Anti-zionism is not antisemitism

22 Apr

Yet again an opponent of Israel’s repressive policies – indefensible to a growing number of once staunch defenders – is castigated as ‘antisemitic’. Now it’s the turn of Malia Bouattia, daughter of Algerian refugees and newly elected President of the National Union of Students.

It’s by no means easy to ascertain whether those who conflate anti-zionism with antisemitism truly believe the two are the same. My guess is that most do. As I’ve noted in other contexts, humans are good at believing what it suits us, or what we think  it suits us, to believe. Today’s Guardian cites Daniel Clemens, President of Birmingham J-Soc, who opines:

… anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two [sic] and the same thing. Zionism is the belief that Jewish people should have a homeland to live in without threat of annihilation or war. This stems from a Jewish belief. So when someone attacks Zionism they’re … attacking Judaism as a religion, because the two go hand in hand.

Let’s say Clemens is right – no small concession when many Orthodox Jews reject Zionism on religious grounds which, if I understand correctly, boil down to this. God, in one of those temper tantrums He specialises in, kicked His Chosen People into exile for their wicked ways. We know He hasn’t yet rescinded this sentence because, discounting that pretender of 2,000 years ago, He hasn’t sent the promised Messiah. Ergo, Jews must submit to His Will and wander the earth homeless.

But even with that concession, all Clemens has done is show a link between anti-zionism and anti-judaism. Through sloppiness or cynicism he fails to do the same with antisemitism. As one whose past dissing of Islam – and defence of Charlie Hebdo – have drawn criticism, ostracism even, from white middle class liberals who don’t separate defence of a faith from defence of its adherents, I abhor such reasoning as lazy at best.*

Two things are clear. One, there are those – in my experience few – whose hostility to Israel is poisoned by antisemitism. (I’ve known two or three personally, though I can’t claim to know any self haters. None of the many Jewish anti-zionists I know, a few of them Israeli, have a problem with their Jewishness.) But these are a minority, their propaganda value for Zionism out of all proportion to their numbers.

Two, on several counts Israel – post Holocaust credits with the liberal intelligentia exhausted by the last straw of Lebanon 1982, since when it has spiralled into deepening debit – merits the same global infamy apartheid South Africa enjoyed. As a state premised on an ethnic cleansing still within living memory, it has adopted viciously repressive and racist measures in response to Palestinians whose dispossession leaves them with two stark options: resist, or accept the unacceptable. Further, Israel is a covert nuclear power whose flouting of international law, from illegal settlements to overseas hit-jobs, places it on the cusp of rogue statehood while ensuring the Palestine Question remains one of the likeliest triggers, directly or indirectly, for a very short WW3. It has manipulated world opinion via lip service to a two state solution it has no intention of agreeing to. It has long been the most unruly and dangerous member of a trinity reduced to two – the Iranian Revolution leaving only itself and Saudi Arabia – of states policing the region on behalf of western capitalism, aka  imperialism. And as demonstrated by the choreographic response to Bouattia’s election it exploits, tacitly and in my view cynically, the biggest and most systematic genocide in recorded history.

Whether they defend Israel or attack it, those who by ignorance or design conflate opposition to Israel with hostility to Jews should be resisted at every turn. As usual, the weapons of choice are acquaintance with the facts and clarity of thinking.

* Update 24/4/2016. My analogy here understates the depth of illogicality (mendacity?) displayed by Clemens and others. It’s vital we hold the line between attacks on Islam and attacks on Muslims lest we be railroaded into a binary choice: tacit approval on the one hand of oppressive obscurantism, tacit condonance on the other of racist abuse. I do not pretend holding that line is always easy in practice but, as a principle, it should be crystal clear. With Judaism though, the gap is wider, the line less blurred even in practice. While it is nigh impossible to separate Muslimhood from belief in the Koran as God’s Holy and frighteningly non negotiable Word, being Jewish implies a cultural identity quite distinct from Judaism and Torah
Update 27/4/2016. See here for comments on the suspension of Labour MP for antizionist remarks alleged to be antisemitic.

2 Replies to “Anti-zionism is not antisemitism

  1. Agree. While one might agree that people should have a home this doesn’t mean we agree they should achieve that by kicking other people out theirs. The claim that anti-Zionists are anti-Semites is largely a smokescreen to fend off criticism of a brutal and racist state that is busy eradicating all hope of a Palestinian state.

    • I see Zionist escalation of that equation as having risen in inverse ratio to its ability to keep liberal opinion, once uncritically pro-Israel, onside. Losing the battle for hearts and minds, it has increased its use of the smokescreen you speak of

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