Israeli settlers: The face of US imperialism in the Middle East

Zionism, and thus Israel’s settler colonialism, is an extension of American imperialism.

Israeli soldiers walk through a narrow street
Israeli security officers deploy after firing tear gas during clashes with Palestinian residents as Israeli authorities demolish shops in occupied East Jerusalem's predominantly Arab neighbourhood of Silwan, June 29, 2021 [File: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

“Death to Arabs!” “May your village burn!” “A second Nakba is coming!”

These were the slogans young Israeli settlers chanted as they marched through occupied East Jerusalem’s old city on June 15.

The Zionist nationalist march, celebrating the anniversary of Israel’s 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem, had eerie similarities not only with last century’s Nazi rallies in Europe, but also with the more recent examples of racial hatred we have seen on the other side of the Atlantic, in the United States.

For example, watching last month’s so-called “March of the flags” in Jerusalem, it was difficult not to be reminded of the 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where American white nationalists carrying tiki torches chanted slogans like “You will not replace us” and “The South will rise again”. Perhaps the only difference between these two public declarations of racial hatred and the genocidal intention was the fact that, unlike their American counterparts, the Israeli racists faced no backlash or punishment.

Indeed, as genocidal slogans filled the streets of occupied Jerusalem, the Israeli police refrained from making any attempts to control the settlers, but arrested 17 Palestinians protesting against this blatant provocation for “disturbing the peace”.

The similarities between white supremacists in the US and Zionist settlers in Israel are not coincidental. The connection between the two groups goes much deeper than a shared disdain for “the other”. In fact, the Israeli settlers epitomise the ideals and policies of US imperialism in the MENA region.

The faces of American white supremacy in Israel

In May 2021, Muna al-Kurd, a young Palestinian woman, accused an Israeli settler named Jacob of stealing her family home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.

“Jacob, you know that this is not your home,” she told him in English.

The settler replied in a thick US accent: “Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back, so what’s the problem? Why are you yelling at me?”

Jacob, who gained worldwide infamy after a video of the above interaction went viral, was later revealed to be Yaakov Fauci – a Trump supporter from New York who is affiliated with the US-based settler organisation Nahalat Shimon.

No one, of course, was surprised to find out that the new poster boy of violent settler colonialism in Palestine is an Israeli American with apparent ties to white supremacist politics in the US.

Israeli American settlers have long been leading the efforts to dispossess Palestinians of their homes and land with the support of the Israeli Supreme Court and the Israeli government.

And the arguments settlers use to justify their violence – that they are the rightful owners of the land, that they are culturally superior to the Indigenous population, that they are only “defending” themselves – are almost identical to those that are being used by white supremacists in the US.

The best place to look to understand the obvious parallels between the goals and methods of Israeli settlers and US white supremacists is perhaps the life and politics of Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new prime minister.

Born to American parents who emigrated from San Francisco after the 1967 Six-Day War, Bennett was once the head of the settlers’ Yesha Council, whose objective is “to safeguard Israel’s strategic expanses – between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea”. He built his political career as the protégé of Benjamin Netanyahu and boasted of being even more right wing than the warmonger former prime minister.

To this day, he is a staunch supporter of the one-state solution and the annexation of the West Bank by Israel. “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life,” he once declared, “and there’s no problem with that.” Like the white supremacists in the US, Bennett is adamant that the Indigenous inhabitants of the lands his people are trying to claim for themselves are somewhat sub-human, and he is willing to imprison, abuse, and even kill them to achieve his goals. His story is an ethno-nationalist one penned in Palestinian blood and stolen soil.

Israeli settlers, from Naftali Bennett to Yaalov Faauci, are undoubtedly genuine embodiments of violent ethno-nationalism and the US brand of white supremacy in Israel. But they are also much more than that.

Today, Israeli settlers are the “Jewish face” of US imperialism in the MENA region.

The ‘Jewish face’ of US imperialism

Palestinian-American intellectual and literary critic Edward Said famously talked about the connection between imperialism and Zionism.

“There is an unmistakable coincidence between the experiences of Arab Palestinians at the hands of Zionism and the experiences of those black, yellow, and brown people who were described as inferior and subhuman by nineteenth-century imperialists,” he wrote in his 1979 essay, Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims. “It is important to remember that in joining the general Western enthusiasm for overseas territorial acquisition, Zionism never spoke of itself unambiguously as a Jewish liberation movement, but rather as a Jewish movement for colonial settlement in the Orient.”

For Said, it was clear that the same policies of ghettoised segregation and pogroms perpetuated against Indigenous peoples and cultures and on which the very ideas of US nationalism and imperialism were built are integral to how Zionists have imagined and executed the dispossession and annihilation of Palestinians.

Today, in light of the global dominance of the US, there is little doubt that Zionism, and thus Israel’s settler colonialism, is an extension of American imperialism.

And not only Palestinians, but also Jews across the globe, are its victims.

Jews as ‘middle agents’ of American imperial oppression

In her popular 2007 pamphlet, The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere, Jewish activist April Rosenblum argued that “the point of anti-Jewish oppression is to keep a Jewish face in front, so that Jews, instead of ruling classes, become the target for peoples’ rage.”

She explained how for centuries the ruling classes used Jews for “middlemen” jobs “that put them in direct contact with the exploited, disgruntled peasantry, shielding themselves from the backlash for their unjust policies”. And today, the US imperialists and Zionists are using Jews as a buffer, a middle agent, to shield themselves from any backlash against their imperial and ethno-nationalist ambitions in the Middle East.

Indeed, for centuries, ruling classes in Europe and beyond allowed anti-semitism to rage and Jews to be scapegoated for their oppressive actions and policies. Today, they are doing the very same thing by politically and culturally pushing the idea that the violent settler colonialism of Israel represents all Jews and that anti-Zionism is in fact anti-semitism.

The US anti-BDS laws, which continue to be effective under the Biden government, have driven much of the political and institutional decisions in the Western world against any criticism of anti-Zionism.

Also, mainstream media in the West is routinely pushing anti-Semitic narratives alongside arguments in support of Israel and its violent settler colonialism. They are repeatedly equating the Israeli state to Jews at large, once again laying the ground for Jews to be scapegoated for the genocidal excesses and misdeeds of violent imperial powers – this time the US and its Zionist allies.

In sum, despite its self-declared commitment to protecting Jews in Israel, what the US is trying to protect in Israel is its own imperial interests and ambitions. And Israeli settlers, the carbon-copies of America’s own home-grown white supremacists, are acting as the foot soldiers of the empire.

Today, as the racist violence of Israeli settlers continues to rage, it is time to acknowledge and disempower the zealous efforts by US imperialists and zionists to put a “Jewish face” to their pogroms and genocidal oppression and dispossession of Palestinians – for the sake of Jews and Palestinians alike.

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