Israel is Not a Racist State, in Theory or in Practice

U.S. Representative Pramilla Jayapal’s recent statement that Israel is a “racist state” is both false and dangerous.
July 18, 2023
Anton Litvintsev/Getty Images; Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On Saturday, July 15 Representative Pramilla Jayapal, Chair of the 103-member Progressive Caucus publicly announced that she has been fighting hard “to make clear that Israel is a racist state.” Thankfully, the leaders of the Democratic Party responded with a strong rejection of her remarks. But because she and so many others like to make this and similar fallacious arguments, it is worth responding to and debunking it in a fuller fashion.

The assertion that the State of Israel is itself a racist endeavor is antisemitic on its face, as no one seems to have a problem with the existence of over 50 Muslim nations and over 100 Christian countries. Calling it “racist” also serves to justify and promote the delegitimization and destruction of the lone Jewish state. Of course, it is important to note that there is a difference between calling the entire existence of the State of Israel itself a “racist endeavor” and criticizing any particular Israeli government policies or practices as “racist.” One is flatly antisemitic, while the other is a criticism of Israel like that of any other country. Jayapal’s retraction openly disavowed the first, but she did not back away from the separate claim that Israel is a racist state in practice, which remains the kind of massively pernicious charge that needs to be backed up with evidence, of which she has none. The attempt to impose an American lens of race on a conflict she does not seem to understand is inexcusable in the context of an elected leader publicly maligning an entire country—and a close American ally.

The reason that she cannot present any evidence to support her position is because there is none, and calling Israel a racist state is counterfactual and ridiculous. The term “Palestinians” as it is used today includes Arabs who are Israeli citizens; Arabs residing in the Gaza Strip and the disputed territories; and Arabs who were displaced as a result of the conflicts in 1948 and 1967. Israel treats all of its citizens, including its Arab citizens, equally under the law. Israeli Arabs enjoy positions in the highest levels of every branch of government, including the legislative branch (the Knesset), the executive branch (the Israeli cabinet) and the judicial branch (the Supreme Court). In fact, in some cases, Arab citizens of Israel have more rights than Jewish citizens of Israel, including the fact that Arab citizens of Israel are not required to serve in the military.

The differential treatment of some members of these groups is demonstrably not based on their race; they all share the same ethnic and racial identity. It is, however, based on their legal status as either Israeli citizens, residents of territories under military administration, or non-citizen foreigners.  All countries in the world “discriminate” between their own citizens and non-citizens; if doing so constitutes racism, then all states are guilty of racism. But they aren’t, of course, and neither is Israel. The entire basis of Jayapal’s argument, which elides these important distinctions, is utterly wrong, and the application of a “racial” standard to questions of citizenship in one and only one instance worldwide is the kind of double standard that is dangerously problematic. If in fact you were looking for systemic racism in the area, you might ask how many Jews are living in (or even allowed to visit) Gaza or Ramallah, as compared to the 20 percent of Israeli citizens that are Arab.

Part of the problem seems to be Jayapal’s (and her friends’) complete unfamiliarity with the history of the conflict and the players involved. Forget the fact that the “progressive” caucus refuses to support the only democracy in the Middle East, and the only country in the region with full equality for women, the LGBT community, and freedom for all religions. This entire episode comes in the laughable context of her and several other progressives skipping an address by Israeli President Isaac Herzog to Congress, in an attempt to protest the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu. None of them seem to be aware that before he was elected to his mostly ceremonial role Herzog served as the left-wing opposition leader against Netanyahu.

Her willful lack of knowledge is also clearly evident in what Jayapal’s “apology” does not say.

First, in her telling of the failures of the two-state solution there is only one party at fault: Israel. There is no mention of or accounting for the dismal leadership of the PA, which has consistently turned down numerous offers for an independent Palestinian state. For the record, Israel has repeatedly, more than 30 times, offered plans for peace and division of the land. Some of those deals, including the Clinton Peace Parameters, were even supported by Jayapal’s own party—along with much of the Arab world. Again, for the Squad’s edification, Israel (legitimately) gained a total of 26,178 square miles of territory in the defensive war of 1967. To date, it has ceded sovereignty over approximately 23,871 square miles or 87% of that territory. At various times in recent history (including deals proposed in 2000, 2008 and 2014), Israel has offered up to 99.3% of the remaining disputed territory in exchange for peace. Each time the Palestinians refused.

Second, while Jayapal’s statement contains vilification of Israel as a whole and its leaders in particular, there is no mention of the PA or its President, Mahmoud Abbas, who have repeatedly confirmed that the PA will use their very last penny if necessary to pay salaries and stipends to incentivize terrorists who kill innocent Americans and Israelis. There’s no mention of the fact that while Israeli schoolchildren are uniformly taught to yearn for peace, Arab schoolchildren in Israel, Gaza and PA controlled cities are taught to glorify war and terrorism, and that under official PA policy they stand to make more money for their families if they grow up to be killers and martyrs rather than doctors or lawyers.

Third, as she made clear in her statement, Jayapal does not understand—and seemingly does not seek to understand—the Israeli point of view on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Contrasting the Jewish people’s historical trauma from pogroms, persecution and the Holocaust with the Palestinians’ feelings of hopelessness about peace, as her statement does, creates a false framework that depicts the debate incorrectly. The suffering of the Jewish people historically has nothing to do with their legitimate claim to the land of Israel, and implying that this generational suffering is all that they bring to their “side” of the “debate”—as opposed to the Palestinians who just want the same rights as their neighbors (which, again, they have)—completely denies the Jewish people’s religious, historic and indigenous ties to the land. The Jewish people’s rightful ownership long predates the United Nations and well precedes the horrors of the Holocaust. No one ever gave Israel to the Jews—certainly not the Palestinians—and no one can ever take her away. Any two-state solution needs to begin with this fundamental understanding that somehow eludes Jayapal: The Jews are in Israel, and always have been, and will continue to be there, by right and not on sufferance.

The Jewish people’s rightful ownership long predates the United Nations and well precedes the horrors of the Holocaust.

Jayapal’s non apology concludes by turning to her own background, and she lets us know that as an immigrant woman of color, she should be excused for her own antisemitic racism because obviously she is sensitive when a people’s very existence is called into question. Except that, as a practical matter, and despite her race and gender, she continues to dehumanize and implicitly justify terror against Israelis whom she apparently feels deserve just what they get for being so darn difficult and wanting to exist in their homeland.

At bottom, Israel is not a racist state, and does not implement racist policies. Despite Japayal and her friends’ best efforts, nothing will change these truths. But it is high time that propagandists like her be relegated to the dustbin of political history, rather than voted to lead a caucus of over 100 members of Congress.

Dr. Mark Goldfeder, Esq. is director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center.


Gabriel Groisman is a partner at LSN Law in Miami, FL, a Jewish rights leader and the former Mayor of Bal Harbour, Florida.

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