In the last week we’ve been witness to anti-Zionist Jewish groups organizing in Washington against Israel’s right to defend its citizens in the aftermath of the mass murder by Hamas death squads of 1,400 Israelis and other nationals. Whether the misnamed Jewish Voice for Peace on the extreme Left or the Neturei Karta of the fundamentalist Right these Jewish anti-Zionists have become willing tokens for the annihilationist antisemitism of Hamas and other radical Islamist terror groups.
Anti-Zionist Jews rightly claim that anti-Zionism was always present in the Jewish world. However, while before 1939 anti-Zionism was a theoretical argument among Jews, by 1945 the material basis of Jewish existence was forever changed beyond recognition by the Holocaust. After Israel’s establishment in 1948 the debate is no longer theoretical. After 75 years of existence and growth, of fighting off Arab armies with an eliminationist intent, of combating Palestinian ultra-nationalist and Islamist terrorism, and taking its rightful and recognized place in the international community, Israel – with some 48% of the world’s Jewish population (7.3 million) – is a reality.
To talk about dismantling Israel creates an extremely dangerous situation for half of the Jewish people. The events of two weeks ago should put such doubts to rest. We now know what Hamas and its supporters (active or tacit) in the West mean when they chant “Palestine will be free from the River to the Sea.” They want a “free Palestine” that is Judenfrei (“Jew-free”) to use the language of an earlier annihilationist ideology that very nearly succeeded.
Anti-Zionism means disempowering the Jews, a historically powerless and oppressed people. It would place us back into the extremely vulnerable condition of everywhere being a minority dependent on the goodwill and tolerance of majorities. If the Shoah taught us anything, that is not reasonable. It would be a fundamentally antisemitic result.
Non-Jews who seek this are promoting antisemitism. Too often their “advocacy” utilizes antisemitic tropes as we’ve just seen on the streets of London, New York, San Francisco, Berlin, Sydney and on many university campuses.
Anti-Zionist Jews are engaged in a fantasy Rabbi Yitz Greenberg calls the “innocence of powerlessness.” They want a moral purity they believe existed before we took state power. They believe we will be better liked and appreciated by the larger non-Jewish world if we are powerless. They want the moral purity of victimhood, the moral innocence of passive martyrdom. They believe it enhances our moral standing in progressive anti-racist spaces. They do not want to engage in the difficult moral ambiguities of exercising state power, which is what it means to be empowered.
As Greenberg puts it, while power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, “absolute powerlessness corrupts the most.” Tracing back Jewish history and theological development, Greenberg speaks of the “ethic of powerlessness” that developed after the destruction of the Second Temple, a belief “that God is with the [Jewish] people in exile and there is no need to revolt.” This “ethic of powerlessness is relatively pure ethically, because it is unchecked by the needs of power politics or daily political reality. That, too, became part of the Jewish ethic, side by side with a focus on passivity. This period came to its tragic reduction ad absurdum in the catastrophic Jewish powerlessness of the Holocaust.”
To be so absolutely powerless as to face complete annihilation is not a moral choice. It may “look good” in what Dara Horn has identified as “people loving dead Jews” since it allows them to weep for our dead. But this fascination with dead Jews is little comfort to living Jews facing the annihilationist antisemitic ideology of radical Islamism that was itself influenced by Nazism. How else to understand Hamas that relies on the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” for its “analysis” of Jewish empowerment in the State of Israel.
Anti-Zionist Jews also bring their personal Jewish anxieties about Israel’s moral failings (real, exaggerated or imagined) into non-Jewish anti-racist spaces, and inadvertently feed into the generation and validation of the anti-Jewish antagonisms and stereotypes that are woven deeply into the fabric of Western civilizations. They have even weaponized these stereotypes to further their own extremist agenda to disempower the Jewish people.
We must understand anti-Zionism as a fundamentally antisemitic ideology even when espoused by some Jews. It advocates an outcome of leaving Jews vulnerable once again to genocide. The precedent was set, it could happen again if we are left incapable of physically defending ourselves. If nothing else, Hamas’s mass murdering death squads unmistakably demonstrated this intent.
None of this should stand in the way of seeking a just solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. But, if that means ending the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in at least part of our ancestral homeland, that is the opposite of a just solution. It is fundamentally unjust and wholly antisemitic.