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Stop Weaponizing Zionism

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For the last several decades, Jews have often been targeted, vilified and attacked not for some grotesque, morally repugnant or baseless claim — the usual sources of antisemitism – but rather for something we love, cherish, embrace and celebrate: Zionism.

For many, including myself, this form of Jew-hatred is particularly traumatizing given that to us – Zionism is a beautiful and inextricable part of who we are — not something that should be weaponized and used against us.

In December 2023, just two months after the horrific terrorist attacks in Israel, I wrote a newspaper article about antisemitism and how, while it is frequently discussed, it remains woefully misunderstood.

As I argued, one of the fundamental reasons that antisemitism as a social phenomenon is so challenging to unpack is that it’s an incredibly insidious form of hatred that shifts and evolves over time — reinventing and binding itself to present circumstances.

Noah Feldman, a legal scholar at Harvard University, explains this as well, stating: “In antisemitic discourse, Jews are always made to exemplify what a given group of people considers to be the worst feature of the social order in which they live.”

From religious grievances, including the idea that Jews rejected Christ, to pseudoscientific racial claims that Jews are a biologically distinct and inferior people, to conspiratorial theories about power, influence and world-domination, antisemitism has come in many dangerous and deadly forms – the most recent incarnation being anti-Zionism.

Whether you’re reading about the recent university encampments, pro-Palestinian rallies throughout the West, or record-level spikes in antisemitism, you’ve probably come across the term Zionism or, at least, anti-Zionism. But what does Zionism mean? It would seem that most people using the word — especially those opposed to it — have no idea. Ultimately, at its core and in the simplest of terms, Zionism is the belief in and support of Jewish self-determination in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people: Israel. It’s about not having to hide. It’s about re-indigenizing. It’s about freedom.

For Theodore Herzl, the Austrian Jewish journalist and playwright considered by many to be Israel’s founding father, Zionism was an outgrowth or by-product of systemic and inescapable antisemitism. In his 1896 pamphlet Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), Herzl wrote, “We naturally move to those places where we are not persecuted, and there our presence produces persecution.”

It is therefore sadly ironic and deeply painful that this notion of Jewish self-determination — borne out of antisemitism — is now itself the most common and destructive form of antisemitism on earth. Yet, this evolution, where Zionism gradually became ideologically emblematic of colonialism, oppression and apartheid, didn’t just happen in a vacuum — it’s been intentionally and strategically designed.

From extremists in the Middle East seeking power, control and influence, to progressives in the West hungry for more “likes” and “shares” on social media, anti-Zionism has become a unifying force – a movement that has paid incredible dividends.

By repeatedly denying 4,000 years of Jewish presence in the land of Israel, suggesting the Jewish homeland was some sort of post-Holocaust gift to the Jews, and framing Jews as “white” oppressors committed to the erasure of Palestinians, anti-Zionists have repackaged and repurposed a salvation of Jewish trauma for their own ideological and political purposes.

Indeed, by intentionally targeting and co-opting the very social, political, cultural and spiritual foundation of Israel, anti-Zionists have not only questioned the country’s raison d’être, they have removed it, and with it, Israel’s right to exist.

Worsening and complicating matters is the fact that anti-Zionism has become a point of demarcation among anti-Israeli protesters and those committed to Israel’s destruction. For them, the typical line “anti-Zionism isn’t antisemitism,” enables them to mercilessly gaslight Jews, convince themselves and others that their objectives are righteous, and that fundamentally none of this is about Jews, it’s just about the Jewish state.

As the war in Israel enters its next chapter, as the remaining hostages cling to life in the tunnels of Gaza, and as Jews in the West contemplate their future, their peace and their security, remember this: all of these horrors are — paradoxically — precisely why Israel exists.

Zionism isn’t what you might think it is. It isn’t some evil worldview, and it certainly doesn’t imply or require Jewish domination of Palestinians. Rather, it is a wonderful part of Jewish life, a tremendous indigenous success story, and a reminder for Jews worldwide that no matter how bad it gets, there’s always a home — there’s always Israel.

About the Author
Dr. Casey Babb is a Senior Fellow with the Macdonald Laurier Institute in Ottawa, an International Fellow with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, and an Associate Fellow with the Royal United Services Institute in London, England. He teaches courses on terrorism and global security at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, in Ottawa.
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