Is ‘Anti-Zionism’ the Same Thing as ‘Anti-Semitism’?

It’s trendy these days to regale the world with opinions such as “I don’t hate Jews; I just hate Zionists.”

You see statements along these lines on Facebook all the time. These sentences are typed without irony, in complete seriousness. The frequency with which they occur on pages relating to Jewish subjects (along with the number of proponents adhering to these tenets) almost makes one believe there’s a tangible, sizable difference between the two elements—that in general they’re mutually exclusive, morally opposite … like good and evil, ladybugs and aphids, cops and robbers. Yet you can have one without the other, and ideally, according to these believers, the Zionists are the ones who deserve to become history. The Jews are OK; just the ones who believe in Israel don’t belong. We can get rid of the latter without question, right?


As strongly as Israel and its policies may register in the hearts of Jews worldwide (and as much as our tribe may contest the validity of its actions), there’s one thing that most agree on: that it has the right to exist. Few think otherwise, and those who do—such as the Neturei Karta, that ultra-Orthodox group whose minimal numbers barely register on the Judaic radar—are regarded as a fringe group with little effect on the political spectrum. The fact is, the love of and desire for the State of Israel is ingrained in the Hebraic fabric. It’s in our blood, our psyche … ever since our ancestors scattered across the globe as part of the Diaspora. The old country is in our soul, our songs; it’s part of our holidays, our Passover, when we say: “Next year in Jerusalem.” The yearning for Israel is an intrinsic part of our being, innate as eating, as breathing. We have never forgotten our loss or our need to come back. We’ve always retained an adoration of the land and a longing to return.

I must admit that I’m biased; my mother raised money for Israel years ago, and her father before her. As an American living in the wonderful state of New York, I’m true to my country, the great, hardly blameless, but as-free-as-you-can-get United States … yet I also retain an affinity for the homeland of my ancestors, even a taste for its savory foods, such as hummus, which brings out the desert in me. Maybe I have minced garlic rather than blood in my veins; that would explain everything. I always knew I was a sabra deep down. I always knew.

And I always knew that claims about Zionism being a villainous ideology that good Jews reject were specious. You can’t condemn an individual for subscribing to a political belief if that ideology doesn’t harm or mean to harm anyone specifically. Sure, detractors will counter that Zionism entails its adherents stick closely to the idea that they’re the “chosen ones” of God—and that all other races, nations and individuals are subservient—but that’s complete balderdash. I was never taught that while growing up, and no sane person I know was, either. I’m sure the Orthodox Jews in my building don’t believe that. I’m sure the average Jewish guy or gal on the street doesn’t believe that. Why is such a suggestion even brought up?

The reason is anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism is a clever cover for anti-Semitism because it demonizes Jews while pretending to discredit a political ideology. It’s not hate speech, you see? It’s the rejection of a political thought, a concept: the need for the state of Israel. It insinuates that supporters come from all walks of life—including enlightened Jews, who know that such a notion is “wrong.” These Jews are the righteous ones, the “good” Jews, the ones who aren’t evil, who aren’t despotic, imperialistic. They’re the ones we should trust. They’re the ones we should like.

Unfortunately, this all points to a deeply ingrained foundation of anti-Semitism: that Jews are OK in the average person’s book as long as they don’t have a homeland. It brings up connotations of the wandering Jew, that eternal nomad spread out as part of the Diaspora, that homeless, powerless individual, refused from his or her own country, banished so righteously—and never to return. We are not to come back to where we started from; we’re not allowed. Because if we are, the threat of us becoming successful once again will be too much for others to bear.

And that is the distinct issue with anti-Zionism, that it seeks to dismiss claims by Jews that Israel is their ancestral home because, for the most part, the lack of such a platform would keep followers of this faith where they belong: nowhere. It’s all about fear, fear of Jewish might and resistance and the ability to question, to contest. It’s about years of battling for recognition, for survival, and the need to keep the Judaic culture “down.” It’s about singling out a particular nation—despite the host of others violating human rights disgracefully—for punishment, because the culture that birthed it has always been underfoot … and that’s where it should remain. As long as the Jews stay subservient, they’re cool. Give them the ability to defend themselves, and they’re automatically in the wrong.

Nowadays, you hear a lot of nonsense along the lines of “Zionist Israel is worse than the Nazis” or “Hitler taught the Jews how to bring about genocide,” which aims to turn around the victims’ plight in an ironic fashion—a phenomenon that completely trivializes the Holocaust perpetuated by the Third Reich while bolstering historical fallacies germinated after its creation. I don’t agree with some of Israel’s policies—including its settlement efforts—and I believe in a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Yet I know that this isn’t possible without a rejection of the anti-Semitic myths that stigmatize Jews who believe in the need for their own country … and the necessity of Israel remaining where it is, free from threat of violence and destruction. It’s only when people renounce such thoughts that the reality of two distinct countries living side by side becomes credible. Without such beliefs, we fall into the trap of hate once again, where politics is artificially separated from faith and entire peoples are condemned.

We can’t have that. We must have the recognition of Zionism as part of the Jewish identity. After that, we can have peace. After that, we can have success—for both sides.

I definitely hope to live to see that day.

About the Author
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. His views and opinions are his own.
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