Is anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism?

Iranian protesters burn Israeli and US flags in their annual anti-Israeli Al-Quds, Jerusalem, Day rally in Tehran, Iran, June 8, 2018. Iranians attended the rallies across the country to condemn Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. (AP Photo/ Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iranian protesters burn Israeli and US flags in their annual anti-Israeli Al-Quds, Jerusalem, Day rally in Tehran, Iran, June 8, 2018. Iranians attended the rallies across the country to condemn Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. (AP Photo/ Ebrahim Noroozi)

I will be clear and to the point. Anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism.

Let’s start with the definition.

In order to start analyzing this particular phenomenon, one should make clear what we are talking about when referring to anti-Semitism and what we mean by anti-Zionism. After all, starting from other premises will lead to other conclusions.

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. According to IHRA, “rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Like any discrimination, anti-Semitism is nothing more and nothing less than a distinction with no reasonable basis. It means applying categories or proposing different solutions towards a group or its members just because of their membership to that group.

In my opinion, anti-Zionism is being against the existence of Israel as a Jewish State.

Contrary to the popular belief by many sectors, being against Israeli settlements in the West Bank, opposing the policies of a given Israeli government in office or objecting the treatment that Israel gives to the Arab population, is not being anti-Zionist at all.

If, since its foundation, the idea of Zionism was “the creation of a Jewish national home in its ancestral land,” then the denial of that idea is anti-Zionism.

Why are both oppositions harmful and dangerous?

Describing why anti-Semitism is dangerous in 2020 is, in my opinion, redundant. Anyone who has learned about the genocidal process carried out by Nazi Germany less than 100 years ago will understand why I affirm this way. I invite anyone who is not aware of it to delve into the subject.

Having said that, defining oneself as anti-Zionist is as dangerous and as damaging as considering oneself anti-Semitic.The anti-Zionist sustains that Israel has no right to exist or should not exist as a Jewish State at all.

The right to self-determination of peoples is a universal human right enshrined both in international law and in the international community to such an extent that it is “Ius Cogens” (imperative law, which does not admit a behavior to the contrary).

For this reason, I sustain that whoever is anti-Zionist is anti-Semitic. To deny the right to self-determination of a single people in humanity -of the Jewish people in their ancestral land-, is anti-Semitic and it is dangerous and harmful.

Now, with that same argument one could raise a highly valid question:

What about the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people?

In my opinion, it is a right not yet achieved and which hopefully soon the Palestinian people will be able to exercise and without any threat towards Israel’s safety and security.

In turn, when talking about anti-Zionism, there is a phrase by Golda Meir that is worth mentioning:

“Zionism deleted the term Jewish refugee from the dictionary”. This statement refers to the fact that there are precisely no Jews persecuted for their Jewish condition anywhere in the world due to the existence and safeguard of the State of Israel.

It is the State of Israel that largely ensures that any Jewish person anywhere in the world enjoys freedom and well-being. The same Jewish State that opens its arms (and provides financial support) to any Jew who wishes to migrate to his/her land.

For this reason, opposing the existence of the State of Israel -which knew how to solve a problem as complex as that of refugees, like no other institution or state in the history of humanity-, is anti-Semitic.

Claiming to perpetuate the holocaust catastrophe among survivors is anti-Semitic. This was not achieved because with the creation of the State of Israel, the fate of hundreds of thousands of people turned 360 degrees. After all, these people had nowhere else to go.

Now, is every criticism of Israel anti-Semitic?

To answer this question, I will use Natan Sharansky’s notion (former president of the Jewish Agency). Not everyone criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic. A criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic if it incurs one of the following 3 “Ds”:

  1. Delegitimization: The criticism of Israel that ends with the phrase “and therefore Israel should not exist”.
  2. Demonization: The criticism of Israel that considers it as the worst of all evils; Israel as the only state that violates international law; or as the worst of humanity’s ills.
  3. Double Standard: The criticism of Israel that applies a double standard: demanding from Israel a better behavior than that required of any other state.

Let’s be honest; let’s admit that Israel is under public scrutiny far more than any other democratic state. Currently, China has concentration camps of Muslims and I have not seen a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement against it.

Anyway, now that you know, pay attention on Twitter, where you will certainly find any of the 3 options.

So, how do we deal with the problem?

As in many complex problems, no extreme position is good. There is no need to be neither alarmist nor naive.

I say, one should not be naïve: anti-Semitism is wrong, and one must try to educate or re-educate anti-Semites so that they understand that in a democratic society discrimination against Jews cannot and should not take place. Neither does discrimination against any minority. Unfortunately, experience has shown me that many anti-Semites, what they really despise is the democratic order, the plurality of voices, and the coexistence of diverse cultures.

We live in a time of de-construction, where many certainties and privileges are fortunately questioned. I believe that a deconstruction of old anti-Semitic prejudices is also necessary and this is the best time to continue the task.

I say that there is no need to be alarmist because many times, specially in Argentina, Jewish institutions or community leaders confront someone calling him / her anti-Semitic and generating just the opposite of what is desired, which I understand is “the defense of the dignity of the Jewish people “.

The anti-Zionist is more complex. Many consider themselves anti-Zionists for being against some measure of Israel. I have explained it above and in my opinion, it is legitimate.

Others may be anti-Zionists because they just do not know much about the issue and that’s OK. One cannot expect everyone to be an expert on Middle East issues.

In this case, the worst that one can do is to accuse him or her of being anti-Semitic and avoid debate. After all, in democratic societies, we can have different points of view and debates can lead us to different conclusions. These are the rules of the game. Each will be responsible for each one’s opinion.

Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, but anti-Zionist persons do not necessarily have bad faith. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt assuming they are wrong. After all, dialogue and debate with respect never hurt.

About the Author
Matias Sakkal is a lawyer specialized in international law who currently works in UNHCR in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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