The University of California has almost a quarter of a million students, making it the nation’s largest institution of higher education. In recent years, it has also become the “epicenter of the campus war against Israel.” Realizing that the problem has gone well beyond student politics or protests, the UC Board of Regents Regents—the governing body of the 10-campus system—finally decided to take action. The Regents recently issued a statement denouncing “antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism” along with antisemitism. Many have hailed this as a major achievement for Jewish students and the broader community; others lamented that it didn’t go far enough. Perhaps at the University of California, with its pervasive intimidation and toxic environment for Jewish students, the statement of condemnation is indeed a significant accomplishment. But it the wording is also highly problematic.
The phrase “antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism” implies that there are other expressions of anti-Zionism, acceptable forms that don’t cross the line into anti-Semitism. In reality, there are no such forms; anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic. Implying otherwise indicates a misunderstanding of the term “Zionism” itself. As Jonathan Tobin wrote last week in Commentary,
“All forms of anti-Zionism are anti-Semitic, no matter the identity of the speaker because to single out the one Jewish state and to deny its people the right to self-determination and self-defense in their ancient homeland is, in principle, anti-Semitic. Put simply, denying Jews these rights that no one would think of challenging for any other people, is an act of bias. Acts of bias against Jews are called anti-Semitic.”
Zionism is simply Jewish nationalism. It is the idea that the Jewish people—like all peoples—are entitled to political self-determination, to self-rule in their ancient homeland. It is the basis for the legitimacy of a Jewish nation-state—exactly the same basis as that of the nation-states of Greece, Norway, and Japan. (I have previously written about this issue.) Being anti-Greek or anti-Japanese is just as bigoted and just as wrongheaded as being anti-Israel or anti-Zionist.
Anti-Zionism is completely different from criticism of Israeli policies. Similarly, “anti-Americanism” does not mean that one disagrees with the American laws regarding taxes, immigration, or campaign finance. These are all legitimate areas for discussion and debate, but they do not automatically identify holders of such views as “anti-American.” Even claims that the United States is a colonialist, racist, militaristic state—not coincidentally, ugly truths about the foundations of our nation’s establishment—would not earn the arguer the label of “anti-American.” Anti-Americanism, rather, is a form of hate—the idea that the United States is an illegitimate country, that it should be destroyed or somehow disappear, and all its inhabitants dispossessed or killed.
These are exactly the ideas that anti-Zionists, such as the haters at the University of California, apply to the state of Israel. They do not object to any specific Israeli policy, government, or border. A JNi.Media report succinctly explained, “Criticism of Israel, Israeli policies, settlements, the living conditions of Palestinians or criticism similar to that leveled against any other country is not anti-Zionism. Anti-Zionism is denying Israel’s right to exist and/or calling for its destruction.”
Anti-Zionists are those who chant at UCLA, “From the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea, Palestine shall be free”—demanding a new Arab state to replace Israel, thus denying and reversing Jewish self-determination. At UC Berkeley, they demonstrate in support of an “Intifada,” a violent uprising of murderous attacks against Israeli men, women, and children (as well as Americans, both Jewish and not Jewish). They disrupt a talk by an Israeli diplomat at UC Irvine and another—by an Israeli Arab!—at UC Davis.
UC graduate students advocate for boycotts of the entire state of Israel—its people, its scholars, and everything it produces. The UC Davis student senate demands that the university divest its holdings in companies that do business in Israel. A UCLA student running for a student-government position is questioned about her Jewish faith and presumed pro-Israel bias. A student leader at UC Santa Cruz is warned to abstain from a vote about Israel because he has “a Jewish agenda.” A UC Berkeley professor called for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions. A speaker at UC Irvine said that “Israelis ought to return to Germany, to Poland, to Russia. The Germans should hook y’all up.” (He also threatened the “enemies of Islam” with a violent end.)
These are not simply uncivil (and in some cases illegal) behaviors. They are not examples of criticism or debate—they are forms of bigotry and discrimination, of hate speech, even incitement. Anti-Zionism, like anti-Americanism, is not about policy. It’s about hate. Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it most succinctly: “Anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism.”
The University of California Regents could have rejected anti-Semitic forms of criticism of Israel—the juxtaposition, for example, of classic anti-Semitic stereotypes and blood libels with denunciations of specific Israeli policies or actions. But by choosing to condemn “antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism” they have further muddied the waters. Worse, they have potentially given an imprimatur to hate and bigotry against the Jewish state, by suggesting that it is distinct from hate and bigotry targeting the Jewish people.
Nevet Basker is the executive director of The Kadima Fund, which supports pro-Israel campus and community activists in promoting a positive image for Israel and countering hateful anti-Israel propaganda and enables activists to connect with and support each other.