Opinion: When anti-Zionism is — and is not — antisemitism

Non-Jewish anti-Zionism is always and automatically suspect.

(The Salt Lake Tribune) A service memorializing those killed in Israel on Oct. 10, and a rally in support of Palestine on Nov. 4.

Recent weeks have seen considerable public attention to the question of whether anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Some say anti-Zionism is always antisemitism. Others say they are two completely different things. For example, the owner of a local bar claims that “it’s not antisemitic to be anti-Zionist” as he declares “no Zionists allowed” at his establishment.

In my view, both sides of this debate are mistaken, because they fail to make a crucial distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish anti-Zionism.

Jewish anti-Zionism has a long history in the United States. In the early 20th century, it was widespread here, even endorsed by leading figures in the American Jewish community. But with the Holocaust and the creation of Israel, Jewish anti-Zionism nearly disappeared — until current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took power in 2009 with his increasingly right-wing, pro-occupation, pro-annexation, even pro-expulsion governments. His successful efforts to turn Israel sharply rightward have, understandably, alienated most American Jews. It is during this period that, according to many polls, millions of American Jews have rejected his policies, and tens or hundreds of thousands have even turned against Zionism itself, the very idea that statehood is good for the Jews.

Jewish anti-Zionism is a completely legitimate opinion in the internal Jewish community conversation about our people and our future. I happen to passionately disagree with it, but every Jew gets a voice and a vote in the crucial communal debates about our direction.

Non-Jewish anti-Zionism, on the other hand, is always and automatically suspect, for two reasons:

  1. Just as I have and should have no voice or vote on whether Palestinians (or Kurds or Catalans or any other group) should seek a national homeland, what gives non-Jews any right to an opinion on a question that is exclusively an internal matter within the global Jewish community?

  2. In the vast majority of cases where non-Jews call themselves anti-Zionists, I never hear them also saying that they are against the existence of a national homeland for any other people other than the Jews. I never hear them saying that Turkey or Russia or Germany or Estonia or Bosnia or Kyrgyzstan or Laos don’t have the right to exist, even though these and dozens of other countries serve as the national homeland of a particular ethno/linguistic/religious/national group. In fact, most of these countries even have minority groups larger than Israel’s that don’t identify with the nation’s name, flag, and anthem. Yet Israel is the only one subject to regular calls for its elimination from the global map. That’s discrimination. Against the Jews. Which is commonly called antisemitism. Non-Jewish anti-Zionism is, in most cases, an example of antisemitism.

At the same time, I’m sure that there are some non-Jewish anti-Zionists who are against all forms of nationalism and would therefore claim that they are not being discriminatory against Jews. To them my question would be the following: Why should the Jews, of all peoples, who are arguably history’s greatest victims of nationalism, who only turned to their own nationalism late in the game as a defense against the excesses of the nationalisms of others, why should this people give up their nationalism for the good of humanity? If anything, shouldn’t the Jews be the last to give up our nationalism, once it seems safe to do so?

And of course I am well aware of the claims that Israeli war crimes and treatment of Palestinians make it a special case. But if a country’s behavior can make it subject to a national death penalty, then call me after we’ve gotten rid of Germany, Japan, Russia, China, France, Great Britain and others who have committed far greater crimes. And — oh right — the United States of America.

(Photo courtesy of Matthew Weinstein) Matthew Weinstein

Matthew Weinstein lives in Salt Lake City and is a member of both Congregation Kol Ami and Chavurah B’Yachad. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of either congregation.

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