Carolyn L. Karcher: “Zionism Was Always A Settler Colonial Ideology”

BY Mohsen Abdelmoumen

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You participated in the march on the Pentagon in October 1967 against the Vietnam War.  What do these historic moments represent for you?

Carolyn L. Karcher: The Vietnam War and the mass movement against it transformed my consciousness and changed my life.  Although I grew up in Japan and did not come to the US until entering Stanford University in 1962, I attended an American school in Japan that gave me the standard indoctrination.  I believed the US was a beacon of democracy with the mission of imparting its benefits to other countries and saving them from oppressive governments.  The Vietnam War shattered this belief.  The October 1967 march on the Pentagon was the third demonstration against the war in which I participated, but it was the one that marked the beginning of my political re-education.  During the night I spent at the Pentagon, I saw soldiers with gas masks and fixed bayonets knocking peacefully seated demonstrators on the head with their rifle butts and kicking them with their heavy boots, while the march’s leaders reiterated instructions for us to remain passive and not resist.  What got me through that terrifying experience was the conviction that the press would inform the American public of how US soldiers had treated citizens exercising their constitutional rights, and that the incident would lead to an inquiry and redress.  Instead, the next day’s headlines in the Washington Post read: “Troops use restraint against violent crowd.”  It would take years before the US press finally started to report the truth about the war and to portray anti-war protesters more sympathetically.  I would never again read the mainstream press uncritically.

U.S. imperialism continues its wars around the world, ravaging countries and massacring people. In your opinion, why isn’t there a fighting anti-war movement like the one we experienced during the Vietnam War?

Broad public opposition to US plans to go to war in Vietnam on the side of, and later in the place of, the French began long before what we think of as the “fighting anti-war movement.”  In 1954 this opposition prevented President Dwight D. Eisenhower from launching a conventional military invasion of Vietnam, obliging him to resort instead to incremental covert methods.  In 1964 the US public voted overwhelmingly against the pro-war presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, and in favor of the ostensibly anti-war candidate Lyndon Johnson, who, unbeknown to the public, was already seeking a pretext for a full-scale military assault on Vietnam.

The better-known anti-war movement of the Vietnam era that responded to Johnson’s betrayal of his electoral promises started on college campuses.  It progressed from teach-ins to disruption of the Selective Service test and its draft deferments for college students to draft card burning to campaigns against the production of napalm and other weapons, and it won the support of millions, as exhibited in huge demonstrations.  The campus-based activism converged with the mass movement for African American rights, as epitomized by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)’s January 1966 statement against the Vietnam war and by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful April 1967 “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam.”  The anti-Vietnam war movement reached its apogée and achieved its most decisive impact as militant opposition to the war erupted within the military itself, generating more than 300 antiwar newspapers, prompting tens of thousands of desertions, inspiring acts of sabotage on navy ships and aircraft carriers, as well as “fragging” (killing of unpopular officers) on the ground in Vietnam, and ultimately forcing the army and navy to withdraw, because whole units refused to fight.

MORE…

The lesson the US government learned from the Vietnam War was that it was dangerous to rely on a conscript army to wage prolonged imperialist wars.  The army is now professional, made up of volunteer soldiers who are recruited mostly from low-income communities.  To ensure sufficient recruitment, scholarship programs that used to enable large numbers of low-income students to attend college have been drastically cut, inducing such students to seek scholarships from the army in return for military service.  Obviously, it is much easier to propagandize and intimidate volunteer professional soldiers.  Yet even under these conditions, soldiers who served in Iraq returned home to found Iraq Veterans against the War, modeled after Vietnam Veterans against the War, and others have joined Veterans for Peace.   Moreover, during the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, greater numbers of Americans marched against it than against the Vietnam war at its height.  Even though most families are no longer directly affected by US wars abroad, as they were by the Vietnam War, a majority of the public still opposes these wars.  And the army is still looking for ways to prevent the emergence of another “fighting anti-war movement,” by minimizing the use of US troops and relying primarily on bombing, drones, mercenaries, proxies, and foreign troops.  Perhaps its most effective tactic has been to keep its wars spread over the entire globe, yet invisible.  How can a “fighting anti-war movement” mobilize against wars that it can’t see?

You wrote the two books “The First Woman in the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child” and “A Refugee from His Race: Albion W. Tourgée and His Fight against White Supremacy”.  In these books, you are interested in the issue of slavery and segregation by evoking the life story of two historical personalities known for their fight against racism. Can we say that the United States is a racist country?

What launched me on the research that led to these two books was the political re-education prompted by the Vietnam War and the movement against it.  I realized that I had never learned the true history of my own country.  Growing up in Japan, I had never been exposed either to the American race problem, which, simultaneously with the Vietnam War, was exploding in Black urban rebellions across the US, including in Washington, DC, where I was now living.  To fill this gap in my education, I began reading about slavery and the antislavery, or abolitionist, movement.  I was thrilled to find in abolitionists like Lydia Maria Child the precursors of my peers in the anti-Vietnam War movement.  The abolitionists, too, believed deeply in the American ideals of freedom and equality proclaimed in the US Declaration of Independence.  They, too, were outraged to discover how crassly their fellow Americans violated these ideals.  They, too, articulated searing critiques of American hypocrisy, as well as probing analyses of white racism.  They, too, dedicated their lives to making their country fulfill its ideals, often defending the rights of African Americans in the teeth of mob violence by white supremacists.  The antislavery movement provided the first model in US history, however imperfect, of racial integration and joint struggle for justice.  It culminated in the Civil War and the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments abolishing slavery and granting equal citizenship and voting rights to all American men.

The forces of white supremacy were too powerful to yield even to military and legislative defeat, however.  In the ex-slave states, white supremacists formed paramilitary organizations like the Ku Klux Klan that launched a campaign of terrorism against African Americans and their white allies, through which they overthrew the new democratically elected governments and introduced forms of neo-slavery worse than the original.  In the North, as the public came to understand that only a prolonged military occupation of the South could stem white supremacist violence, war weariness and a desire for national reconciliation—which could only be achieved by sacrificing justice for African Americans—caused white sympathy to shift away from the emancipated slaves toward white Southerners.  Codifying this shift, the US Supreme Court reinterpreted the post-Civil War amendments to mean their opposite and nullified other civil rights laws as unconstitutional.  Albion W. Tourgée’s life encapsulates this turbulent history.  Converted to abolitionism by the fugitive slaves he met while soldiering in the Union army during the Civil War, Tourgée participated in North Carolina’s Reconstruction, helped write an egalitarian constitution for the state, and braved death threats by the Klan while serving as a Superior Court judge.  After the overthrow of Reconstruction forced him to return to the North, he tried to reanimate the abolitionist movement by writing a series of novels about the aborted struggle for freedom and justice in which he had engaged alongside African Americans.  Subsequently, he joined with African Americans in founding an interracial civil rights organization, campaigning against lynching, which claimed hundreds of lives a year in the 1890s, and challenging the ideology of segregation in the 1896 Plessy v. Fergusoncase, which he argued pro bono.  The Supreme Court’s infamous verdict justifying segregation validated white supremacy as the law of the land.  It reigned uncontested for almost half a century, until the Court repudiated Plessy in Brown v. Board of Education.

Although the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s produced many advances, systemic racism still pervades the US, causing glaring disparities between whites and people of color in health care, education, housing, employment opportunities, and access to voting.  In her book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” the scholar Michelle Alexander has also pointed out that prison has replaced slavery and segregation as a means of keeping African Americans locked into inferior status and deprived of civil and voting rights.  The persistence of racism is further apparent in the policies the Trump administration has instituted to restrict immigration and asylum, for example by imprisoning and deporting immigrants of color and separating them from their children.

Today we are seeing another climactic battle between the forces of white supremacy on one side and the champions of equality on the other side.  I take a great deal of hope in the scale and duration of the anti-racist protests inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement across the country, the unprecedented numbers of whites who have been participating in them, the well-thought-out demands the leaders have formulated, and the support they have received from city governments, the liberal media, and large portions of the general public.  I take hope as well in the vigorous solidarity protests with which Americans of all races responded to Trump’s Muslim ban and anti-immigrant policies.

How do you explain the fact that in the United States the police kill citizens of color with impunity, as we saw with the assassination of George Floyd and many others?

In the South, the police as an institution evolved out of the slave patrols whose job was to prevent slaves from stealing, running away, or conspiring to revolt.  There, racism was built into policing from the start, since it gave poor white non-slaveholders an investment in both the slave system and whiteness.  Racism operated more subtly in other parts of the country, where the police served to protect the rich and their property against the “dangerous classes.”  These classes included immigrant groups who were not perceived as white, as was initially the case for the Irish, Italians, Slavs, Jews, and others.  By breaking up labor strikes and by helping to repress immigrant groups lower in the scale than one’s own, policing could offer a route to upward mobility and acceptance as white.

Although police forces are more racially diverse today, with African American, Latinx, and Asian members, the upper ranks are overwhelmingly white, and racism continues to shape policing.   The military plays an equally pernicious role in shaping policing.  Police forces receive the army’s excess weapons—a major reason for the militarization of policing.  In addition, many soldiers come home from Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere to find jobs as police officers (or prison guards).  Their military training in armies of occupation teaches them to shoot first and ask questions later, as well as to treat the foreign peoples whose countries they occupy with contempt.  Reinforcing this pattern, ever since September 11, 2001, the US has been sponsoring a police exchange program with Israel, viewed as the country that has had the most experience dealing with terrorism.  As Jewish Voice for Peace has noted, the two countries trade “worst practices” in this “deadly exchange” program.  Clearly, the model Israel provides of an occupation army only encourages militarized, racist policing.

The US fosters a sense of impunity in its troops by refusing to join the International Criminal Court and by thwarting efforts to punish soldiers who commit rape or war crimes.  The police maintain their own impunity through powerful unions that lobby politicians and hire expensive lawyers to defend members against any charges of malfeasance.  Ironically, police and prison guard unions are the only ones that have not been decimated by anti-union policies. That is what enabled them to win a case at the US Supreme Court that granted the police “qualified immunity” from prosecution, amounting in essence to unqualified impunity.

In lieu of prosecuting the police, which almost never succeeds, municipalities pay indemnities—at taxpayers’ expense—to the families of victims of police shootings, as the city of Louisville, Kentucky, recently did to the family of Breonna Taylor.  This practice calms the anger of the victims’ communities but imposes no financial penalty on the police, leaving them without any incentive to reform.

Currently, protesters are demanding the elimination of “qualified immunity,” an end to military weaponry for the police, drastic cuts in police budgets, reallocation of funds toward social programs aimed at solving the problems poor people face, and in some cases the very abolition of the police.  City councils are responding much more positively to such demands than in the past, influenced by the shocking brutality of George Floyd’s murder, as captured on the video that the whole world has seen, by the police’s blatant violence against protesters, even under the spotlight of the media and an aroused public, and by the scale, duration, and multiracial character of the protests.

What is your analysis of this great worldwide solidarity movement after the assassination of George Floyd?

No doubt the graphic video of George Floyd’s murder and the inspiring photos and media coverage of the protests here in the US have sparked worldwide sympathy, but this could not have grown into an actual solidarity movement without recognition that other countries have their own George Floyds.  Certainly, Palestinians have long been pointing out that the Israeli police, military, and settlers treat them as brutally as the US police treat African Americans and kill them with even more impunity.  Arab and African citizens of France, too, experience frequent police brutality, as well as ghettoization, discrimination, and entrapment in inferior schools—and unlike the US, France has never tried to correct these conditions through affirmative action policies.  In India, Dalits (untouchables) have traditionally met with violence at the hands of the upper castes, and these days the Modi government has empowered both the police and Hindu mobs to terrorize Dalit and Muslim communities.  Many other countries offer similar examples of oppressed groups that have every reason to identify with George Floyd and the solidarity movement his murder generated.

There will soon be presidential elections in the United States. What is your opinion on Donald Trump’s presidency? In your opinion, wouldn’t Trump’s re-election be a potential danger? Why has the American Left failed to be an alternative to Donald Trump?

Donald Trump’s presidency has been catastrophic not only for the US but for the entire world.  He has already flouted the Constitution, eviscerated our democratic institutions, turned agencies meant to protect workers, consumers, public health, and the environment into their opposite, and rolled back regulations promoting clean air, clean water, higher emissions standards, pollution control, etc.  Today he called for schools to teach “patriotism” rather than “left-wing propaganda” that makes students ashamed of their country. Were Trump to be re-elected, he would gut all remaining constitutional protections and inaugurate a full-blown fascist regime.  A Trump victory would help bring fascists to power in many other countries as well.  Such a development would end all hope of saving the planet from devastating climate chaos.

It is not quite accurate, however, to say that the American Left has failed to provide an alternative to Donald Trump.  On the electoral level, Bernie Sanders articulated a very clear alternative to Trump that won a large following, especially among the youth.  One reason he lost to Joe Biden is that many voters feared a self-proclaimed socialist could not defeat Trump and believed Biden had the best chance of doing so.  Although the Left is not strong enough to win a presidential election, it has never been stronger in my lifetime.  An increasing number of extremely progressive candidates are winning election to the House of Representatives and to state and city governments.  Mass movements for racial and environmental justice are helping to define progressive legislation, as with the call for defunding the police, mentioned in #4, above, and the Green New Deal.  These movements will continue to exert pressure on Biden and the Democratic party establishment if we succeed in defeating Trump.

The revival of the American Left stands in sharp contrast to the marked decline of the Left in France, where it always used to be much stronger than in the US.

How do you explain the catastrophic management of the Covid-19 crisis by the Trump administration?

Trump does not believe in science, as he has indicated by denying that climate change is taking place.  For Trump, profits are paramount—his own and those of his cronies and donors.  He is determined to keep share prices high, since he is convinced that his re-election depends on a buoyant stock market and economy.  Thus, he refuses to countenance any measures that would cause an economic slowdown, such as closing factories, businesses, and schools to prevent the spread of Covid-19.  He depends for electoral campaign donations on industries and businesses that want to maintain their profits at all costs.  For example, Trump’s dependence on—and personal investments in—the pharmaceutical industry have led him not only to favor a US race to develop a vaccine that can be patented and sold for a high price, but to promote drugs like hydro chloroquine that have been shown to have harmful rather than beneficial effects.  Similarly, he has defined the meat industry as “essential” to the US economy, with the result that meatpacking plants can stay open despite having become Covid-19 hot spots.  While invoking the Defense Production Act to keep meatpacking plants open, he has refused to invoke it to mandate the production of personal protective equipment, which would not generate comparable profits.  Besides his obsession with profits, Trump sees everything in partisan political terms.  That is why he undermines and countermands governors and mayors who are Democrats, depriving their states and municipalities of resources and encouraging his followers to disobey local orders to wear masks and avoid congregating in bars, churches, and campaign rallies.  Trump’s white supremacist and anti-immigrant views give him every incentive to allow Covid-19 to continue raging in African American, Latinx, and Native American communities, which have been suffering from hugely disproportionate infection and death rates.  Finally, Trump’s disparagement of the media as purveyors of “fake news” has had the desired impact on his core supporters, who base their views regarding the pandemic only on the same right-wing TV channels, talk shows, and social media platforms that Trump himself feeds on.

You wrote the book “Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation” in which you evoke the path of certain Jewish personalities who rejected Zionism. How do you explain that these personalities, although Jewish, have turned away from Zionism?

“Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism” is a collection in which forty Jews of diverse backgrounds, nearly all of whom received a Zionist upbringing, tell their individual stories of personal transformation.  The contributors are rabbis, professors of Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies, other academics, journalists and media specialists, lawyers, health professionals, social workers, activists, and recent graduates.  They range in age from their seventies to their twenties.  They each recall how and why they stopped believing in the premise of Zionist ideology: that the solution to antisemitism was for Jews to have a state of their own, which they could control and which would privilege them over non-Jews.  They then describe the different roads they each traveled from a Zionist worldview to activism in solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis striving to build an inclusive society founded on justice, equality, and peaceful coexistence.

These narratives reveal a number of reasons why the authors lost faith in Zionism: (1) the authors saw the brutality of the Israeli occupation with their own eyes for the first time; (2) they met and formed warm relationships with Palestinians and heard from them about the Nakba; (3) they came to recognize the contradiction between the Jewish ethical principles they had been taught—love your neighbor, love the stranger, pursue justice, repair the world—and Israel’s cruel treatment of Palestinians; (4) they confronted the censorship and silencing Zionist authorities use to maintain faith in Israel as a democratic haven for the Jews—and the vilification to which these authorities subject dissenters; (5) as Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews, some faced blatant discrimination in Israel that belied Zionist ideology’s claim to offer all Jews a refuge from persecution; (6) as progressives, many discovered that the racial equality and religious tolerance they uphold in the US are not practiced in Israel, and that Israel has joined the US in supporting the reactionary regimes against which progressives have fought in Vietnam, South Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere.

The book’s introduction and afterword set these narratives in historical context.  The introduction explains why Zionism arose in the late 19th century.  The movement originated among Russian Jews who, like my mother’s parents, were enduring pogroms at the hands of state-sanctioned mobs.  To escape the pogroms and the persecution they were suffering, one and a half million Russian Jews emigrated to America, as did my maternal grandparents.  Tens of thousands more joined the Bund, a militantly socialist Jewish organization that urged workers to fight for liberation where they lived, rather than emigrate.   Only a tiny minority embraced the Zionist view that Jews could best achieve permanent safety by taking refuge in the biblical homeland of the ancient Israelites.  Zionism did not gain full ideological expression or significant traction until the Viennese Jew Theodor Herzl published “The Jewish State” (1896) in response to the explosion of anti-Jewish hysteria in France.  Herzl concluded that Jews could never escape antisemitism as long as they lived as minorities in ethnically homogeneous states—hence that they must found a homogeneous state of their own.  “The Jewish State” makes clear that Herzl conceived of this as a colonizing endeavor.  Although he considered other sites for it, he chose Palestine because it would appeal more to the Jewish settlers he hoped to attract.

Contrary to Herzl’s expectations, however, the vast majority of Jews rejected Zionism.  The orthodox denounced it as impious because it substituted nationalism for religion, conquest for the Messiah’s rule of universal brotherhood.  Liberal Reform Jews agreed, but also denounced it because they feared it would endanger Jews’ integration as equal citizens in their home countries.  Bundists denounced it because it substituted a fictitious Jewish unity for class struggle and a Jewish state for socialism.  Some opponents of Zionism additionally foresaw that European Jewish settlement of Palestine would arouse Arab enmity and plunge the region into perpetual warfare.

What turned the tide in favor of Zionism was the rise of Nazism, culminating in the Holocaust.  The decimation of European Jews, combined with the refusal of the US and European countries to admit Jewish refugees, finally convinced most Jews that the Zionists were right—Jews indeed needed Israel as a refuge from the threat of another Holocaust.

Once Zionism won widespread acceptance, it gradually took over all synagogues, rabbinical schools, Jewish community centers, and other institutions.  In the process, it became so intertwined with Judaism that few could see any difference between the two.  Zionism and loyalty to Israel became pillars of Jewish identity.  Consequently, most contributors to “Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism” underwent agonizing conflicts before renouncing Zionism.

Just as Nazism and the Holocaust turned the tide in favor of Zionism, however, Israel’s drift to the extreme right and its increasingly brazen violations of international law and Palestinian human rights are now turning the tide against Zionism.  More and more Jews, especially but not exclusively among the young, are rejecting Zionism and Israel and working in solidarity with Palestinians.  In the process, they are redefining Jewish identity and rediscovering Judaism.

How do you explain that at a time when Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, etc. are normalizing their relations with the Zionist entity of Israel, Western citizens are mobilizing in BDS to boycott Israeli products?

The Arab countries that are normalizing their relations with Israel are absolute monarchies.  They, like Israel, perceive Iran as their main threat, and Israel is useful to them as a supplier of arms, surveillance technology, and intelligence (hitherto sub rosa).  From what I understand, Arab citizens across the Middle East have always been very sympathetic to the Palestinians and would be happy to join the BDS movement if it were up to them.  Western citizens, on the other hand, have been blinded by Israeli propaganda until quite recently.  Thanks to social media, Israel is no longer able to prevent citizens of Western countries from learning the truth about the crimes it is committing against the Palestinian people.  The Palestinian diaspora in Europe and the US is also playing an increasingly important role in educating Western citizens about the oppressive conditions under which Palestinians are forced to live, and many organizations are providing opportunities to travel to the region and meet Palestinian activists.  These new developments have encouraged left-leaning citizens to embrace the Palestinian cause, just as they previously embraced the cause of Black South Africans.

What is your opinion on the policy of apartheid of the Palestinian people practiced by the Zionist entity of Israel and how do you explain that the UN and all international organizations turn a blind eye to Israel’s crimes?

Zionism was always a settler colonial ideology.  The goal of creating a refuge for (European) Jews in a land inhabited by Palestinian Arabs necessarily involved expelling the indigenous population.  In the US, of course, European settlers waged exterminating wars against native peoples and corralled the survivors into reservations.  That process occurred over several centuries when the Western world fully supported colonialism.  In contrast, the founding of Israel occurred when colonialism had fallen into disrepute and formerly colonized countries were winning independence.  Hence, Israel could not expel the entire population of Palestine.  It has been seeking instead to confine Palestinians to smaller and smaller enclaves, on the model of South Africa’s Bantustans.  In the occupied Palestinian territories, Israeli apartheid functions much like the South African equivalent, in that different legal systems apply to Palestinians, who are tried in military courts, and to Israeli Jewish settlers, who are tried in civilian courts.  Israeli apartheid is more extreme, however, barring Palestinians from using the same roads that Israeli Jews do.  In 1948, Israel, the system is more like Jim Crow in the US, in that Palestinians are subjected to more than 50 discriminatory laws, as well as to segregation in schools and housing.  Apartheid is built into the concept of a “Jewish state,” which by definition excludes, subordinates, or marginalizes non-Jews.  But Israel also has a pragmatic reason for keeping Palestinians separate from Israeli Jews.  Its policies of dehumanizing Palestinians and stereotyping them as terrorists can only work if Israeli Jews do not interact with Palestinians, except through the barrel of a gun.

Israel has managed to maintain its impunity from international censure through clever propaganda, exploitation of European and US guilt for the Holocaust, and most recently a campaign to define criticism of Israel as antisemitism.  These tactics are beginning to wear thin, however, as more and more information about Israel’s crimes is coming to light and as more and more progressives, including Jews, are turning against Israel.  Some of these progressives work for international organizations and are influencing them from within.

Moreover, the UN cannot fairly be said to “turn a blind eye to Israel’s crimes.”  The UN Security Council has repeatedly tried to pass resolutions censuring Israel and failed only because of the US veto.  It succeeded in December 2016 when the outgoing Obama administration abstained from censuring a resolution that denounced the building of settlements in occupied territory as a violation of international law.  The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has vocally condemned Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights.  The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as its name indicates, was created specifically to alleviate the plight of Palestinians and has warmly championed them.  That is why the Israelis hate both UNRWA and UNHRC and why the Trump administration has cut off its funding for UNRWA.  On a much smaller scale than UNWRA, the World Bank has been engaged in the Palestinian territories since 1992, providing grants out of its own income, supplemented by other donor Trust Funds in support of projects in water, sanitation, municipal services, education, self-employment, and health, including most recently a project to address urgent health needs from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The weight of the Zionist lobby in the United States, such as AIPAC, is often mentioned. How do you explain this major influence?

The Zionist lobby includes a wide range of Jewish organizations, some of which predate Zionism and originally served to protect American Jews against discrimination and antisemitism, as did the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), or to provide charity to poor Jews, as did the United Jewish Appeal (UJA).  At its inception, the ADL realized that it could not effectively fight antisemitism without fighting racism of all kinds and that it could not protect Jews against discrimination unless it sought to protect African Americans and other oppressed minorities.  Since Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, however, all these Jewish organizations, and many new ones with right-wing agendas, have made the defense of Israel their primary mission.  They mobilize opposition to speakers, campus events, student groups, academic programs, faculty members, or any others they deem anti-Israel, and they often achieve their ends by suing or threatening to sue, or by inducing large donors to threaten to cut off funding.

AIPAC was founded in 1951 specifically as a pro-Israel political lobby but did not gain unrivaled power until after the 1967 war.  It recruits and nurtures candidates for political office, raises money to support their electoral campaigns, and until recently succeeded in scaring politicians away from taking controversial positions on Israel by recruiting candidates to run against them and inundating the offending politicians with negative publicity.  Politicians brave enough to resist AIPAC generally met defeat at the polls.

The good news is that the Zionist lobby is slowly losing the influence it used to exert.  Though the harassment continues, universities are now able to hire and retain professors whose teaching and research focuses on Palestine, and groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) are attracting more and more members and forming coalitions with other progressive student organizations.

On the political front Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential candidacy demonstrated that criticizing Israel no longer doomed a politician.  In 2018 two extremely progressive pro-BDS Muslim candidates, Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American, and Ilhan Omar, a hijab-wearing Somali immigrant, won election for the first time, and when AIPAC tried to defeat them in 2020 by the usual means, it failed miserably.  Meanwhile, two new pro-Palestinian candidates have just won their primaries.

These developments reflect a clear shift in public sentiment away from unquestioning support for Israel and toward greater sympathy for Palestinians.

Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen

Who is Carolyn L. Karcher?

Carolyn L. Karcher is professor emerita of English, American studies, and women’s studies at Temple University, where she taught for twenty-one years and received the Great Teacher Award and the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2002.  She is the author of Shadow over the Promised Land: Slavery, Race, and Violence in Melville’s America (1980); The First Woman in the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child (1994); A Refugee from His Race: Albion W. Tourgée and His Fight against White Supremacy (2016); and  Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation (2019). She has also edited scholarly reprints of works by several 19th-century writers, including Tourgée’s novel about Black Reconstruction in North Carolina, Bricks Without Straw.

WRITER