Let's discuss stuff
This past week JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace) hosted an antisemitism panel featuring well known anti-Zionists all of whom have been accused of antisemitism in the past, in order to discuss and clarify the fact that they are anti-Zionist, not antisemitic. As they see it, they simply do not believe in the racist concept of Jewish supremacy, which is how they see Zionists and The State of Israel. Rather, they believe in equality for all, including Jews. In fact, they love Jews. And while it is hard to argue with the concept of equality, it is worth looking at the broader picture here.
The status of the Jew in the world has gone through two changes in modern history. The first occurred with the enlightenment in Europe when specifically racist laws against Jews were repealed so that Jews were allowed to take part more fully in the societies of their diaspora/exile. Thus Jews were allowed to attend universities, practice in the professions, own land, etc. This did not alleviate antisemitism but was a first step toward equality within those European countries.
The second occurred with the establishment of the State of Israel. Since 1948, the Jews have regained a national voice among the nations, as they once did long ago. In addition and possibly even more importantly, they have regained national power. And while military power is perhaps the most obvious example of this, The State of Israel also has strong and internationally respected political power (note the success of the recent Abraham Accords,) economic power (the “start-up nation” effect), cultural power (note the success of movies such as Wonder Woman, and TV series such as Fauda), and even humanitarian power (note the many examples of Israeli technology used in many African cities, in various cities in India, and the rapid deployment of Israeli humanitarian teams to disaster zones all over the world.)
But the ethical wielding of such power can be messy and there are always decisions to be made with which not everyone will agree. That is simply the reality in any situation of national power. And it is our responsibility as Israelis and as Jews to discuss and debate all of these areas so as to keep that use of power ethical and “on mission” (even as we might disagree on the nature of the mission itself.)
And this brings us back to the anti-Zionist antisemitism panel. People who call themselves antiZionist but not antisemitic are comfortable with the former change in Jewish status but not the latter. They have no quarrel with individual Jews living among (and at the mercy of) the nations, as we once did when we were in exile/diaspora. They may even be OK with a large concentration of individual Jews living together in the Land of Israel. (Land. Not State.) In that situation, the nations of the world could choose to be beneficent towards their Jews and even give themselves a moral pat on the back for doing so. As long as the Jews don’t get to uppity or become too demanding, that’s fine. We can grant them rights and safely profess our love from our position of power and authority. Thus the French can say, “We love our Jews, we will treat you well, as equals.” and the British can say, “We respect our Jews and give no quarter to antisemitism.” The Americans can say, “We treat all of our people equally – no minority above or below any other.” And Islamic countries such as Iran and Morocco, or even perhaps Palestinians dreaming of a Palestinian state, can show off their love of individual Jews and their small remnant Jewish communities, so long as that love is granted from the safety of their own political authority.
So long as Jews know their place, there is no problem. But the minute the Jew attempts to take on the second status change mentioned above – the moment the Jew wishes to move from being simply the individual recipient of beneficence, bestowed upon them by the established rulers of the modern world – the Americans, the Europeans, the Islamic countries, etc – well, Houston, we have a problem.
That’s not to say that a Jew cannot be treated fairly and equally under the auspices of the French republic, or the US constitution, or the Islamic Republic of Palestine, but when the rulers of the world are willing to grant Jews equality so long as they themselves remain in charge, but are wholly unwilling to countenance the Jew as co-sovereign among the nations, something is wrong. When people parade their love of Jews but bristle at the thought of a State of Jews wielding international power – just like they do – then the issue becomes clear for all to see.
Whether such people are anti-Zionist or antisemitic may be a matter of semantics, however treating Jews as children to be protected and granted equality by the adults in the room, rather than as another adult on equal footing with everyone else, is simply ridiculous.