Why is anti-Zionism antisemitic?

Matisyahu, a Jewish American singer, was scheduled to perform at a reggae festival in Spain. He was targeted by anti-Zionists who used a campaign of pressure, coercion and threats against the festival’s organizers. As a result, Matisyahu was asked to denounce Israel and express support for a Palestinian state as a condition for performing. No other artist was required to make a pledge of allegiance to perform at the festival. Antisemitism? Absolutely.

 

The student union at the University of Toronto opposed a campaign to provide kosher food on campus because the Jewish organization that promoted the campaign “supported Israel.” Antisemitism? Absolutely.

 

Anti-Zionists protested the sale of kosher foods at a Tesco supermarket in Birmingham, England. Their protest spilled into the store and product was destroyed and staff was intimidated. In London, a manager of a Sainsbury store ordered the kosher food section emptied in response to protests by anti-Zionists. Antisemitism? Absolutely.

 

The Washington, D.C., chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a green activist organization, demanded that Zionist groups be removed from a voting rights rally. Antisemitism? Absolutely.

On college campuses, Jewish students are blocked from participation in activities unrelated to Israel simply because they are perceived as Zionists or supporters of Zionism, or because they refuse to denounce Israel. Antisemitism? Absolutely.

 

At the Federation’s Community Lecture in February, Israeli actress, producer and author Noa Tishby unequivocally stated anti-Zionism is antisemitic. I thought it would be appropriate to provide a more fulsome explanation as why that is so. To do so, it is necessary to understand what Zionism is and what anti-Zionism is.

 

What is Zionism and what is the Jewish connection to Israel?

Zionism started as a movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland, Israel. Since the establishment of Israel, it also includes the desire for the development of Israel and its protection as a Jewish nation. Modern Zionism emerged in the mid-19th century. However, Zionism, in one form or another, has been part of Jewish communal life for over 4,000 years. It has been present in our communal prayers, rituals and literature.

 

After the Jews were exiled to Babylon some 2,500 years ago, Jews lamented, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we wept as we remembered Zion.” Archaeologists have found Judean coins inscribed with “Freedom for Zion” in ancient Hebrew from the time of the revolt against the Roman Empire to restore Jewish sovereignty to Israel. Every year, the Passover Seder ends with “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

 

The Jewish connection to the land of Israel began some 4,000 years ago when Abraham and Sarah made their way to the Promised Land. After enslavement in Egypt, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt back to the Promised Land about 3,400 years ago. The Jewish nation was united under King David, who established Jerusalem as its capital some 3,000 years ago. Chanukah celebrates the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty after 270 years of Greek colonial rule. Jews are the only people that lived in the land of Israel and Jerusalem continuously for over 3,000 years.

 

What is anti-Zionism and why is it antisemitic?

Anti-Zionism opposes the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and a homeland in Israel. At its core today, anti-Zionism seeks the dismantlement of Israel as a Jewish state.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, talks about the evolution of antisemitism: “In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated for their religion. In the 19th and early-20th century they were hated for their race. Today, they are hated for their nation state, Israel.” Anti-Zionism is the Jew hatred of today.

 

Among the examples of antisemitism given by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) are the following:

  • Denying the Jewish people of their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.

 

Anti-Zionists engage in all the conduct described by the IHRA as antisemitic. It is not surprising that anti-Zionists oppose the IHRA definition of antisemitism. They argue that labeling anti-Zionism as antisemitic delegitimizes justified criticism of Israeli policy and actions in the West Bank and Gaza.

 

No one argues that criticism of Israeli government policies or actions is antisemitic. Israelis do it all the time. However, when it crosses the line into demonization, delegitimization or applying double standards to Israel, or denying Jewish people of the right of self-determination, it becomes antisemitic.

 

There are three main reasons why anti-Zionism is antisemitic:

  1. Anti-Zionists demonstrate antisemitic attitudes. Anti-Zionist tropes of today track historic antisemitic tropes. Some examples include:
    • Use of cartoon images such as one that appeared in a British newspaper showing a “Pieta” type image. It shows a woman holding a man who has a Palestinian scarf around his neck. An Israeli soldier with a Star of David on his uniform holding a bayonetted weapon in his bloody hands is about to plunge it into the recumbent body. The caption reads, “Do not kill him twice.” Here, anti-Zionists are tracking the historic antisemitic trope of deicide.
    • Use of cartoon images to invoke the ancient antisemitic trope of the “blood libel.” One cartoon shows a caricature of a Jewish man pouring blood from two goblets down his throat. The Israeli flag with the Star of David is behind him. Another image, drawn by Gerald Scarfe and published in Britain’s Sunday Times, depicts former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cementing a brick wall with body parts and screaming heads protruding from the wall. He is using blood for mortar. Blood drips from the trowel and oozes between the bricks.
    • Anti-Zionists invoke the conspiracy theory of the Jewish plan to control the world made popular by the fabricated document published in Russia in 1903, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Frequently, that was depicted showing Jews as an octopus with a stranglehold on the world. Today, anti-Zionists use similar images to invoke the historic trope showing an octopus with a stranglehold on the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
    • Other antisemitic tropes are used by anti-Zionists, as well. Some images depict Israeli control of U.S. government officials, control of the banks and control of the media.
  2. There is a difference between criticizing Israeli policy and saying Israel should not exist. By advocating the abolishment of Israel and arguing Jews should have no homeland, it only condemns the Jewish people to eternal bigotry. Other countries are criticized without questioning their right to exist. Forty-three countries worldwide have official state religions; 23 countries have Islam as an official religion, nine have Christianity as an official religion, two have Buddhism as an official religion and only one, Israel, has Judaism as its official religion. Of those 43 countries, there is only one where its eradication as a religious state is sought. Singling out Israel is a double standard and is antisemitic.
  3. A recent survey of American Jews indicates that 84% believe the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is antisemitic. When a group self-identifies a statement as dangerous to its identity, it is evidence of antisemitism.

 

Conclusion

  • Anti-Zionism marginalizes Jews by forcing them to publicly disavow Israel before permitting them to participate in public life like anyone else.
  • Anti-Zionism seeks to delegitimize Israel by demonizing it using antisemitic tropes and comparing it to Nazi Germany.
  • Anti-Zionism does more than simply criticize Israel and its policies. It singles out Israel for elimination.
  • Anti-Zionism is not new since the establishment of Israel in 1948. It has been around long before 1948 and has nothing to do with any concerns about Israeli policy in the West Bank and toward Gaza.
  • Anti-Zionism is antisemitic.

 

As part of its charter, the Robert and Esther Heller Community Relations Committee (CRC) works to support Israel and fight antisemitism. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, or are interested in the CRC, please contact me at CRCchair@jfedsrq.org.