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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism are two sides of the same coin

Sunday's Los Angeles Times includes two articles that discuss challenges to Zionism. This post will discuss the first article and a later post will discuss the second one.

In the first article, Judea Pearl argues that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are unique and that anti-Zionism is more dangerous. I disagree with Pearl, and believe that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism, albeit one that allows its followers to hide behind the supposed sins of the State of Israel in perpetuating the world's oldest prejudice. I believe that arguments like Pearl's allow rank anti-Semites to mask their true nature by hiding behind their objections to Israeli policy. Here's Pearl:
Anti-Zionism rejects the very notion that Jews are a nation -- a collective bonded by a common history -- and, accordingly, denies Jews the right to self-determination in their historical birthplace. It seeks the dismantling of the Jewish nation-state: Israel.

Anti-Zionism earns its discriminatory character by denying the Jewish people what it grants to other historically bonded collectives (e.g. French, Spanish, Palestinians), namely, the right to nationhood, self-determination and legitimate coexistence with other indigenous claimants.

Anti-Semitism rejects Jews as equal members of the human race; anti-Zionism rejects Israel as an equal member in the family of nations.
If Pearl were correct, why would Israel face such vehement opposition in countries that have no connection to this region? Why is Israel condemned daily in countries like Sweden, Indonesia and North Korea to give three recent far-flung examples? Could it be that demonstrators in those countries only condemn the Jews' right to bond as a nation? If that were the case, I would expect offers to take us in to induce us to leave the Jewish state.

But no one is offering to provide new homes for Israel's Jews. And no one offered to provide homes for Europe's Jews in other parts of the world during the Holocaust. The world's oldest hatred is very much alive and well. Anti-Zionism is just another, more politically correct manifestation.
More important, shared history, not religion, is today the primary uniting force behind the secular, multiethnic society of Israel. The majority of its members do not practice religious laws and do not believe in divine supervision or the afterlife. The same applies to American Jewry, which is likewise largely secular. Identification with a common historical ethos, culminating in the reestablishment of the state of Israel, is the central bond of Jewish collectivity in America.
Pearl may have lived in Israel at one time, but he has no understanding of the glue that holds the Jewish people together. 'Israeliness' is a fraud. The 'shared history' is biblical. And while it is true that the majority of Israelis are secular, the country still operates on a religious calendar. With the exception of Independence Day, all of the major holidays in Israel are religious. Secular Jews will for the most part tell you that 'the synagogue that I don't attend' is an Orthodox one. The glue that kept the Jewish people together through 2,000 years of exile was religious and it continues to be religious.
Given this understanding of Jewish nationhood, anti-Zionism is in many ways more dangerous than anti-Semitism.

First, anti-Zionism targets the most vulnerable part of the Jewish people, namely, the Jewish population of Israel, whose physical safety and personal dignity depend crucially on maintaining Israel's sovereignty. Put bluntly, the anti-Zionist plan to do away with Israel condemns 5 1/2 million human beings, mostly refugees or children of refugees, to eternal defenselessness in a region where genocidal designs are not uncommon.
Pearl is wrong about Israel being the 'most vulnerable part of the Jewish people.' It is not. The most vulnerable part of the Jewish people is in the countries of the Former Soviet Union where most Jews have had no Jewish education for nearly a century and where most of the Jewish people have already intermarried. The most vulnerable part of the Jewish people are Jews in countries like Iran, Syria and Venezuela where anti-Semitic governments occasionally persecute them and hold up the threat to do so at any time. The most vulnerable part of the Jewish people is in countries like France, Belgium and Sweden where the government turns a blind eye to anti-Semitic manifestations among the non-Jewish public and where looking Jewish in public has become dangerous.

On the other hand, with God's help, Israel can defend itself. If the desire to do away with Israel were motivated by anti-Zionism and not by anti-Semitism, Israel's enemies would be satisfied with driving us out of the country and not seek to commit genocide.
Secondly, modern society has developed antibodies against anti-Semitism but not against anti-Zionism. Today, anti-Semitic stereotypes evoke revulsion in most people of conscience, while anti-Zionist rhetoric has become a mark of academic sophistication and social acceptance in certain extreme yet vocal circles of U.S. academia and media elite. Anti-Zionism disguises itself in the cloak of political debate, exempt from sensitivities and rules of civility that govern inter-religious discourse, to attack the most cherished symbol of Jewish identity.
Of course, this is true, at least in some countries. Anti-Zionism is just a form of politically correct anti-Semitism. Deep down maybe Pearl (whom I have taken to task before for this kind of argument) sees that. What I just said is not what Pearl meant to say, but it's the truth. Anti-Zionism is a way for anti-Semites to hate Jews without incurring the social revulsion that anti-Semitism still carries in polite circles in countries like the United States, Canada and Australia. So why does Pearl continue to make an illogical argument that tries to divorce anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism?
Finally, anti-Zionist rhetoric is a stab in the back to the Israeli peace camp, which overwhelmingly stands for a two-state solution. It also gives credence to enemies of coexistence who claim that the eventual elimination of Israel is the hidden agenda of every Palestinian.
But of course. If we cannot maintain the illusion that all the 'Palestinians' want from us is territory, we cannot maintain the illusion called the 'peace process,' can we?

I don't ever want - God forbid - to walk in Judea Pearl's shoes. But it's time for him to wake up to reality. His son didn't die saying 'I am a Zionist' or 'I am an Israeli.' His son died saying 'I am a Jew.' And I hope and pray that - unlike his father - he was damned proud of it.


At 7:58 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

"I don't ever want - God forbid - to walk in Judea Pearl's shoes. But it's time for him to wake up to reality. His son didn't die saying 'I am a Zionist' or 'I am an Israeli.' His son died saying 'I am a Jew.' And I hope and pray that - unlike his father - he was damned proud of it."

Well, considering that he married a shiksa, I doubt it

At 8:55 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Anti-Zionism is really a polite form of anti-Semitism. Its a way of saying "I hate Jews" that makes one look enlightened and progressive. But those who oppose Israel's existence don't oppose it because of what its government represents or the policies it follows but because of whose its people are. The bulk of the venom abroad is not directed at Israel or Israelis - it is directed at Jews.

Jews are in a double bind. The world is upset with them for living in their country and the world is equally upset with them for staying in their host societies. No matter what Jews do, they can never gain any one's approval. The Jews may be tolerated but they have never been accepted as equals even as part of the family of nations. And for those who hate Jews, even the limited sovereignty Israel does have is just too much to bear.

For that reason, contra Daniel Pearl, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism by another name and there is no reason to believe hatred of Jews would disappear if Israel were somehow to vanish from this earth.

At 11:50 PM, Blogger ivanpope said...

Zionism is a political belief. Anti-zionism is a reaction to that political belief. There have been and are plenty of Jewish anti-zionists. Nothing strange there, all political expressions have opponents.
Constructing a belief (and that's all it is) that anti-zionism is the same as anti-semitism may seem like a clever ploy to attack people who are against the idea of zionism, but it is a dead end. At some point you have to argue for your position, not paint your oponents as callous anti-semites.

At 7:32 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


There is a difference between Jewish anti-Zionists and non-Jewish anti-Zionists. A Jewish anti-Zionist may not be an anti-Semite, but may be ideologically opposed to Zionism. In today's reality, a non-Jewish anti-Zionist is probably an anti-Semite. Ask Martin Luther King.


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