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Anti-Zionism is still antisemitism

| Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Last November, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that anti-Zionism, opposition to the existence of a Jewish state, is inherently antisemitic. The statement was directed at BDS, the Palestinian-led movement calling for the boycott, divestment, and sanctioning of Israel. We find similar rhetoric in the Biden administration, where U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield stated that BDS “verges on antisemitism.” Naturally, these comments were heavily condemned by those concerned by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. They argue that anti-Zionism is not antisemitic, and that labeling it as such delegitimizes justified criticism of Israel. 

However, anti-Zionism is simply the newest form of antisemitism. Those who were alarmed by Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield ignore the antisemitism within the anti-Zionist movement and are blind to the destructive nature it has towards the Jewish community. To understand the antisemitic nature of anti-Zionism, we must begin by examining antisemitism. 

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a 34-member intergovernmental organization that combats global antisemitism, provides an excellent definition of antisemitism. Quite simply, antisemitism is any “perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” A few weeks ago, the Student Senate unanimously approved a resolution calling on the University to adopt the Working Definition, which has been adopted worldwide by governments, universities, and other organizations. 

Antisemitism is a mutating villainy that continually finds new ways to infect societies. This is not to say that as one form of antisemitism begins, another ends. Rather, each iteration joins and reinforces previous antisemitic attitudes. The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that the development of antisemitism throughout history is one in which the consistent aim was to deny Jews the same rights afforded to other groups of people. In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated as a religious group, persecuted for accusations of blood libel and that “the Jews killed Jesus!” In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Jews were targeted because of their race, a phenomenon infamously exemplified by the Holocaust. Today, when Jews are dispersed throughout the world with varying levels of attachment to their Jewish heritage, Jews are identified by their link to a common nationality: the statehood of Israel. Whether or not a Jew might support Israel, antisemites categorize Israel with all Jews.

Next, we should consider Zionism, which is the belief that Jews should have a right to self-determination through practicing sovereignty in Israel. The essential belief of Zionism is that Jews have a right to their own state. Just as Italians have Italy and Canadians have Canada, Jews should have Israel. To fully appreciate this, one must realize that Judaism goes beyond a religion, but also an ethnicity, culture and nationality. Zionism is not about supporting the Israeli government and its policies. In fact, many factions of the Zionist movement frequently disagree on the proper governmental form of a Jewish state. At its core, Zionism is the support for the existence of a Jewish state.

Anti-Zionism, as one might imagine, is opposition to the existence of a Jewish state. There are a few reasons why such a movement is antisemitic. First, there is a distinction between criticizing Israeli policies and suggesting Israel should not exist. The former is a completely valid argument, one which many Zionists concede and take part in themselves. The Israeli government, like any other government, should be criticized for improper actions. However, anti-Zionists take it a step further by advocating the removal of Israel. By its definition, anti-Zionism opposes the existence of a Jewish state, and therefore supports the notion that Jews should have no homeland. When history shows Jews are routinely persecuted and driven out of nations that are not originally their own, removing the Jewish homeland only serves to condemn the Jewish people to eternal bigotry. Nations like the United Kingdom and China are routinely criticized, yet no one questions their right to exist. In a world where Christianity and Islam occupy many nations as their predominant religion, why is the only other Abrahamic religion left out? The only answer is an underlying attitude of antisemitism. 

Second, look to what Jews themselves think. According to one survey, 84% of American Jews believe the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is antisemitic. While this is only data on American Jews, it should demonstrate to an American audience the prevailing opposition to anti-Zionism within Judaism. When a group of people overwhelmingly identify a statement as dangerous to their identity, that should be enough evidence for anti-Zionism’s antisemitic character. 

Third, we can see antisemitic attitudes among the ranks of anti-Zionists themselves. Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar support boycotting Israel while each express antisemitic beliefs. This behavior isn’t beholden to one political ideology, since white supremacists and right-wing extremists have been found to also support anti-Zionism. Attacks on Jewish communities on college campuses are frequently joined by anti-Zionist language. BDS is implicated as well, where co-founder and leader Omar Barghouti states “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.” At its core, anti-Zionism breeds antisemitism. 

Anti-Zionism is the latest manifestation of antisemitism, attempting to portray itself as legitimate criticism of Israel when it actually serves to normalize anti-Jewish attitudes. Let me clear: criticizing Israel is completely acceptable and encouraged. It is when that criticism turns to denying Israel’s statehood that it crosses the border into antisemitism. You can oppose Israel without espousing antisemitic beliefs, which is what I encourage Israel’s critics to do.

Blake Ziegler is a sophomore at Notre Dame from New Orleans, Louisiana, with double majors in political science and philosophy. He loves anything politics, especially things he doesn’t agree with. For inquiries, he can be reached at [email protected] or @NewsWithZig on Twitter if you want to see more of his opinions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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