Thoughts on “Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism” from a Liberal Jew:

Solomon Zisser ’20, Guest Columnist

As someone who loves Israel and also criticizes its actions, as someone who visits Israel frequently and also dislikes Israel’s current leaders, as someone who has liberal beliefs and also is a passionate Jew, it is unsurprising that I have many thoughts on the article published last week titled “Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism.”

It is irresponsible to make a claim that “Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism” without defining what we mean by the term – Zionism. Zionism to a liberal non-Jew means something different than it does to a liberal Jew and something different to a politically conservative Jew. Does this article claim that the definition of “anti-Zionism” is criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the Israeli Defense Forces’s actions? Personally, I don’t support most things that the current Israeli administration have done. And on a larger scale, are the near 75% of Israelis who voted against Netanyahu in the most recent election anti-Zionists or anti-Semetic? Surely not. On the other hand, once you begin to state that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist – and define anti-Zionism as such – then the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism can become blurry. Defining the term is required, as it can mean different things to different people.

Claiming that anti-Semitism is equivalent to anti-Zionism and vice-versa is an extreme simplification of Jewish history. How is it possible that anti-Semititsm be intertwined with Zionism if there was little to no national Jewish identity prior to the birth of Zionist movement (1880s)? How could hate for Jews be related to Israel, when hatred of Jews pre-dates the founding of Israel in 1948 by nearly 2000 years? It is clear that anti-Semitism has lasted centuries prior to Zionism, so why are we so eager to intertwine the two? 

On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that we are very fortunate in America to have a distinction between Zionism and Judaism. In other countries however – especially across Europe – that difference does not really exist. Many news outlets and politicians use “Zionists” as a synonym for “Jews,” and much anti-Zionist action and rhetoric stems from an anti-Semitic foundation and vice-versa. 

I think a more appropriate title for an article about anti-Semitism is “Anti-Semitism is Anti-Semitism.” In a quote made by President Trump in August 2019 he states, “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” A self proclaimed Jew-lover (whatever that means…?) here repeats a common anti-Semetic trope – Jews must be more loyal to Israel than to their native countries. How can Trump, who supposedly loves the Jewish people and is pro-Zioinist, be using anti-Semetic language? Clearly, it is possible to be a Zionist and also anti-Semetic. There are plenty of anti-Semetic incidents that are anti-Zionist, and there are plenty of anti-Semetic incidents that are pro-Zionist, and there are plenty of anti-Semetic incidents that are just anti-Semetic.

Additionally, something I find of note which makes me feel hesitant of the article’s stance on Israel and the state’s participation in international politics and society is some of the analysis of Israel in conjunction to Palestine. The article refers to propositions for a two-state solution (2000, 2001, 2008), which were very one sided: giving everything Israel wanted, while giving the Palestinians very few (if any) of their demands. Similar to the recently released Trump “peace plan,” the goal of these propositions was for the Palestinians to reject it, in order for others to say: “Palestinians refused to negotiate.” Claiming that these propositions were legitimate forms of peace-dealing or justice is again irresponsible and unfair. 

While occasionally there can be a correlation between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, one does not equate the other. And claiming a causation or an equalization simply undermines the diversity of opinions on the issue by Jewish people, as well as makes lives for liberal Jews (like myself) even harder. Finding the balance for people like me between loving the Jewish State of Israel and hating most of Israel’s actions is hard, and black and white statements like claiming that “Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism” only makes finding that balance more difficult.