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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Is anti-Zionism anti-Semitism?

CNN anchor called Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi's remarks anti-Semitic. This leads us to ask whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism?

The world has finally woken up to the nightmare in Palestine. Since 11th May, Israel has bombarded the Gaza strip with bombs for 11 continuous days resulting in more than 250 casualties. However, the world did not remain silent over the atrocities inflicted upon them this time as pictures and videos outpoured exposing Israeli aggression. For the first time in 70 years, the global opinion on this conflict is shifting, all due to the power of social media.

However, despite the unveiling of this blatant oppression, one aspect has remained constant during this upheaval; the labeling of critics of Israel’s actions as anti-Semites. This begs the question to be answered, is anti-Zionism anti-Semitism? 

For that, let’s have a look at the terms “Zionism” and “anti-Semitism”. Zionism is a political theory and a nationalist movement that promotes Jewish immigration to Palestine and the formation of the Jewish state. Modern Zionism was formally rooted as a political organization in 1897 by Theodore Herzl in response to the “Dreyfus affair”.

Whereas an anti-Semite is someone hostile, prejudiced, or discriminatory against Jews. Saying that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, where Zionism is a political theory, mind you, is ludicrous. It implies that every anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite, even the many Jews. 

Read more: How the State of Israel really came into existence

So why is it that almost all critics of Israel’s policies are labeled anti-Semites so recklessly?

That is because the term anti-Semitism has been conflated with anti-Zionism. It is a serious charge which nobody wanted to be tainted with, and rightfully so. Moreover, it is a potent tactic as it is almost impossible to prove that one is not an anti-Semite beyond all doubt, especially when criticizing Israel.

If the label sticks, it jeopardizes the credibility and the integrity of the individual in the International and professional community. This tactic has been effectuated as it resonates with several Jews around the world, especially American Jews, as the holocaust plays a significant role in their attitudes and mindsets. 

Peter Novick, an American historian, and professor of history at the University of Chicago mentions in his book “The Holocaust in American life” that the tragic event has become a key factor in the American Jewish consciousness and their personalities, nurturing a sense of victimization for some. Leon Wieseltier, an ardent supporter of Israel, felt compelled to write a story titled “Hitler is dead: the case against Jewish Ethnic panic” in 2002. Describing the Jews in the US, he wrote, “the community is sunk… in the imagination of disaster.

There is a loss of intellectual control. Holocaust imagery is everywhere.” Hence, many American Jews readily believe that whosoever criticizes the unequivocal support of Israel or the influence that the Israeli lobby may have, must be an anti-Semite at heart.

However, this phenomenon is nothing new.

In 1967, when Israel was facing soaring pressure from the International community to withdraw its forces from the lands it had conquered, Arnold Foster and Benjamin Epstein of the Anti-Defamation League published “the new anti-Semitism” which equated anti-Semitism with the reluctance to support Israel’s policies.

Even in 1980’s invasion of Lebanon when Israel’s growing settlements drew criticism, then Anti-Defamation League’s head Nathan Perlmutter and his wife, Ruth Ann Perlmutter, issued the “The real Anti-Semitism in America” which contended that anti-Semitism was on its way back exemplified by the pressure put on Israel to make peace with the Arabs. This deliberate association of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism has blurred the lines between the two and has become a widely used weapon in an attempt to delegitimize even the slightest of criticisms.

Labeling the critics of Israel’s policy or the questioners of its’ actions as anti-Semites so rashly is an old tactic, but is now losing its’ weight in the digital age. William Kristol, an American neoconservative political analyst, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “the mainstream Jewish organizations have played the ‘anti-Semitism’ card so often that it has been devalued.”

Take US President Jimmy Carter, for example. He spared no effort to enhance Israel’s security after brokering a peace deal between Israel and Egypt in the consequence of the Yom Kippur war in 1973, but even he could not evade the charge of anti-Semitism. In his book “Palestine: Peace not apartheid”, Jimmy Carter correctly criticizes Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and what it implies for the Palestinians living there.

But despite its controversial title, the book does not disregard Israel’s strategic situation. Even a prominent Israeli politician, Yossi Beilin, remarked, “There is nothing in the criticism that Carter has for Israel that has not been said by Israelis themselves.” However, Jimmy Carter was still labeled as an “anti-Semite”, “Jew hater”, “bigot”, and “a coward”.

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No one wants to be painted in these abhorrent colors, especially in America. The fear of it discourages many individuals to speak out against Israel’s war crimes, human rights violations, or even the merits of the US’ complete support. The heated reaction aimed at President Carter serves as a strong deterrent to other individuals. 

The absurdity of equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is compounded by the fact that it implies that so many Jews who are anti-Zionists are also anti-Semites, which is a preposterous claim.

Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish American political scientist, who lost his paternal and maternal family to the holocaust, unabashedly opposes Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Noah Chomsky, a Jewish American historian, cognitive scientist, and political activist never shies away from calling out Israel’s aggression against the civilians. He is reported to have said, “Palestine… is a simple story of colonialism and dispossession, yet the world treats it as a multifaceted and complex story”. 

In 2018, 35 prominent Israeli Academics and artists, including professors, historians, and Israel prize laureates, signed an open letter warning against the danger of equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The letter states that such an approach could grant “Israel immunity against criticism of grave and widespread violations” and “many victims of the holocaust opposed Zionism, on the other hand, many anti-Semites supported Zionism. It’s nonsensical and inappropriate to identify anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.” Now, are they anti-Semites too? Of course, not.

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In conclusion, anti-Semitism is a deplorable phenomenon, which should be condemned wherever it arises. Now are some anti-Semites anti-Zionists? Sure. Can anti-Zionism lead to anti-Semitism? Yes. But is anti-Zionism, in and of itself, anti-Semitic? Not at all. It is a vile stratagem to conflate the two, often groundless, to silence the critics and shield Israel from the criticism of its gruesome violations of human rights. It is our duty as human beings to speak for the oppressed Palestinians who are being permanently disenfranchised, dispossessed, and subjected to military rule.

Mohammad Jamal Ahmed is a graduate of the University of London and a freelance writer. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.