top of page

The Balfour Declaration: Globalization and Racial Palestinianization in Israel and the World

Written by Dina Kawar

BA. Political Science and Diaspora Transnational Studies, University of Toronto, Canada

Source: Times of Israel

Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.



The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government during the First World War, promising their support to the establishment of “a national home for the Jewish people” (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019) in Palestine. In the context of this article, the Balfour Declaration is treated as a promise exercised through the privilege of British colonial hegemony within a globalized framework. This public statement was made during the British Mandate for Palestine and acts as an example of colonial European supremacy pursuing their agenda in occupied lands at the expense of its inhabitants. The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government in 1917, declaring their support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. On the 14th of May 1948, this announcement would transpire into reality, this day would be known as Israel’s Independence Day for some and the Palestinian Exodus for others (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019). Once the state of Israel was established, strategies to assert power over the Palestinian population were adopted. Such Strategies were inspired by the colonial practices based on racial suppression thereby producing racial classifications to further assert Ashkenazi [1] hegemony (Lentin, 2017). These classifications are imposed through laws and enforced through acts of extreme surveillance, and structural and physical violence.

This article will argue that the Balfour Declaration and the racist colonial structure it represented has maintained its legacy within the Israeli settler colony through the racialization of its population and occupied and besieged territories, and how more contemporary expansions of unequal globalized structures such as neoliberalism and the War on Terror have further articulated these racial identities and classifications.

Race Making as a Colonial Tool

As exercised by their British colonial predecessors, Israel’s racialization of the Palestinians is heavily inspired by the fear of the Arab (Lentin, 2017), thus preventing potential threat with absolute oppression. Since the state of Israel exhibits to be a classical settler colony, its survival and growth are significantly dependent on the extermination of the Palestinian population and identity, thus fueling, what Ronit Lentin refers to as, “Israel’s permanent war against the Palestinians” (Lentin, 2017) in which race is at its center. The Ashkenazi vision for Israel was based on creating Europe away from Europe, as the majority of the Ashkenazi population identify as white Europeans. Thus, the presence of those who may deviate from this vision serves as a threat to the overall Zionist vision of the state of Israel. The Arab Palestinians were thought to be the biggest threat to that vision, thus allowing them to be painted as sources of danger.

David Goldberg refers to this phenomenon as Racial Palestinianization, where Palestinians are not only treated as a racial group but as a "despised and demonic racial group” (Lentin, 2017).

It must be thoroughly considered that Israel's racial classifications also place non-Ashkenazi Jews in inferior positions, such as the Sephardic, Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews.

This contempt towards the Palestinians is a way for Zionist settlers to legitimize their whiteness to the western world, thus using the racialization of Palestinians as a tool for validating and justifying the racial nature in which the Israeli State operates (Lentin, 2017). Utilizing race-making to assert dominance was a primary marker of the colonial era, and not only has this colonial knowledge been passed down to this contemporary settler colony, but the practices in which these thoughts were exercised have also proven to be inherited by our modern imperialistic world system. In the case of Israel, the race was used as a weapon of marginalization. Through the methods that will be mentioned in the next section, the Israeli State has campaigned for the vilification of Arab-Palestinians, to further terminate their presence, as well as disenfranchise them from the international community. This logic proposes that, if the Palestinians remain demonized, they will remain voiceless, and the state of Israel will remain supreme.

Surveillance as State-imposed Racialization

The Israeli government has utilized various colonial-era practices to actively isolate the Palestinian population in Israel and it's occupied and besieged territories. These methods range from restricting various rights of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, imposing extreme security measures on those living in the occupied areas of the West Bank, limiting the supplies that enter the Gaza Strip, or displacing thousands by replacing villages with Israeli settlements (Lentin, 2017).

Since the formation of Israel in 1948, state-imposed race classification was utilized to dilute the Palestinian identity and erase the importance of their presence from their conscience. This process is exemplified in the legal restrictions that face Arab minorities in Israel's legal system.

The legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Adallah, lists 50 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel from most areas of life (Lentin, 2017). These include and are not limited to access to land, state budget resources, education, and the right to political participation and just criminal procedures (Lentin, 2017). Legally imposing such severe limitations on the rights of Palestinians hinders their mobility and forcefully places them in a perpetually disadvantaged position, where they are not allowed to engage in the basic privileges of citizenship while also having no opportunity to improve their conditions (Massad, 1993). This exacerbates the racialization of Palestinians as it only adds to the false narrative that Arabs are naturally inferior and should be contained within the suppressive nature of a racial state (Massad, 1993). This perpetuates another colonial narrative that was used to legitimize the racial hegemony throughout history. To this day Israeli laws continue to limit the rights of Arab-Israeli citizens as well as actively violate the rights of Palestinians inhabiting occupied and besieged territories such as the West Bank and the Gaza strip. These laws serve to exclude the Palestinians from their right to citizenship by limiting their occupancy to a conditional privilege (Lentin, 2017). They do so by criminalizing acts that speak against the Zionist nature of the state, and by limiting the capacity for Arab citizens and their parliamentary representatives to participate in political life, thus inevitably prioritizing Jewish citizens in the allocation of State resources (Lentin, 2017). As Globalization is expanding, being excluded from such benefits of citizenship not only limits one’s mobilization in the state, but it also limits one’s engagement with the rest of the world. Such disenfranchisement through racial Palestinianization has been directly translated into the fragile position that Palestinians hold within the current globalized world stage.

Other colonial-era tools that the State of Israel uses to reassert the demonization of Palestinians consist of methods of surveillance and these include but are not limited to checkpoints, ID cards, and the separation wall, separating the West Bank from Israel (Lentin, 2017). These instruments are utilized to monitor the movement of individuals passing from one territory to another, thus preventing any individuals from crossing without the permission of Israeli forces (Lentin, 2017). The use of mandatory identity cards is a classic colonial tool used for the enforcement of racialization, as ID cards in Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) are color-coded in order to differentiate between individuals of various identities and status, allowing the state to further police Palestinian individuals (Lentin, 2017). ID cards were integral to the survival of the colonial state in the past, and its legacy has proven to be highly instrumental in the division and fragmentation of once colonized subjects, as it simultaneously invents and maintains racial divisions (Lentin, 2017).

As Israel’s participation in the world system continued to increase, such racial classification and the narrative it represents has managed to leak outside of its state borders.

As these processes actively vilified and infantilized the Palestinian population, the international community has fully embraced such narratives, allowing Palestinian marginalization to endure on a national and international scale, as well as continue to allow Israel to belittle Palestinian needs.

Economic Restrictions and Dependence

Restraining economic independence and limiting access to the international market were essential tools in the quest for global Palestinian disenfranchisement in the late 20th century, as maintaining dependence on the colonial structure is key to the continuous racialization of Palestinian populations. As a classical settler colony, the Israeli government has made sure to prevent the Palestinian economy from booming independently as it would give it the capacity to establish a separate state (Crane, 1970). Since the 1970’s financial crisis and the rapid spread of neoliberal economic principles in the 1980s, Israel achieved a new economic dimension to its relationship with western countries, especially the United States (Beinin, 1980). This relationship would then be used to further isolate the Palestinian Authority and population from the possible benefits of open markets, as well as increase their dependence on the Israeli economy (Beinin, 1980). This would inevitably result in the Palestinian territories experiencing negative consequences, such as increased inequality, poverty, and the reassertion of a hierarchal world system, which in its nature selects victims to be exploited.

Following the Oslo Accords of 1993 [1], the Palestinian Authority was left with very limited resources, thus allowing the Palestinian economy to operate more like a limited liability corporation as opposed to a state, making it more reliant on external capital and less capable of sustaining itself (Crane, 1970). Between the years 1993 and 2000, capitalists began to move into the OPTs and expand its industrial sector while remaining partially financially dependent on the Israeli state and Gulf Countries (Crane, 1970). Eventually, the Palestinian Authority managed to construct a semi-state heavily reliant on the patronage of Israel and the United States (Crane, 1970). By the year 2000, all progress was effectively halted when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced that Israel has the intention of annexing occupied East Jerusalem (Crane, 1970), which subsequently provoked the Second Intifada, which was a period of intensified Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada and described by Palestinians as an uprising against the Israeli occupation and known to the Israeli government as a terror campaign initiated and sustained by the Palestinian National Authority as well as other militant groups. With the emergence of a new wave of resistance, Israel launched a series of attacks on the OPTs, which reversed any capitalist progress previously made (Crane, 1970). The period of war commencing in 2000 was commonly accepted to be designed to fragment the OPTs and instill fear on all its residents, preventing another potential wave of resistance (Crane, 1970). These attacks have also effectively assaulted the economy of the Occupied Palestinian Territory to such an extent that any economic linkages and relationships were disassembled (Crane, 1970). The Palestinian economy before the Second Intifada was heavily reliant on foreign investors and shareholders, as insecurity is a well-known repellant to foreign investment, this significantly derailed the Palestinians’ opportunity to engage with the international market and present itself as a participating actor within the shifting world system of the late 20th century. Thus, emboldening the narrative that Palestinians are volatile and infantile, incapable of operating independently, and undeserving of international cooperation.

The War on Terror and Palestinian Vilification

Following the attacks on the World Trade Center in the United States on September 11 2001, the ‘Global War on Terror’ would sweep the Arab world and prove to be a powerful agent of racial Palestinianization.

Discriminatory surveillance and violent security measures against the Palestinians were enabled through a racialized settler colonial government framework, but the survival of these practices despite the obvious violations of international law and universal human rights have been legitimized by the international community through political-economic alliances and a global racially charged War on Terror (Abu-Laban, 2008).

The most essential relationship governing the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict is that of Israel and the United States, who are the only two Actors that are opposed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian State (Massad, 1993). Following the Gulf war, U.S. hegemony in the region became unchallenged, thus allowing for the adherence of other Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and other smaller Gulf States (Beinin, 1998). These adopted loyalties to Israel enabled the isolation of Palestinian authorities from various regional economic conferences and diplomatic peace talks, under the request of the Israeli government (Beinin, 1998). Such Isolation debilitated Palestinian agency on a global scale, thus leaving violence and insurgency as the remaining option for resistance (Beinin, 1998). Palestinian authorities such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas, have lead various attacks on the Israeli State and on neighboring countries in the Middle East allowing for their organizations to be associated with acts of terrorism. This label has only further criminalized the Palestinians, thus distancing them from the assumed superiority of whiteness.

The War on Terror pulled the bond between Israel and itself closer (Beinin, 1998). The significance of Israel’s alliance gained another layer, as it was labeled by the western world as the only democratic country in the Middle East. Following 2001, the racialization of Arabs became more open to interpretation, as the middle eastern individuals were not only moved farther from their previous categorization as discursive whites, but they were vilified and perceived strictly as potential threats (Beinin, 1998). The globalized racialization and criminalization of Palestinians as well as enforced isolation from the possible economic and political benefits of an increasingly globalized world, has played an integral role in legitimizing the discriminatory nature of the Israeli State (Beinin, 1998). The War on Terror was a hegemonic force that impacted the world, especially the middle east. Countries were actively destroyed, and perceptions of such countries and their populations were demeaned to security agendas (Lentin, 2017). Palestinians and their global image suffered greatly from this. The narrative justifying the War on Terror was reliant on the demonization of Arab and Muslim communities. This made it easier for the international community to follow the misled connection between terrorism and acts of Palestinian resistance. Such an association only contributed to Israeli endorsed Arab vilification, thus enabling the intensification of Racial Palestinianization, as well as manifesting supplementary marginalization from the international community.


The colonial legacy of the Balfour Declaration has enabled the racially hegemonic and oppressive nature of the Israeli State to continue to racialize and victimize the Palestinians. While more modern manifestations of globalization such as the increased interconnectedness of the global economies through neoliberalism, and the linked foreign policies founded through the War on Terror, have played integral roles in maintaining its survival and further legitimizing racial Palestinianization.

The government structure of Israel prioritizes the Zionist settler agenda above all else, and the legal framework prefers the Ashkenazi vision of the state which inevitably reproduces European supremacy (Lentin, 2017).

Palestinians are vilified through extreme surveillance measures that further limit their freedom of speech and movement. Minimal political participation is permitted, and independent economic progress is prevented to restrict the Palestinian capacity to operate freely and independently, forcing them into disadvantaged and infantilized positions that are dependent on the Israeli State (Lentin, 2017).

Lastly, the rapid growth of a globalized world has embraced these falsely defined narratives of Racial Palestinianization, thus further excluding Palestinian territories and their populations from the platform and benefits granted by growing global interconnectedness, and leaving them to face the consequences of being exploited by it.

Before the Balfour Declaration, the spread of neoliberalism and the war on terror, Palestinians were considered to be Semites, Assyrians, or even Mediterranean. Following the accumulation of these agents of colonial supremacy, Palestinians have lost their off-white status, and are now part of the fearsome other, supposedly looking to destroy freedom and democracy (Beinin, 1998).


[1] Ashkenazi Jews are a Jewish diaspora population who coalesced in the Holy Roman Empire around the end of the first millennium - Jewish settlers who established communities along the Rhine River in Western Germany and in Northern France dating to the Middle Ages. See Britannica [2] The Oslo Accords are a set of agreements between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. With the first one signed in 1993 and the second signed in 1995, the Oslo Accords marked the beginning of a peace process aimed to establish a peace treaty between both parties as well fulfill the “right of the Palestinian people to self-determination” See Oslo Accords Fast Facts (2019, September 04)

Bibliography 1. Abu-Laban, Yasmeen. Bakan, Abigail B. (2008)The Racial Contract: Israel/Palestine and Canada. Social Identities. 14, no. 5: 637–60.

2. Balfour Declaration. (2019, October 26) Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica. inc.

3. Beinin, Joel. (1998) Palestine and Israel: Perils of a Neoliberal, Repressive ‘Pax Americana. Social Justice 25, no. 4: 20–39.

4. Crane, Bill. (1970, January 1) How Neoliberalism Undermined Palestinian Liberation. International Socialist Review.

5. Lentin, Ronit. (2017, July 4) Race and Surveillance in the Settler Colony: the Case of Israeli Rule over Palestine. Nature Publishing Group.

6. Lentin, Ronit. (2017, June 8) Oxymorons and Metaphors: Israel Studies from Racialization to Decolonization. Free Radikal.

7. Massad, Joseph. (1993) Palestinians and the Limits of Racialized Discourse. Social Text, no. 34: 94–114.

8. Nadeau, Mary-Jo. Sears, Alan. (2010) The Palestine Test: Countering the Silencing Campaign. Studies in Political Economy 85, no. 1: 7–33.

9. Tekiner, Roselle. (1991) Race and the Issue of National Identity in Israel. International Journal of Middle East Studies 23, no. 1: 39–55.

bottom of page