examples. These native communities are poor, isolated, and have no political power. Most of the other colonies in which the natives took over, except Ireland, have had and many still have troubled histories.

  1. Relative positions on Zionism and Colonialism

The differences in intent between Zionism and colonialism and the absence of a colonizing Zionist home country mean that Zionism is not colonialism. These differences, and others, explain why few Israelis and few diaspora Jews consider Zionism as colonialism.

The viewpoint of Palestinians, who consider themselves oppressed by Zionism, is different. They see themselves as the colonized. The colonizers, the Jews, came from overseas and became the dominant power in the land.

There is an element of relativism in this issue and I do understand the position of the Palestinians who perceive themselves as the oppressed. However, given the differences as expounded in the first paragraph of this section, I think it is fair to say, objectively speaking, that Zionism is not Colonialism.

About the Author
Born in London in 1949. Studied Maths at Warwick University. Came to Israel (WUJS program at Arad) in 1971. I became a citizen and served in the army in 1973. Returned to the UK in 1974. Worked in Information Systems. Married an American Orthodox woman in 1977 and moved to America. For a few years I have led a retiree philosophy class.
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