Zionism’s problem with intersectionality

There is an undeniable organic connection between the struggle of the Palestinians and that of other people of colour.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest after Friday prayers in Durban
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest against Israel''s war on Gaza in Durban on July 25, 2014 [Reuters/Rogan Ward]

Growing up Palestinian in the states means being in the crosshairs of a barrage of macro and micro aggressions. These aggressions can meet your gaze on a billboard, on TV, or even in the aisles of a franchise bookstore. While traversing the aisles of a Barnes & Noble, I once had the misfortune of reading a passage penned by a well-known Zionist.

Morbid curiosity guided me towards a line that read something to the effect of, “To deny the suffering of a people is to make them go through a double death”. Ironically this particular Zionist built his entire career cheerleading the genocide of Palestiniansand muffling their tortured cries.

If I can credit Israel’s supporters with one thing, it’s their ability to manipulate the truth to atrocious ends. A common tactic is to derail the conversation away from Israel’s brutal racial oppression.

In this particular case, they want to redirect the focus on the validity of racial theory, anything to distract from Israeli settler colonialism and Jim Crow style segregation. Cheerleaders of Israeli apartheid simply don’t want to talk about how the occupied territories are plagued with a state-sponsored ethnic cleansing programme.

They don’t want to talk about how anti-miscegenation laws treat Palestinian ethnicity like a venereal disease. They don’t want to talk about the racial criminalisation of Arabs that populates Israel’s prisons with a nearly three-quarters Palestinian majority. They don’t want to talk about the word “araboushim”, the Hebrew equivalent of the “n” word, indicative of Palestinian subhuman social status. Zionists want us to engage nonsensical questions on their own terms so that we can validate a fictional narrative that inverses reality. They want to render our wounds invisible.

A recent op-ed from a well-known Zionist questioned intersectionality to draw attention away from the daily horror that is Israeli occupation.

If intersectionality didn’t exist

The truth is that intersectionality is more than abstract theory; it’s a reality painted with blood and barbed wire that can be traced from the slums of Soweto to the ghettos of Gaza, to the streets of Oaxaca. There is a lengthy and beautiful organic connection between Palestinians and other people of colour.

This connection transcends the PLO sending donations to Nelson Mandela’s ANC; it transcends Huey P Newton’s visit to Lebanon where he met Yasser Arafat; it transcends Palestinian support for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline. It also transcends the convergence of systems of oppression such as Israel’s role as nuclear arms broker to apartheid South Africa.

PLO leader Yasser Arafat, left and ANC leader Nelson Mandela during a short meeting at the Dutch Prime Minister's residence in the Hague on February 18, 1994 [AP Photo/Albert Overbeek] [Daylife]
PLO leader Yasser Arafat, left and ANC leader Nelson Mandela during a short meeting at the Dutch Prime Minister’s residence in the Hague on February 18, 1994 [AP Photo/Albert Overbeek] [Daylife]

Intersectionality is vested in a shared experience of racial subjugations, humiliation, and exploitation. But even if those connections didn’t abundantly exist, it would still not justify the ethnic supremacy, settler colonial genocide and racial segregation that Israel inflicts on Palestinians.

Even if it didn’t exist, it wouldn’t justify wholesale torture of Palestinians in Israeli prisons. And even if black, Latino, Native, and LGBTQ populations didn’t already identify with Palestine, it still wouldn’t justify the bombardment of the starving, impoverished masses of Gaza, resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocents, including my four-year-old cousin Deema Isleem, who was incinerated in her father’s arms, to clear the land for racially exclusive settlement.

Anti-blackness and xenophobia thrive in Israel’s settler colonial environment, but even if they didn’t it wouldn’t absolve Israel of responsibility for more than 50 discriminatory laws against Palestinians. Zionists look at the natural kinship between Palestinians and other oppressed communities with envy, oblivious to the reality that black, brown, yellow, red, queer, and working-class people live empathetically through tears, knowing each other’s suffering all too well. Even if the academy had not produced the term “intersectionality” the experience would still exist. It’s not about strategy; it’s about transcendent collective trauma that the pomp and privilege of Tel Aviv suburbs or luxury settlements are alien to.

The Muslim boogey man

Conversely, Israel shares many similarities with other settler colonies and the racist ideologies that produced them. Zionism embodies the same racial narcissism and melodrama that found the employment of John Boyega in the Star Wars franchise equivalent to a “white genocide”.

Somehow in the midst of racially segregated roads and mounting Palestinian corpses, Israel’s proponents still manage to make it about the victimhood of racists.

Irony strikes again when they claim victimhood from the same impoverished Palestinian masses that they simultaneously derive privilege from. While Western Jews can freely roam the ancient land of Palestine, more than 200 of my relatives have been confined to a refugee camp in Northern Jordan, barred from reentering their ancestral homeland. There are millions of Palestinians, myself included, waiting to exercise our legal and moral right to return as enshrined in UN Resolution 242.

Israel supporters often reference the racial Muslim boogey man to advance their cause. Unfortunately for them, mentioning ISIL’s crimes are more of an indictment of the repercussions of American foreign policy than they are of the Muslim majority societies they plague.

Nonetheless, Islamophobes still invoke them to appeal to women and queer communities in the pathetic, clumsy way that only a hetero-patriarch can. To my knowledge, Israeli missiles don’t differentiate between “straight” and “queer” targets; they kill Palestinians indiscriminately, regardless of sexual orientation.

The Zionist mobilisation of a gay identity is simply an instance of homonationalism, demonstrating contempt for queer people of colour and the hijacking of their plight to further their imperial gains. Similarly, when colonial racism denies Muslim women of Europe autonomy over their own bodies, it proves yet again how misogyny and patriarchy are woven into the very fabric of western liberalism, not exceptional to it, and definitely not isolated to regions inhabited by veil-clad women.

Lastly, proponents of Israeli apartheid have a nasty habit of attacking our champions of liberation. The libel especially surrounding Rasmea Odeh needs to be addressed. Rasmea was forced to give a false confession under the duress of torture. She was sexually assaulted at the hands of the Israeli security forces in the presence of her own father.

Zionists dehumanisation doesn’t stop at the controlling of bodies, but also of the narratives that produce them. Words fail at professing the raw strength she embodies. She is our matriarch; a walking symbol of the intersections of feminism and racial justice, among the ranks of Angela Davis. Any slight against her credibility is a sign of extreme moral cowardice.

Questioning intersectionality is just a desperate attempt to separate Palestinians from natural allies, which falls well within the colonial tradition of divide and conquer. Intersectionality describes the tangible connections between Palestinians and other oppressed communities that a settler coloniser seeks to systematically sever. 

Shaheen Nassar is a University of California Riverside graduate with a degree in Ethnic Studies. 

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.