In the age of identity politics, the thorny issue of anti-Zionist Jews presents itself time and again. One’s identity does not necessarily confer credibility or make one’s opinions more correct or valid, but when attempting to understand the oppression faced by a particular group, it is important to defer to the voices within that group.
While the anti-Israel camp refuses to apply that principle to Jews, it also vaunts the anti-Zionist (read: anti-Semitic) Jew. The only time those on the far left deign Jewish opinions on anti-Semitism and Israel valid are when those opinions gel with their hatred of Israel.
These Jews are trump cards in the anti-Israel arsenal. Their value as people in the eyes of the BDS camp is derived from their identity, but they are not just tokens; they are weapons. We have made it clear that Israel and Jews are inseparable, and perversely, it is this connection that has lent credence to their anti-Semitic ramblings.
When someone’s sole reason for identifying as Jewish is to declare their disdain for Israel, any criticism they have should be taken with a heap of salt. Restricting their Jewish identity to a playing card to be waved in order to demonize Israel insulates them from the type of anti-Semitism which festers on the left, and because they rarely identify as Jewish in other contexts, they are usually also insulated from the type of anti-Semitism coming from the right. This is privilege.
It was a Jewish friend of mine who, years ago, said something that struck me and laid the foundation for my theory of security privilege. She identifies as Jewish but has a decidedly non-Jewish last name (her father of blessed memory was not Jewish). She confided that she would occasionally hide behind her name so as to avoid the anti-Semitism on campus perpetrated, ironically, with the collaboration of Jews.
By rejecting Zionism, one of the key components of Jewishness, these Jews have removed themselves from the Jewish collective. These voices must not be given priority over the voices of Jews who are targets of anti-Semitism in all its vile forms.
The Black Lives Matter movement provides a useful analogy. The community of People of Colour (POC) is an incredibly diverse one, but the collective has spoken: the problem of police brutality against POC is a manifestation of racism, it is systemic, and it must be addressed. There are, I am sure, POC who disagree, and while they are entitled to hold that opinion, I will continue to defer to the Black community as a whole in trying to understand anti-Black racism.
If we are committed to anti-oppression work and to deferring to the voices of marginalized groups, then we must defer to the collective voice, and not voices on the fringes of that group which obviously do not reflect that group’s experiences, opinions, or values.
The lived experience of Jews and the lived experience of anti-Zionist Jews is not the same lived experience.
Group think is toxic and endemic to truth-seeking. This is not about group think; it is about seeking the truth of what anti-Semitism is and how to counter it in order to make the world a more just and inclusive place. In order to achieve that end, we must consult those whose lives are most directly impacted by this form of prejudice.
Anti-Zionist Jews are, of course, entitled to hold these opinions. Just as white supremacists are entitled to believe that the white race is superior to all others — and they certainly feel entitled. But that does not mean that those opinions are valid or acceptable; they are morally reprehensible, and so is the type of anti-Semitism enabled by and emanating from this fringe group of Jews.
It seems that every time someone is rightfully accused of saying something anti-Semitic in the context of Israel, their knee-jerk response is that not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. It is clear that this is a diversion tactic because often these people are incapable of meeting ideas with ideas or basing their opinions on facts instead of fiction. I have grown tired of repeating the same refrain: not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.
In fact, no criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. Israel is a state with a government and institutions and it is important to question those institutions and their policies and actions.
Malicious vilification, baseless accusations, and blood libels are not forms of criticism, they are forms of anti-Semitism, regardless of how they are packaged or the identity of the messenger.
Another close friend of of mine — a passionate Zionist and talented artist, is ideologically at home on the left. She believes it is important to engage with anti-Zionist Jews. Her intellect is impressive, and I have tremendous respect for her, and in a way, I am glad that there is someone who is willing to engage with these people. Like the matriarch Sarah and patriarch Avraham, she makes room in her tent — and even makes them a mean chai tea. Well, there is no room in my tent, and there is certainly no tea for Jews who hate Israel.