IS ANTI-ZIONISM ANTI-SEMITISM? This question flared up in the British Labour Party in April 2016 and led to an internal inquiry.
We Jews ourselves don’t agree about whether or not anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Zionism emerged as a political movement in Europe in the late nineteenth century in response to anti-Semitism. For Theodore Herzl and other exponents of Zionism, the establishment of a Jewish state was the only solution to the persistence of anti-Jewish persecution in the diaspora.1 Nevertheless, not all Jews at the time agreed with the Zionist argument. Many Jews in Eastern Europe, for example, rejected Jewish nationalism in favour of international socialism, hence the establishment of the Bund—shorthand for the General Jewish Workers’ Union in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia. Prior to the Sho’ah, many orthodox groups opposed Zionism because as they saw it, the redemption of Zion was dependent on the Divine Will and the coming of the Messiah. Furthermore, until the establishment of the State of Israel, progressive Judaism rejected Zionism from the diasporic standpoint that the people Israel best fulfill the prophetic vision of being ‘a light unto the nations’2 by living amongst the nations. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, while many orthodox Jews are Zionists, many ultraorthodox Jewish denominations remain vehemently opposed to Zionism. Meanwhile, today, Jewish Socialists, radical Jews of different persuasions, including many of those involved in Tikkun’s movement of spiritual progressives, reject Zionism, both because they don’t feel Zionism is the best way to protect the Jewish people in the twenty-first century and because they believe that nationalism of all kinds must be transcended in order to address global issues, such as the environmental crisis.
Clearly, these Jewish expressions of anti-Zionism are not motivated by anti-Semitism; notwithstanding the ultra-Zionist vilification that such positions derive from internalized anti-Semitism. What then could be helpful criteria for identifying an anti-Zionist position as anti-Semitic? I suggest three potential candidates. First: the unilateral rejection of Jewish nationalism alone among the nationalisms of the world, and the targeting of Zionism for special condemnation. Second: this exclusive preoccupation with Israel and demonization of the Jewish state becoming enmeshed with historic anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power. Third: the presentation of Zionism as a form of European colonialism without any understanding or recognition of how the Zionist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was a response to the rise of a new malevolent form of racist anti-Semitism in Europe.
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Tikkun 2017 Volume 32, Number 2:59-62