Is anti-Zionism really anti-Semitism?

Is anti-Zionism really anti-Semitism?
Anti-Zionism is only anti-Semitism if Judaism is equated unproblematically with Zionism and Israel; but this is far from unproblematic and raises serious issues.
6 min read
15 Jan, 2015
Even some ultra-orthodox Jews are anti-Zionists [AFP]

Zionists are sincere when they accuse anti-Zionists of being anti-Semitic.

This is especially the case when Zionists equate the idea of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. If the world, represented by the United Nations General Assembly, judged that "Zionism is racism" in 1975, Zionists and their friends insist that the opposite is true: anti-Zionism is racism. How is this to be explained?

Whereas it is true that Zionists and the State of Israel always use the charge of anti-Semitism for propaganda purposes to shield Israel from criticism and condemnation, they are sincere in their apprehension that critics of Israel are anti-Semites.

This is so because they argue that Zionism is a "Jewish trait" - it is something which is a part of every Jew. They insist that the quest to "return" to Palestine, to "Zion", is something that all Jews share and have shared through the ages.

What this means is that Zionism is portrayed to be, in fact, a key facet of Jewishness, if not of Judaism itself.

They insist that the quest to 'return' to Palestine, to 'Zion', is something that all Jews share and have shared through the ages.

Based on this ideological construct, it is a sincere act to conclude that those who oppose Zionism must be anti-Semites.

In fact, this claim is the only thing that Zionism and Israel have been able to come up with to define what constitutes a Jew.

The struggle to define who is a "Jew" legally in Israel has been ongoing since the founding of the settler colony; there is no resolution in sight. Still, the only thing that all Zionists agree on is that Zionism is part of what constitutes Jewishness, especially in the case of those who are said to want to resist their Jewish identity by resisting Zionism.

It is in this vein that such Zionism-resisting Jews are labelled "self-hating", as though they hate the Zionist part of their Jewishness.

Circular logic

Following this logic, colonising Palestine, driving the Palestinians out to make room for Jewish colonists, enacting laws to guarantee the racist nature of the Jewish settler colony, invading neighbouring territories, bombing and killing thousands of civilians, instituting an apartheid system, all are presented by Zionism as "Jewish" acts - which means that opposing them most clearly constitutes anti-Semitism.

Zionists balk when Palestinians respond insistently that Israeli crimes are not Jewish crimes, but not at the Palestinians' assertion that they are anti-colonialists, not racists. Rather, Zionists object to the Palestinians' failure to undrstand that not considering Israeli acts as "Jewish" acts is what makes Palestinians anti-Semites in the eyes of Zionists.

What this means is that when most Palestinians condemn Israel and not Jews, they are judged as anti-Semitic, and when some of them buy into the Zionist line and condemn Israel as a true representative of Jewishness, they are also condemned as anti-Semites.

There is clearly no way out of this Zionist logic; whatever reaction Palestinians and their supporters muster towards Zionism and its crimes - save endorsing them - they are condemned as anti-Semites.

This Zionist axiom is not the same as the depiction in Woody Allen's Annie Hall of the protagonist Alvy Singer (played by Allen) who thinks everyone is seeing him and addressing him as a Jew (and that when gentiles look at him they visualise him in Hassidic garb), nor is this a variation on the Seinfeld episode about Jerry's pathologically paranoid Jewish uncle, Leo, who thinks everyone is an anti-Semite. It is something else entirely.

Unlike Allen's Alvy Singer and Seinfeld's Uncle Leo, most of Israel's critics and enemies do actually oppose Israel because of its crimes - historical and ongoing - and they do so with a passion. Zionism's and Israel's reaction is therefore not pathological, not paranoid, but an objective assessment of reality. The question is, do people buy into the contention that Zionism is part of the Jewish identity of all Jews?

Last week an Israeli politician, Yair Lapid, declared in line with this logic, without apology, that "European Jewry must understand that there is just one place for Jews, and that is the State of Israel".

As Ali Abunimah has shown in a recent article, if French politicians uttered these words, they would immediately be condemned as anti-Semitic. But when uttered by an Israeli politician, it is just Zionism qua Jewishness.

European Jewry must understand that there is just one place for Jews, and that is the State of Israel.
- Yair Lapid

For Palestinians who live and endure the reality of Zionism as colonialism, racism and oppression, Zionist logic is similar to Christian anti-Semites claiming that their feelings and acts of hatred towards Jews are a part of what it is to be Christian, and that opposing this Christian trait is nothing short of anti-Christianism, of hatred towards all Christians.

Or it could be compared more relevantly to the Spanish Conquistadores claiming that they had no choice but to kill the heathen Native Americans who refused to convert to Christianity since converting heathens was part of their very "Christianness".

Any attempt to condemn such actions would then be seen as racist.

Native American resistance to Spanish colonialism, from this perspective, was nothing short of racist anti-Christianism and anti-Spanishism. It was, therefore, correctly not tolerated by the Conquistadores - just as the Zionists refuse to tolerate Palestinian resistance to their colonial project, which they insist is pure anti-Semitism.

The power of nonsense

Arabs and Palestinians need not be convinced of this, as most of them understand Zionist logic perfectly well. It is Western public opinion that is subjected to these ideological acrobatics and often fails to see through them.

It is the acceptance of these absurdities in Europe and its colonial-settler extensions that most Arabs and Palestinians find intolerable. That any serious Western intellectual, scholar or pundit would traffic in these Zionist claims - as many often do - stretches even the patience of Job.

It is in this vein that Israel, the US and all members of the European Union have requested a UN meeting on 22 January to discuss the "growth of anti-Semitism" worldwide, which of course includes mainly hostility to Israel and its colonial project.

Israel's UN ambassador declared that "we have a great deal of work to do to move this issue from the headlines to the history books". While most Arabs and Palestinians understand why American and European politicians parrot this nonsense, what they constantly marvel at is the poverty of discourse among Western intellectuals and in the wider public.

Joseph Massad is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University. His latest book is Islam in Liberalism.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily respresent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.