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*Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a new series of articles from Jewish Press Online contributor, Alex Grobman, PhD  

Israel is not a colonial state by any definition of the term. Zionist “colonists” were unique in that they had “no mother country,” as did European immigrants to foreign soil. The Yishuv (Jewish residents in the Land of Israel) was not a colony in the conventional sense. The Jews who immigrated there had no strong roots in Europe, and were not exploiting natural resources to export to homelands. Israel has no towns or villages named New Warsaw, New Lodz, New Moscow, New Minsk, or New Pinsk—unlike the New World, where settlements were named for old cities—i.e. New London, New Orleans, New York, New England and New Madrid. [1]


By rejecting Europe and creating the modern Hebrew language, the Zionists tried to create their own intellectual and cultural energy without imitating or transplanting the old ways. They did not consider themselves outsiders or conquerors. They used Biblical (Hebrew) names to affirm control over their geography. Their settlements were tangible manifestations of the Jewish return to the homeland, which Jews had called home for 3,000 years.[2]

They did not come to serve “the expansionist, commercial, and military goals of imperial nations such as Great Britain and France.” Jewish refugees were escaping countries that had oppressed them for centuries. They came from countries such as Czarist Russia, Poland and Lithuania, where they suffered discrimination and persecution. Some were murdered because they were Jews. [3]

Those who settled in the Yishuv came to a land that was sparsely populated and economically underdeveloped, with sizeable regions of desert, semiarid wilderness and swamps. Before the British arrived in Palestine at the end of World War I, the Ottoman government had practically no involvement in regulating land use, health and sanitary conditions or controls on the construction of private and public buildings. Except for a few roads and a rail line that projected imperial power, there were few public works projects. Resident Arabs, traditional in outlook, had no interest in new plans for their communities. For Theodore Herzl and other European Zionists, Turkish Palestine, was inviting because of its lack of government accountability, absence of local Arab initiative, and the “empty landscape.” [4]

According to Article 22 of the Palestinian National Covenant of 1968, Zionism is a political movement that is organically linked with world imperialism and is opposed to all liberation movements or movements for progress in the world. The Zionist movement is essentially fanatical and racialist; its objectives involve aggression, expansion and the establishment of colonial settlements and its methods are those of the Fascists and the Nazis. Israel acts as cat’s paw for the Zionist movement, a geographic and manpower base for world imperialism and a springboard for its thrust into the Arab homeland to frustrate the aspirations of the Arab nation to liberation, unity and progress. Israel is a constant threat to peace in the Middle East and the whole world. Inasmuch as the liberation of Palestine will eliminate the Zionist and imperialist presence in that country and bring peace to the Middle East, the Palestinian people look for support to all liberals and to all forces of good, peace and progress in the world, and call on them, whatever their political convictions, for all possible aid and support in their just and legitimate struggle to liberate their homeland.”[5]

This essentially communist view, married to Nazism—both discredited –isms in the West—depicts Jews as the personification of colonialism and racism. It was calculated to provoke hostility toward Israel from Afro-Asian countries, who relied on Israel for nascent technologies. The influence on the Arabs was more pronounced. They declared Zionism was created to humiliate them and, reacting with resentment, rioted. They were given an ideological excuse to commit politicide in Israel a slow, methodical process that would ensure her extinction as an autonomous political and social body. This image of the Jew inflamed hatred and nurtured a need for retribution. [6]

Harkabi notes the Arabs define Zionism as the primary cause of the conflict and the root of evil. The Covenant is not a reflection of the more radical elements within the Arab camp, but of the mainstream members of the Palestinian movement. It signifies “an egotistic stand that does not show the slightest consideration for the adversary, nor any trace of recognition that he too may have a grievance, a claim and justice.”[7]

Historian Jacob Talmon viewed the attempt to blame Western imperialism as an excuse to attack Israel. “For decades the Arabs have been obsessed by memories of past glories and prophecies of future greatness, mocked by the injury and shame of having an alien and despised race injected into the nerve-centre of their promised pan-Arab empire, between its Asian and African halves, just at a time when the colonial powers had started their great retreat from their colonial possessions in Asia and Africa.”[8]

To lessen their feelings of shame for losing every war against Israel, the Arabs attributed the success of Jewish settlement in Palestine and the Israeli military triumphs of 1948 and 1956 to Western imperialism. As the representative of the Great Powers, Israel became the Arab scapegoat whenever they became frustrated in their attempt to transcend “centuries of social, economic and cultural development, and catch up” with the West. Talmon believed this anti-Israel fixation precipitated a methodical “Manichean metaphysic, the focus of an entire philosophy of history, with the Jew as the devil incarnate from the days of patriarch Abraham himself till his assumption of the role of the lynchpin of an American-Imperialist-Zionist world-plot against the Arab world, the Socialist Commonwealth and all colonial peoples.”[9]

To charge Israel as a colonial state distorts history, misrepresents the motivation of the Jewish return to their ancestral home and ensures Israel will be seen as an illegitimate state.


[1] S. Ilan Troen, Imagining Zion: Dreams, Designs, and Realities in a Century of Jewish Settlement (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2003), 7-9.

[2] Ibid.151-152, 158.

[3] Alan Dershowitz, “Countering Challenges to Israel’s Legitimacy” in Israel’s Rights as a Nation-State in International Diplomacy (Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2011), 160.

[4] Troen, op.cit. 70, 90-91, 159.

[5] Yehoshafat Harkabi, The Palestinian Covenant and Its Meaning (Portland, Oregon: Vallentine Mitchell, 1979), 117.

[6] Yehoshafat Harkabi, Arab Attitudes to Israel (Piscataway, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1974),175.

[7] Harkabi, The Palestinian Covenant, op. cit. 12.

[8] Jacob L. Talmon, Israel Among the Nations (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970), 169-170.

[9] Jacob L. Talmon, op.cit. 170.


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Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew university of Jerusalem. He lives in Jerusalem.