The Pervasiveness of Race

Whilst the following news story ( is not directly related to the Middle East I have decided to post it anyway because of a recent debate about racism and as it provides a convenient excuse to revisit the topic on this site. What this short news story suggests is that even though institutional and legally enforced racism is less pervasive today than in previous eras where the slave trade and European colonialism produced racist doctrines premised on the superiority of the white race, there is still a resilience to racial stereotyping and more subtle forms of racism in the US, at least. I would argue that subtle and insidious forms of racism remain pervasive in the modern world more widely than just in the US . The harsh reality is that racism is as pervasive internationally as it was a century or so ago when W.E.B. Du Bois suggested that the issue of race relations would be a defining motif of the twentieth century. The events of the twentieth century have shown us how prescient Du Bois was and how relevant his comments remain as we enter into a new millennium. Today, racial differences (ethnic and religious differences as well) continue to shape the world we live in.

Israeli forms of racism are not unique and the tragedy of the discrimination and violence that Israeli state and society visits on the Palestinian people is that it has happened all before, and that the Israeli state exists today as a response to European discrimination and violence against European Jews. Israel is also a colonial-settler state, very much modelled on the European example and that is why countries like Australia, Canada, the U.S. and the former apartheid state in South Africa have had , or still have, such affinity with Israel. These states, with their own unreconciled issues of the conquest, domination and dispossession of indigenous peoples choose not to face the reality of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians for doing so would raise many questions about the legacies of colonial-settler history for Australians, Canadians, Americans, etc. Instead they prefer to ignore the problem as much as possible and with it overlook Israel’s own settler-colonial foundations (re:Rudd on the 60th anniversary of la-Nakbah). (N.B. the unresolved issues of racism in Australia, Canada, and the US are the main reasons that these countries should have attended the recent UN conference and unfortunately for minorities, especially indigenous minorities, that still face discrimination in each of these states, Israel was a convenient excuse not to attend and address their own balance sheet of racism).

Britain and France (of course South Africa has as well, but SA is a very specific case) are two countries that have had to examine their colonial history and for the most part have renounced the colonial-settler-racist paradigm. For this reason these two countries, on the whole, are more uncomfortable with the settler colonial mentality and policies in Israel, and this is partly why they tend to be more critical of the excesses of Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians.  This does not mean that they have renounced racism, not in the least, but at least the concept of a hierarchy of races and foreign domination are no longer permitted in these societies. One only has to look at the difference between the acceptance of the justification for the occupation of Iraq in the US (bringing civilization and democracy to the Iraqis) and the contrasting unease in the UK with what was widely perceived as neo-colonialism to understand the way that the end of empire has shaped English perceptions of these issues.

In saying this, racism in Israel is just one example of what Edward Said and others have shown are international perceptions of Palestinians and Arabs more widely. Israeli racism towards Arabs is deeper than elsewhere, except maybe some parts of the US since 9/11, due to the political benefits accrued to the ruling elite from utilizing the tools of racial fear. Antisemitism in Arab states is used in a similar way by ruling elites utilizing Israel for domestic political mileage. From this vantage point racism against Arabs in Israel is now in a dialectic relationship with antisemitism in Arab states.But there is also an economic dimension.

The turning point in terms of Israel’s racism and discrimination towards Arabs comes not from security concerns per se, but with the end of the Cold War and the replacement of cheap Arab labour with Jewish migrant labour from the former communist states. It is no surprise that it is the new migrant groups who are in direct competition with Arab labour for low paid and un-skilled employment are at the forefront of intensifying the campaign of anti-Arab racism and discrimination against non-Jews. Part of the rationale for the blockade of Gaza, I would argue a major part, is that Gaza was potentially a site for cheap labour and cheap goods which threaten the interests of Israeli labour and capital, while providing further legitimation for the dominant military- intelligence structure that rules Israel. Segregating the Arabs of the West Bank has a similar purpose and the Wall is hated in the West Bank not only because of the political symbolism and the incredible callousness of that structure but because it signifies an economic barrier for desperate Palestinian labour.

Similar issues of racism and economic competition are evident in Egypt, Sudan and Libya (which I have written about earlier) and in western industrialised countries now facing unemployment and a shortage of labour supply for the first time in almost two decades. So, Israel is not alone in having to deal with the issue of racism but is faced with a large group of insiders who are increasingly being excluded from the state, even more than they had been before, i.e. Israeli Arabs who are now becoming even more marginalized and humiliated than before.

In summary, racism is complex and deeply political. Racism, if defined as a form of discrimination determined by the dominant group in any society against minorities on the basis of race (and also ethnicity and religion, which are all historically constructed and difficult to define ) is deeply entwined with history, power relations (both domestic and international) , economic relations (both domestic and international) and the practices of everyday actors carrying out mundane tasks. This last practice is the most difficult to quantify  but sadly continues to shape race relations, as illustrated by the arrest of the eminent Black US historian Henry Louis Gates Jnr.

Noah Bassil

9 Responses to The Pervasiveness of Race

  1. Kristin Ma says:

    Notorious examples of racism include:

    –The Javanese land grab in West Papua

    –The Chinese Government’s partly successful attempts to get Han Chinese to move to Tibet and to Xinjiang Province (where the Uighurs live) in effect displacing the native populations.

    –The Pashtun attempt to dominate Afghanistan through the Taleban.

    Saddam Hussein era Iraq was also a racist state. It suppressed the Shia and Kurds in favour of the Sunni minority. Looks like post-Saddam Iraq will be more of the same with the Shia and Sunnis changing places.

    Syria is run by a small Alawite minority.

    Often the lot of non-Muslims in Muslim countries is not a happy one.

    It seems that racial, ethnic and religious oppression is as global as flu.

  2. mustafa ramadan says:

    Racism & Palestinian organ plundering in the rogue state

    Israel is the only rogue state defying and belittling all humanity in the 21st century. Israeli army officers and other criminals involved in the crime of stealing the organs of Palestinians killed by the IDF and its agents must be exposed and brought to justice.

    The petition

    September 1, 2009

    BACKGROUND: In late July 2009, FBI Agent Robert J. Cooke filed a criminal complaint in US District Court against Levy Rosenbaum alleging that he unlawfully conspired “to acquire, receive, and otherwise transfer human organs.” Rosenbaum is quoted as indicating he had been procuring human organs for “[t]en years” and there are “people over there [in Israel] hunting” for organs.

    On August 17, 2009, a Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, published “Our sons plundered for their organs,” by veteran Middle East photojournalist Donald Boström. Boström indicates the Rosenbaum story, which garnered international attention, inspired him to revisit his experiences in Palestine in the 1990s. He writes: “I then travelled around interviewing a great number of Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza—meeting parents who told of how their sons had been deprived of organs before being killed. … ‘Our sons are used as involuntary organ donors,’ relatives of Khaled from Nablus told me, as did the mother of Raed from Jenin and the uncles of Machmod and Nafes from Gaza, who had all disappeared for a number of days only to return at night, dead and autopsied.” Boström opines that these charges raise “enough question marks to motivate the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to start an investigation …”

  3. llwynn says:

    The ONLY rogue state, Mustafa? Goodness, that’s a rather sweeping and simplistic view. You might want to have a look at what anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes has written about organ theft all over the world…

  4. raffegold says:


    Even you can’t truly believe that Israel is the ‘only rogue state defying and belittling all humanity’. Regardless of our political differences you must realise that there are a range of human rights abuses throughout the world. That statement ignores the hundreds of millions of people who are trapped under oppressive regimes…not to mention individuals such as husbands, wives, daughters and sons who are caught in the ever-growing scourge of domestic violence.

    In regards to that Aftonbladet article, I’ve read it and it’s complete and utter bollocks ( I do believe that’s the most academically appropriate term). They have no proof other than the picture of a body with what looks like a standard autopsy scar and they attempt to link it to a number of Jews that were arrested for, among other things, organ trafficking. Essentially what the “journalist” has done is to link Jews with the actions of the Israel Defence Forces (and vice-versa). It’s something far more suited to come out of an anti-Semitic newspaper.

  5. mustafa ramadan says:

    19 Sep 2009
    Plundering Organs of Palestinians
    I haven’t written to this site for a long time. Raffe, you haven’t changed. You are still the very same Zionist apologist. The Swedish journalist Bostrom said he had made many lengthy investigations and interviewed many Palestinian families whose loved ones were killed by the IOF and their organs were removed from their bodies. It was said that the families were ordered by the Israeli soldiers or security men to BURY their killed family members quickly AT NIGHT in order to conceal the crime and not to give the families any chance to see and examine the dead bodies. It’s not strange at all that your folks steal Palestinians organs, simply because 62 years ago they forcibly and atrociously stole all Palestine, and are stealing more and more parts of it every day. So Bostrom is an anti-Semitic fabricator. Well-said, Raffe!

  6. raffegold says:


    I am not an ‘apologist’ because I am not employed by the Israeli government or the Israel Defence Forces. I am simply an independent blogger and politics student who attempts to present an alternative side that is seen on this board. Hence why I do not lend any support to the Settler movement and openly condemn policies of the State of Israel that I disagree with. I am a Zionist and I am proud of the State of Israel and its achievements. I sincerely believe that the world harshly judges Israel whilst turning a blind eye to the thousands of human rights abuses that plague this world (simply look at the Human Rights Council and how many condemnations it has made against Israel vs the rest of the world).

    I find it difficult to believe that the Aftonbladet article was not tied to the recent arrest of Jews in New Jersey considering that the ‘organ theft’ occurred in 1992. The article simply makes a number of claims and yet provides absolutely not one shred of proof. I am surprised that this ‘article’ managed to make it past the editorial process as it is nothing but slander. The journalist even pointed out:

    “It concerns me, to the extent that I want it to be investigated, that’s true. But whether it’s true or not — I have no idea, I have no clue”


    “Boström explained that he had not meant to imply that IDF soldiers were killing Palestinians for their organs. “Even the Palestinians don’t say that,”…..”But Boström admitted he had no evidence of such deeds”,7340,L-3766093,00.html

    So basically we have a journalist who has no proof of any wrong-doing by the Israel Defence Forces publishing an article condemning them for harvesting organs. This “evidence” was primarily based on hearsay and rumours from the Palestinian street. Well i’ve also heard that Kevin Rudd enjoys a nice chardonnay of rams blood after dinner…..think the SMH will publish that?

  7. mustafa ramadan says:

    Israel is an Illegal Outpost
    20 Sep 2009
    Below is the first part of the aricle written by JK. To read the rest of the article, see:

    Ayoon Wa Azan (Israel is an Illegal Outpost)
    Thu, 17 September 2009

    Jihad el-Khazen
    The word denial is used in English, nay in the entire West, as much as words such as facts, circumstances, and problems are used in our political lingo.

    This word came back to my recollection after I found a website (that is likely to be Jewish), and which mentioned my name with 124 thousand news items related to Israel and the Jews. I did not read more than a couple of pages from that site since life is too short to read it all. While I am not important enough to be the central focus of news stories, I noticed from browsing the published material that it was accusing me time after time of denial, such as denying terrorism, its origins, and denying the Palestinian “terrorism” – which I see as a legitimate resistance one thousand percent, and which I support against the Israeli terrorism.

    Apparently, the fact that I had always criticized those who deny the Holocaust did not vouch for me as far as this website was concerned, nor did the fact that I wrote time and again about the peace seeking Jews in Israel, the United States and from all around the world; for this electronic site, as long as I support Fatah, Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel, then I am evading the problem by denying it.

  8. mustafarama says:


    Apart from building settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, what are the other Israeli policies that you condemn ?

  9. raffegold says:


    If you go back you’ll find a link to a blog post that i’ve written where I denounced Avigdor Lieberman and his attempts at banning al-Nakba celebrations and his call for a ‘loyalty oath’.

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