The Democratic Party is at a crossroads. The rift between centrist democrats and a growing movement of more leftwing progressives threatens to divide the party. This growing progressive movement has also produced another threat to party unity: anti-Semitism.
The anti-Semitism problem the Party now faces is similar to the one facing Britain’s Labour party, in two important ways. First, party members have associated with widely recognized anti-Semites, or themselves have made objectively anti-Semitic statements, with little or no condemnation from party leadership. Second, and perhaps more challenging, is the tone deaf denial that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism through defamatory charges against Israel and anti-Israel policy.
Many are now predicting that the anti-Semitism scandal embroiling the Labour party may cost it the next election. Democrats in the US understand that losing the next election – mid-terms and presidential – is a cost too great to bear. So it is critically important that we all get on the same page regarding the definition of anti-Semitism. This is not simply for the sake of the Democratic Party and the progressive direction of this country, but because it’s the morally right thing to do.
First, it’s important to make clear that Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, and Israel is the fulfillment of that movement. Zionism isn’t a particular strain of Israeli politics, it’s simply the belief that the Jewish state has a right to exist in at least a part of the historic land of Israel. Second, an overwhelming majority of Jews identify as Zionist. Zionism forms a central part of most Jews’ identity.
This denial that anti-Zionism is also anti-Semitism is attested to by Labour when it recently declined to adopt in full the internationally recognized (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. The four examples Labour has sought to exclude from its own definition of anti-Semitism are “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination; e.g. by claiming that Israel is a racist endeavor;” accusing Jews of “being more loyal to Israel” than their own country; applying a “double standard” on Israel; and comparing “contemporary Israeli policy” to that of the Nazis.
The stated reason for these objections is concern over conflating anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel, which some believe would have a chilling effect on free speech. Yet anti-Zionism, rejecting the legitimacy of an existing nation (Israel), is not the same as criticizing it, nor is it a benign philosophical endeavor. For anyone attuned to anti-Zionist activism, it’s clear that its modus operandi is to publicly indict Israelis and all Zionists as racists, and as supporters of apartheid and genocide. Anti-Zionists urge boycotts not just of Israel, but of Israel’s supporters themselves and their businesses. Dialogue with Israel’s supporters is actually forbidden.
The twisted logic that undergirds this activism is the false belief that Israel has been at war with the Palestinian people. In fact, Israel is at war with those at war with Israel: despotic regimes and terrorist groups who forcibly limit the Palestinians to two choices: the destruction of Israel or perpetual limbo. They are the ones who debase Palestinian lives.
This false propaganda is so widespread that most people aren’t aware that Israel continually facilitates aid to Gaza while its Hamas leaders fire rockets into Israel; that Israel continually offers the Palestinians statehood and an end to occupation, only to be rejected with incitement and terrorism; that the Palestinian population has grown exponentially, with a higher quality of life than most other Middle East societies; that Palestinian leaders for 70 years keep their own people refugees and deprived of better lives as a way to keep them perpetually weaponized against Israel.
Much of this disagreement about anti-Zionism of course comes down to how we view the Palestinian cause. Those who take at face value that the Palestinian struggle is for “freedom, justice and equality” and not for the demise of Israel and the return of Palestine to an Arab-Muslim majority, or who think those two goals are the same, must start to ask serious questions. They must show the same openness in critiquing Palestinian policies as they do with Israeli policies. If rational criticism of Israel does not seek to destroy Israel’s racially diverse Jewish society but to improve it, then it follows that criticism of the Palestinian cause does not seek to destroy Palestinian-Arab society but to improve it.
The Democratic Party should not be in the business of litigating the Arab-Israeli conflict, nor should it make the mistake of conflating anti-Israel politics with Palestinian human rights. The priority for the Democratic Party is not to be cheerleaders exclusively for the Palestinian cause, but to ensure an undistorted and honest approach to justice for both sides.
Today, the Jewish community in England has challenged the Labour Party to confront its anti-Semitism. The party has finally recognized that the stakes are too high to allow this bait and switch tactic of “anti-Zionism isn’t the same as anti-Semitism” to continue if the party is to be based on truth and inclusion. By requesting that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) endorse the IHRA definition on anti-Semitism, we’re rightly letting the mainstream American Jewish community define the hate that so directly affects them.
Women’s March leaders, as well as up and coming Democratic candidates, have praised notorious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, vilified Zionism and Zionists, and have falsely accused Israel of massacres and genocide. If these outrages continue, there will be no future for the Democratic Party. We don’t need additional proof that right wing politics will fill that vacuum.
The time has come for America’s Jewish community to demand the Democratic party reject anti-Zionism in all its forms; to condemn the scourge of anti-Zionism as the anti-Semitic, anti-peace and regressive cause it is, and to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
In response to the anti-Semitism of Women’s March leaders, Nisi Jacobs founded the Women’s March for All (WMFA), which has provided a home to Jews who’ve felt excluded from progressive spaces. WMFA created this important petition holding the DNC accountable. Please join me in signing it, and making our voices heard: