Anti-Zionism Is a Form of Anti-Semitism
During the 1975 United Nations General Assembly debate preceding the international community’s adoption of the landmark resolution declaring that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination,” the US permanent representative to the United Nations, windbag extraordinaire Daniel Patrick Moynihan, declared that “the United Nations is about to make anti-Semitism international law.” His statement echoed a declaration made two years earlier by the Israeli foreign minister, Abba Eban, that “One of the chief tasks of any dialogue with the gentile world is to prove that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is not a distinction at all.”
In point of fact, the distinction between anti-Semites and anti-Zionists is as clear as the distinction between Jews and Zionists. Anti-Semitism is, quite simply, prejudice, hatred, discrimination, or violence against Jews at the individual, collective, or abstract level, solely on account of the real or perceived Jewish identity of the victim. Anti-Zionism is, by contrast, opposition to a specific political ideology, the movement it spawned, and the state it established.
The specific ideology in question is of course Jewish nationalism, or contemporary political Zionism. Zionism’s initial opponents, it should be recalled, were neither European anti-Semites nor Palestinian Arabs, but rather orthodox, liberal, socialist, and anarchist European Jews, who believed that the Zionist program was either an act of religious blasphemy, or a secular heresy that undermined the struggle for Jewish emancipation in Europe. Until at least 1945, and probably through June 1967, the majority of diaspora Jews were in fact either non- or anti-Zionist, a pattern that appears to be repeating itself in the twenty-first century.
Just as one can be both Jewish and anti-Zionist, so one can be both Zionist and Gentile. Joe Biden for example, is a devout Catholic, yet has declared himself a Zionist. Similarly, by far the largest group of Zionists in North America today are not Jewish Americans and Canadians, but rather Evangelical Christians, so-called Christian Zionists.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, one can also be both an ardent anti-Semite and passionate Zionist. After all, a fundamental tenet of modern political Zionism is that anti-Semitism is a permanent and immutable feature of European life, and European Jews should therefore establish a state of their own in the Middle East. The attraction to anti-Semites who wished for their societies to be Judenrein is self-evident.
The attempts of Zionist leaders to obtain the support of anti-Semitic politicians on this basis throughout the first half of the twentieth century is in fact very well-documented, not least in the memoirs of these leaders themselves. Their efforts made the movement even more unpopular among European Jews committed to the egalitarian principles of the French and later Bolshevik revolutions. Subsequently, the state of Israel routinely forged alliances with foreign leaders who made no secret of their less than fraternal views about Jews. It is a practice that continues to this day in the form of Israel’s special relationships with Hungary’s Victor Orban, Poland’s Kaczynski, the European far right, and North American dispensationalists.
More recently, and particularly since the attacks of 9/11, we have seen the extreme right in Europe and North America adopt the Israeli flag as an emblem and Israel as their model for their opposition to what they term the Great Replacement Theory and purported Islamization of their societies on account of migration from the Middle East and Africa. At the same time such groups and individuals retain typically white supremacist views about Jews that would make Joseph Goebbels proud. India’s Hindutva extremists, for their part, seem equally devoted to the Israeli flag and Hitler’s Mein Kampf. It’s a reality as unsurprising as that of Trump and his fellow Islamophobes making the financial pilgrimage to Riyadh and singing the praises of Muhammad bin Salman. Or of Gulf autocrats providing witness statements exonerating Trump’s Muslim ban as a legitimate security measure in exchange for continued US protection.
So how did anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism become so intertwined? The short answer is political expediency. In the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust, anti-Semitism has come to be viewed as a uniquely evil and pernicious form of racism. Since Israel is a Jewish state, has adopted the Star of David and menorah as national emblems, and claims to represent and act on behalf of Jews the world over, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that presenting opposition to indefensible Israeli practices as indistinguishable from a burning hatred of Jews is the ideal mechanism with which to delegitimize, demonize, and where possible cancel and criminalize such opposition. Deploying the toxic smear of anti-Semitism against any and all critics of Israel, its policies, and practices has proven extraordinarily successful, even if the novelty is gradually beginning to wear a little thin.
The above notwithstanding, it does require a successful lobotomy to continue parroting this false equation. In this context one of the most successful such procedures has been conducted by the self-proclaimed International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. At a time when leading Israeli and American human rights organizations are calling out Israel as an institutionally racist state, IHRA insists on equating such findings with Holocaust denial and the blood libel. It seems the IHRA’s commissars are hell bent on trivializing anti-Semitism and even the Holocaust in the service of continued impunity for Israel in its dealings with the Palestinian people.
Israel and its apologists have sought to redefine anti-Semitism from a hatred of Jews to opposition to Israel and its policies. As a result we today find ourselves in a Kafkaesque world where the fastest-growing population of anti-Semites consists of anti-Zionist Jews.
Shaikh Jarrah Is a Property Dispute Exploited by Palestinian Agitators for Political Objectives
The so-called property dispute in Shaikh Jarrah, which has in fact been ongoing for some two decades, is often presented as the result of efforts by dispossessed Jews to reclaim the properties they were forced to abandon in 1948.
It is an established fact that Jews lived in Shaikh Jarrah prior to 1948.
It is also an established fact that Shaikh Jarrah was never an exclusively Jewish neighborhood. Yet what Israel and its settlers are doing there today goes well beyond any attempt to reclaim lost property. As throughout the West Bank, Israel is engaged in a campaign of demographic engineering to replace Palestinian Arabs with Israeli Jews. The intention of this campaign, as openly stated by its sponsors, is to transform Shaikh Jarrah into an Israeli settlement populated exclusively by Israeli and foreign Jews.
It is also an established fact that the principle of property reclamation is being administered on a fundamentally racist basis. The Palestinians facing expulsion from Shaikh Jarrah are themselves refugees from territory that became Israel in 1948, including West Jerusalem, and to which they have been prohibited from returning. This is because Israeli law permits only Israeli Jews to reclaim abandoned property. It in fact encourages them to do so, even if such property lies outside the boundaries of the state. Those facing expulsion from Shaikh Jarrah have like other Palestinians been denied a similar courtesy.
It is also an established fact that the current residents of Shaikh Jarrah are, unlike Israel’s settlers, stateless refugees. Yet their citizenship status, which is often referenced to rationalize their differential treatment, is wholly irrelevant to their restricted property rights. A significant proportion of Palestinian citizens of Israel also lost properties in 1948. These properties are overwhelmingly located in towns and villages that, unlike Shaikh Jarrah, are situated within the boundaries of the Israeli state. Yet, despite being Israeli citizens, Israeli law does not accord them the right to reclaim lost properties it extends to Jews whether they be Israelis from Tel Aviv or Americans from Brooklyn.
It is also an established fact that this dispute is being adjudicated by Israeli courts on the basis of Israeli law and legislation. Yet East Jerusalem is occupied Arab territory. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, and recent US recognition of Israel’s claims of sovereignty over Jerusalem, have no bearing on the status of East Jerusalem under international law. Under international law, an occupying power is required to maintain the laws and legislation that existed on the eve of occupation, and is prohibited from replacing these with its own domestic laws. That same corpus of law, parenthetically, defines the transfer of one’s own civilian population into occupied territory as a war crime. Indeed, we would do well to constantly remind ourselves of the colonial context in which this issue is playing out.
It is also an established fact that if this were a standard property dispute, there has been so much fraud, legal subterfuge, and deliberate misrepresentation, primarily by the Israeli state and its settlers, but also by Israeli lawyers hired by the Palestinian residents of Shaikh Jarrah to defend their rights but in practice acting in collusion with the settlers, that in any court outside of Israel this case would have been immediately and categorically dismissed in favor of the current residents. Anywhere outside Israel, the settlers and their sponsors would have been lucky to escape a significant prison sentence.
Finally, it is also an established fact that none of the Israeli plaintiffs claiming ownership of Shaikh Jarrah property have any connection to those Jews who resided in Shaikh Jarrah prior to 1948. Israel and its settlers are, in fact, making their claims on an exclusively sectarian basis. They are in effect taking the position that because Jews lived in Shaikh Jarrah prior to 1948, and because the present claimants are also Jews, the latter have a natural and established right to seize these properties. Please reflect on that, because the absurdity that lies at the heart of this issue needs to be properly recognized.
If you’re not convinced, consider the case of former Israeli attorney general and retired judge Michael Ben-Yair. Ben-Yair was born in Shaikh Jarrah in 1942, and his family fled East Jerusalem during the 1948 Palestine War. It was thereafter compensated for its property losses. Yet, unbeknownst to the Ben-Yair family, a settler organization, Meyashvei Tzion, with the full weight of the Israeli state behind it, years ago succeeded in having itself appointed as the Ben-Yair’s trustees, and in this capacity took control of the former family home. Meyashvei Tzion has since collected hundreds of thousands of Shekels in rent from the property’s Palestinian residents. Ben-Yair is now fighting a losing battle with the settlers to claim ownership of the building in which he was born, and has stated he wants to prevent the expulsion of its current residents. Meyashvei Tzion, like others settler organizations promoting the war crime of illegal colonization, presumably enjoys tax-exempt charity status in the United States. Its activities recall the statement of Shaikh Jarrah settler Jacob Fauci of Brooklyn, which recently went viral, in which he declaimed to Mona Al-Kurd that “If I don’t steal it someone else gonna steal it.”
By way of comparison, I am currently in The Netherlands, where relations between Catholics and Protestants have not always reflected the principle of Christian Brotherhood. Imagine if a Calvinist sect took control of the Dutch state and declared that in order to put Catholics in their place, any Protestant, whether from Holland or anywhere, is entitled to reclaim any property, anywhere in The Netherlands, that is currently inhabited by Catholics but was at any point in history owned, inhabited, or simply claimed by Protestants. That’s essentially what is playing out in Shaikh Jarrah, and Palestine as a whole, before our very eyes.
[The above comments were delivered to a 16 June 2021 webinar organized by the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) and Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University on “Dismantling Myths on Israel-Palestine.” Watch the recording of the conference here.]