Is Anti-Zionism Equal to Anti-Semitism?
My first encounter with Anti Zionism was as a child growing up in Israel. It was Orthodox men holding what I could only translate as incredibly abnormal and somewhat strange messages. They were after all- very jewish as well as citizens of Israel. I later on learned of this group I named my favorite pawns, Neturei Karta. Their beliefs are grounded in the religious idea that a Jewish state is illegitimate up until and when the Messiah returns.
This may seem as a dispelling of the idea that anti zionism is anti semitism because of the — “but how is it possible if I know jews who take that position?” The religious nature of Neturei Karta of delegitimization of the state of Israel does not need addressing. No self respecting thinking person would agree that the lack of Messiah is a reasonable objection to the creation and protection of a state for the jews.
The second and most vile form of anti zionism is the undeniably anti semitic white supremacist ideology that centered around the JQ and the idea of the Jews as a force of evil in the world to be cleansed and rid of. No need to linger on this form as we’ve all seen this more than once. Dr. Duke’s anti zionism sentiments are blatantly anti semitic.
More complex though is the secular jewish (or not) anti zionist. Most likely a secular, atheist, or even anti-theist person with far left leaning politics and more often than not, with communist/socialist leanings. Communism and anti zionism are very strongly connected. Communism and Judaism have an interesting backstory that deserves its own piece but to be brief, it is centralized around both anti imperialism and removing jewish identity from the individual in order to gain their full loyalty to the communist idea. These individuals can and cannot be antisemitic pending on their additional views on jews and judaism. Many Jews and non Jews alike, are committed anti zionists by proclamation of their rejection of imperialism as well as a state defined by a religion. Obviously imperialism may be misplaced here as we’ve been able to establish an origin to the land from 2000 previous years. Even European jews have Levantine genetics still very much connected to other Jews from the Middle East and it’s surrounding area. Ideologies, opinions, and sentiments towards Israel in this camp vary from reasonable to downright extreme. Many are staunch supporters of anti racism and anti fascism but hold on to this idea as they maintain that the lack of sovereignty of the Palestinian people is sufficiently indication that the Jewish state must be resisted or even destroyed.
Sacha Saeen, who quoted my now infamous tweet with the words: Opposing Zionism in its current form isn’t antisemitism, it’s anti-settler colonialism.”, is a great example of this complexity. He proceeds to explain to one of his followers: “I think it depends on how you criticise Israel, for eg.: — Criticising Israel’s policies that violate international & human rights law isn’t antisemitic. — Saying that Israel, a Jewish state, doesn’t have a right to exist is antisemitic.” He basically gave the definition of zionism by saying Israel’s right to exist and clearly stated that objecting to it is antisemitism, i.e. anti zionism is anti semitism. So clearly the issue is how we define zionism and how anti zionists define zionism.
Perhaps I jumped too far before even explaining what zionism actually is. Zionism, in short, began as the right of jews to self determination in their own state. Zionism is now expanded into the development and protection of Israel as a state for the jews. It is the acknowledgment of the right for the state of Israel to exist. It is also important to note that secular zionism and religious zionism are vastly different. I personally, often stay away and am not heavily convinced by religious arguments when discussing borders. It is important to to define zionism in its modern form within the 1967 borders and most secular zionist would agree. Zionism comes in many various other social movements. You may even say it has the touch of inter-sectionalism. You have green zionism, feminist zionism, etc. For all intents and purposes, I’d like to use the most succinct definition that encompasses them all- It is the right of the jewish people for self determination in the state of Israel as well as Israel’s right to exist.
According to the ADL: “Anti-Zionism is a prejudice against the Jewish movement for self-determination and the right of the Jewish people to a homeland in the State of Israel. It may be motivated by or result in anti-Semitism, or it may create a climate in which anti-Semitism becomes more acceptable. Anti-Zionism can include threats to destroy the State of Israel (or otherwise eliminate its Jewish character), unfounded and inaccurate characterizations of Israel’s power in the world, and language or actions that hold Israel to a different standard than other countries.”
I find it specifically pernicious when left leaning liberals use this term to describe themselves as these are the same people who would gladly use the ADL to point at right wing antisemites or bigots and use it as a valid source. I’m not sure if ignorance of language is involved or a simply misunderstood and conflated with valid criticism of the state of Israel and its policies. Israel, like any other country, should be fair game in political analysis, criticism, and the expectations of abiding by international laws and treaties. Thinking that the label anti zionism is simply criticism of the state and its laws is just plain ignorance.
Moreover, I am left to think of the progressive sensitivity to language and words. We on the left have many words that are either taboo or a signal of bigotry. And it’s not even to say that it is wrong or censorial in nature. It has the best of intentions of having a society that cares for one another. A society that looks at all as equals and aspires for harmony and goodness. I truly believe that many who carry the label anti zionist with pride have the best of intentions and have no shred of bigotry in them. They sincerely believe that they fight bigotry and I believe them. I just don’t agree with the language they use to conflate valid criticism of the state of Israel with the label anti zionism. It is linguistically, contextually, historically, and in modern use a label that is simply the rejection of the Jewish people to self determination therefore, anti semitic. If what you want is to criticize the state of Israel, simply go ahead and do so. I have yet to see another unique label for any other country in the world that was created to describe an objection to their policies. Naturally, any insistence on using this label may lump you in with other unsavory groups of people regardless of your good intentions.
In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said.: “The whole world must see that Israel must exist and has the right to exist and is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world”.
In 2018, Emmanuel Macron summed it up: “We will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it’s the reinvented form of anti-semitism”.