Jews everywhere have long warned that the campaign to boycott, delegitimize, and ultimately destroy Israel is motivated by, and in turn feeds, hostility toward Jews. Such was the case during the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, which saw a 115 percent surge in antisemitic incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Those who actively oppose Israel’s right to exist play a clever rhetorical game to attempt to exonerate themselves from responsibility for this uptick: They point out that even Jews can be anti-Zionist, so how can opposition to Zionism be antisemitic? To equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism, they conclude, allows Zionists to unfairly shield Israel from criticism.
To be clear, Zionism is not equivalent to support for Israeli government policy. It is the movement dedicated to establishing, and now maintaining, a Jewish national homeland in the Land of Israel. Zionism flows out of Judaism’s most sacred and fundamental texts, beliefs, history, and practices, and is one of the primary ways in which contemporary Jews—both in Israel and in the Diaspora—express their Jewishness.
Meanwhile, anti-Zionism is not merely criticism of Israeli policy. At one level, it engages in a systematic falsification of thousands of years of Jewish history and the centrality of Israel to Judaism, thus robbing Jews of their identity and heritage. At another level, it promotes what would inevitably be a violent dissolution of the State of Israel, home to more than half of the world’s Jewish population.
And what of the claim that Jews cannot be antisemitic? Proponents of this argument likely have in mind groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, two groups that are frequently tokenized to provide a Jewish veneerof respectability to anti-Israel rhetoric. Also consider New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, who is Jewish, and whose own hostility toward Israel obfuscates the antisemitic nature of anti-Zionism. Last month she opined that “attacks on Jews over Israel are a gift to the Right,” demonstrating greater concern over political ground lost on the Left than with Jewish assault victims.
That these groups and individuals have a Jewish background makes their attempt to drive a wedge between Jews and Zionism all the more convincing. This smokescreen creates a false sense that Jewish opposition to Zionism cannot be antisemitic, when in fact it certainly can.
This smokescreen creates a false sense that Jewish opposition to Zionism cannot be antisemitic, when in fact it certainly can.
Viewpoints must be judged on their own merits, not on the identity of those espousing them. And according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s widely-adopted definition, antisemitism doesn’t require a special animus or personal hostility towards Jews as Jews. Those who promote policies that endanger Jewish security or malign and delegitimize major components of Jewish identity are complicit in antisemitism, full stop.
This phenomenon of Jewish antisemitism is nothing new.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Jewish apostates spread lurid “inside stories” of Jewish blasphemy and perfidy against Christians, prompted anti-Jewish religious disputations such as the burning of the Talmud, and reinforced anti-Jewish claims of deicide and blood libels.
During the 19th century, Otto Weininger, an Austrian thinker of Jewish descent, wrote an antisemitic screed entitled “Sex and Character” that was later incorporated into Nazi propaganda and praised by Hitler.
A century later, the Jewish wing of the Soviet Communist party known as the Yevsektsiya was tasked with the “destruction of traditional Jewish life, the Zionist movement, and Hebrew culture.” These Jewish antisemites agitated to close down synagogues and Jewish cultural centers throughout the Soviet Union. For them, Zionism was counter-revolutionary and reactionary, harming the assimilation of Jews into the workers’ paradise.
Today’s Jewish anti-Zionists are simply following the long tradition of Jewish antisemitism. Often from assimilated backgrounds at odds with the mainstream Jewish community, they gain “in-crowd” standing by reinforcing widespread anti-Jewish attitudes and repeating falsehoods such as the idea that Israel engages in apartheid, war crimes, and genocide.
The recent wave of anti-Jewish harassment and violence is the latest confirmation that the anti-Zionist movement is inextricably linked to hatred toward Jews. People of good faith must not allow themselves to be misled by those who use their Jewish identity to cover for their antisemitic ideologies.
Russell Shalev is editor-at-large of the J’accuse Coalition for Justice and an attorney with the International Legal Forum.