I’ve had some disagreements over the past couple of days on whether or not anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism. Those of you who know me, already know my answer. What I want to do here is explain why.
First thing’s first, let’s get the definitions out of the way so that we may stymie any possible confusion that might result from this post. Zionism is the belief that Jews have a fundamental legal and moral right for self-determination in Israel, grounded in principles of indigenous rights (Jews being indigenous to Israel), international law, and a firm belief in both national freedom and self-defense for a globally persecuted ethnic minority. Irshad Manji once compared it to affirmative action, due to its favoring of Jewish refugees in a world where Jews are especially vulnerable. More importantly, it elevates us to an equal level of power and autonomy in relation to other ethnic groups, barring those who have not yet achieved independence (e.g. Kurds, Balochi, Yazidis, etc). In contrast, anti-Zionists hold that we have no such rights. In general, they believe that Israel’s re-establishment was a “crime”, and that we are entitled only to full civil rights (and in many cases, not even that) in our diaspora countries of residence, or under a “binational” (read: Arab majority) state of Palestine.
So now you might be asking “why is this antisemitic”? There are many reasons, but let’s start with the most obvious one: it is discriminatory. If you maintain that one group should be deprived of fundamental civil rights, while simultaneously accepting that other groups can and should have these rights, that is discrimination. And we have a word for discrimination against Jews: antisemitism. This is pretty basic. For any non-Jewish group (more on Jewish anti-Zionism later) to agitate against Jews having the same political rights that they wouldn’t dare question for any other group is tantamount to an expression of privilege. As a matter of fact, it is pedagogically much more helpful to view the issue of anti-Zionism as antisemitism through the lens of privilege, rather than conscious malice or hatred.
Secondly, anti-Zionism exhibits a callous indifference, if not outright hostility, to the legitimate existential concerns of our people. As a political movement, Zionism arose in the 19th century when it became clear to Jews in diaspora that the post-Enlightenment guarantees of “equality” were little more than empty promises. The declining relevance of Christianity and the prevalence of secular, egalitarian values in the West had, in the end, proven ineffective against antisemitism, which by that point had been so deeply baked into European/Western culture that it no longer needed the incitement and provocations of men to survive. This colossal hatred had taken on a life of its own.
And at no point did this become clearer to us than during the Second World War, when the rest of the world (save for a few notable exceptions) heartlessly closed its doors to Jews who were desperate to flee the Nazis. Instead, they were either indifferent to the Nazi’s extermination program, or they were actively supportive of it and all too eager to join in on the fun. In the years immediately following the Holocaust, it had become clear to just about everybody that we needed our own state back. It was (and still is) our only guarantee that we will have somewhere to go when things get bad, but this means very little to anti-Zionists, who are content in restoring us to permanent minority status, effectively robbing us of our ability to protect ourselves and control our own fate. One does not need to be a wife-beater to believe that a woman’s place is in the kitchen.
Lastly, and most importantly, anti-Zionism is contingent on the acceptance of myths and falsehoods directed against the Jewish state, or the Jewish people as a whole. Those who are familiar with the history of antisemitism will know that anti-Jewish incitement based on defamation and libels is nothing new. This is how antisemitism has worked for generations. The Jewish people have been accused of everything from killing God, to drinking the blood of white babies, to controlling the world via a vast global conspiracy, you name it. Similarly, the accusations against the Jewish STATE run the gamut from colonialism, to genocide, to apartheid, to organ harvesting, etc. And as always, these accusations are all baseless, stemming largely from hearsay or biased/inaccurate media reporting. In fact, many of them are simply updated blood libels and stereotypes from the glory days of antisemitism in ancient, medieval, and post-medieval Europe. And of course, it’s one thing if some naive, hapless kid is exposed to these lies and doesn’t know any better, but it’s another thing when these lies are exposed for what they are and this same person insists on repeating them anyway. That’s when we can safely say they have a Jewish problem.
For Jews who self-identify as anti-Zionists, it is more complicated. Jewish anti-Zionists, unlike their non-Jewish counterparts, are usually motivated by fear, naivety, and/or a desire for acceptance, especially by their host countries or their own social circle. And Zionism, with its emphasis on Jewish nationhood, independence, and ethnic origins in the Middle East, spits directly in the face of the oft-repeated notion that Jews are merely Poles, Russians, Germans, or Americans of a “different faith”. Many (if not the vast majority) anti-Zionist Jews cling steadfast to the belief that complete assimilation into their host countries will eventually eliminate antisemitism (the Holocaust ultimately proved them wrong), and Zionism only gets in the way of that. There are other reasons for Jewish anti-Zionism, including internalized Christian propaganda (in the case of NK and Satmar) or even simple ignorance, but appeasement is the most common. The fact that Jewish antisemites have existed throughout most of our history (going all the way back to Josephus) has not stopped non-Jewish anti-Zionists from holding them up as “proof” that the ideology on offer is not racist.
Of course, you can protest as much as you’d like about how you “don’t hate Jews, just Zionists”, or how you are “also a Semite”. These are the typical reactions of people who are confronted with their privilege. Needless to say, it’s not good enough for me. It shouldn’t be good enough for ANY self-respecting minority. As a Jew, I demand equal treatment. I will not settle for anything less, because my civil rights and my humanity are not up for negotiation. Historically, we WERE expected to settle for social and/or legal inequality, if it meant guaranteeing our safety. But we are no longer willing to do that, and this is what incenses so many people, especially in the Arab world (where Jews were traditionally guaranteed “protection” insofar as they accepted legal and social inferiority). If you do not respect our rights, our indigenous identity, or our history, you are an enemy of our people. And more importantly, you are MY enemy, and you can be damned sure that I will treat you like one.