Podcast Ep 85: Zionism, Germany and the politics of debt

On episode 85, Tamara Nassar speaks to writer and lecturer Abdaljawad Omar in the occupied West Bank for a special episode on the interlinked histories of Zionism and anti-Semitism and what Israel represents in the European collective imagination.

Abdaljawad tracks the emergence of Zionism – Israel’s state ideology – within the historical context of rising anti-Jewish bigotry in Europe at the turn of the previous century.

“Zionist leaders like Theodor Herzl and many of the, let’s say, anti-Semitic foreign policy voices within the British Empire, and even among some of the Germans, or some of the French policymakers that saw within the idea of a Jewish state outside of Europe a solution to what was termed in Europe ‘a Jewish problem,’” Abdaljawad explains.

“This is the background of Israel,” he continues. “We can see Zionism as first of all, a mutation of anti-Semitism.”

Abdaljawad also delves into the contradictions of Zionism, exploring its identity as a form of European colonialism while attempting to portray itself as an indigenous movement.

“Zionism is an inheritor of all the worst tendencies of racialized systems of exclusion and ideologies of exclusion that exist and continue to exist in Europe,” Abdaljawad explains.

“And now not only is Zionism an inheritor of these ideologies, it’s also the place where new racialized systems of control, exclusion are created and then exported to the Empire.”

Abdaljawad further explains how European guilt over the Holocaust influences its contemporary support for Israeli crimes through an intricate politics of debt.

“The Germans, and perhaps the Europeans as a collective, are paying back the Jews for the crimes they committed against the Jews,” Abdaljawad says.

“Embedded within this notion of backing the state of Israel, and its existence and persistence in Palestine, and justifying even the existence of the German nation through it, is that through that we will actually pay our debt. And this is an unpayable debt.”

He also examines how the construction of the Holocaust as standing above all other crimes actually facilitates Western and especially German support for the Israeli genocide in Gaza.

The “memory of the Holocaust has been created as something that is so unique, so singular, that nothing else can match it … ever again,” Abdaljawad argues. “In a way that also allows the crimes that are committed in Palestine to always be diluted,” with the perpetrators and their supporters using this singular construction of the Holocaust as a shield to absolve themselves.

Abdaljawad Omar is a PhD student and lecturer in the Philosophy and Cultural Studies Department at Birzeit University in Palestine.

Watch the full interview above, or listen via Soundcloud below.

Articles we discussed

Video production by Tamara Nassar

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.