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Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism, but an evil in its own right

In progressive left circles, the only ideology still more reviled than Zionism is Nazism not in spite but precisely because of its inherent antisemitism. This is meaningful.

The human mind is capable of extraordinary contortions in service of defending deeply cherished beliefs that come in conflict with reason and reality. We see this on display when Gays for Gaza march in support of a future Palestinian state that would almost certainly outlaw homosexuality. We see it when women’s rights activists, who have been admonishing us for years to believe victims of rape, refuse to do so in the face of overwhelming evidence. We see it in the endless barrage of double standards with the latest insult to basic common sense being Biden’s threat to withhold weapons shipments to Israel over a potential expansion of the Rafah operation. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, by far the largest importer of US manufactured weapons since 2014, has been actively engaged for almost a decade in the Yemeni civil war, where every measure of calamity – from the number of civilian casualties and forcibly displaced persons to the prevalence of famine and allegations of war crimes – is an order of magnitude more severe.

Back in 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition began fighting against the Houthi insurrection in Yemen, Mahmud Abbas was calling for similar intervention against the Hamas insurrection in Gaza. Was he under the impression the Saudis posses some secret weapon which would allow them to pull Hamas out of those tunnels without harming civilians? Would the world have accused them of genocide? More likely, we are witness to yet another instance of mental acrobatics playing out in real time.

But one circle I cannot see being squared by even the most creative of minds is despising Nazis for being antisemitic while simultaneously despising Jews for being Jewish. Instead, Hanlon’s razor has proven a useful guide to understanding much of the Israel-bashing rhetoric from the left. It states, “never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity”. To be sure, when protesters call for the burning of Tel Aviv and demand gratitude for not killing Zionists, it is not for lack of hatred (though it may still not be antisemitic hatred).

But generally speaking, the anti-Zionist sentiments seem to be fueled first and foremost by ignorance. A November poll found that 86% of college students learned about the war on social media while only 40% self-reported to fact-check information often. And herein lies perhaps the silver lining: it is much easier to disabuse people of bad ideas born of misinformation than bad ideas born of hatred. Especially because in educating progressives we need only appeal to progressive values. Only Israel embodies LGBT rights, human rights, equality for women, democracy and diversity while her enemies – Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran – could not be more antithetical to progressivism.

Let me be clear at this point about what I am not saying: I am not saying that the lines are not blurry, they clearly are. It would take little more than assuming that Jews support the state of Israel – not so far-fetched – to potentially veer off into antisemitism.

Nor am I saying that the anti-Zionist protest movement harbors no antisemitic elements. Antisemitism, as we know, is ever shapeshifting and criticism of Israel provides excellent cover. Ancient antisemitic tropes can be made palatable by replacing the word “Jews” with the word “Zionists”. The “Jewish lobby” has become the “Zionist lobby”, “Judensau” has transformed into “Zionist pig”, Jews may not use Christian children’s blood to bake matzos, but Zionists certainly target Palestinian children in Gaza according to protesters. Some have made no attempts at hiding their true motivations when spouting overtly antisemitic hatred like “go back to Poland” or aligning themselves with the Houthis whose slogan reads “God is great, death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, victory to Islam” and Hamas whose charter plagarizes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in blaming Jews collectively for every war and every revolution.

I am also not arguing to absolve anyone of moral responsibility. Students of some of the most elite educational institutions in the world, who are so entrenched in their anti-Zionist convictions as to risk suspension and arrest yet cannot be bothered to acquire basic knowledge of the historical connotations of incendiary phrases like “intifada” and “from the river to the sea”, deserve no credit for distinguishing in their antipathy between Judaism and Zionism. There comes a point beyond which stupidity turns malicious.

The consequences are already felt by writers, by students, in research and in business, to name but a few. The worst, of course, is the continued assault on Jewish security both in the form of antisemitic crime in the diaspora – whose recent enormous rise and failure to contain hails in no small part from the overwhelming anti-Zionist sentiment providing political cover and an air of moral justification – as well as the threat to Israel’s economic, political and military strength through BDS, international isolation and arms embargos. I suspect the affected care little whether the suffered malfeasances are a result of their Jewish identity or simply their commitment – real or imagined – to the existence and defensibility of a state for Jews.

Antisemitism, like any form of bigotry, deserves opprobrium not by virtue of its ethnic or religious nature, but primarily by virtue of its prejudicial nature. What makes it anathema is the inherent judgment without fair trial, the denial of the benefit of the doubt for the accused and the absence of an impartial weighing of evidence. There could not be a more suitable encapsulation of the current genus of anti-Zionism. It is an evil in its own right and we must treat it as such.

Thus, I appeal to the silent majority that still supports Israel: speak up! We know you are there. We could feel your presence at the Eurovision Song Contest, when Eden Golan snatched second place in the public vote despite placing only 12th in the jury vote in the single largest public versus jury point discrepancy since the introduction of the dual voting system in 2016. But these symbolic gestures, immensely meaningful though they are, will not be enough to contain the viral spread of the anti-Zionist meme.

When tens of thousands march for an unconditional ceasefire in Gaza, we need tens of thousands to march for an unconditional release of the hostages. When thousands of academics sign a petition characterizing Israel’s conduct as “plausible genocide”, we need twice as many lawyers to sign a petition reminding the world that a handful of totally butchered, out-of-context quotes by politicians to the exclusion of all evidence to the contrary is not nearly enough to make so strong an allegation outside the very narrow legal meaning of plausibility.

As long as there is no subsequent social cost, at minimum in the form of loud objection, to the dopamine rush of anti-Zionist moral posturing, there will be no incentive to course-correct. We must fight prejudice with reason, we must oppose feelings with facts, we must counter ignorance with wisdom.

About the Author
Raffael Singer is an Austrian financial risk consultant and economic researcher at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. He holds a master's degree in Mathematics & Philosophy from the University of Oxford and a PhD in Mathematics from Imperial College London.
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