If history has proven anything, it is that the Jewish people are not safe in the diaspora. Our story, since our earliest expulsion from the biblical land of Israel, has been scarred by persecution and anguish. Antisemitism is constant; the only variable is the excuse our tormentors provide for it. A crucial aspect of the Jewish worldview, therefore, is the perennial yearning to return to our homeland, Israel– the sole place where we would be able to seize ownership over our own destiny, where we would no longer exist at the whim of governments by whom we had been relentlessly betrayed and abandoned.
This hope manifested in Zionism: the dream of a Jewish state in the historic land of Israel. Since its conception, Zionism has united Jews across a plethora of different branches and denominations, fused together by their traumatizing encounters with antisemitism and a shared vision to escape it.
However, especially within the past decade, Zionism has been met with increasingly fierce resistance. Given that overt antisemitism became socially unacceptable after the Holocaust, Israel swiftly transformed into the proxy for Jews with respect to being on the receiving end of the world’s oldest hatred. Hence, the establishment of the Jewish state necessitated antisemitism mutating to accommodate defaming the Jewish nation in place of, and often along with, her people. That’s precisely the beauty of a Jewish state, though: it endows us with the ability to self-govern and to be unperturbed by such sentiments.
This anti-Israel movement almost invariably masquerades as progressivism. Its adherents apply Western ideas of race as well as binary terms such as “victim” and “oppressor” to the conflict that ought not to be conflated with and imposed on this eons-deep and unimaginably nuanced and personal struggle. The belief that the root causes of all conflicts can be traced back to the common threads of race and power is known as intersectionality, defined by Wikipedia as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”
An example to illustrate the repercussions of intersectional theory is Human Rights Watch, a prominent NGO, releasing a study and a corresponding infographic that judged Israel to be an apartheid state. Coincidentally, all their designs of Jews exhibited caucasian characteristics, while their depictions of Palestinians appeared uniformly Arab. Irrespective of whether or not the study was valid, their effort to paint Jewish Israelis with the white brush of oppression indicates that they believe Israeli power dictates Israeli race. Notably, over 50% of the Israeli Jewish population is of at least a partial Sephardi/Mizrahi descent.
This paradigm of examining the world through race and power is ubiquitous, and the examples I could provide are countless. Here’s another that I’ll present, solely due to how convincingly it captures this worldview: Halsey, a progressive American singer, tweeted “it is not “too complicated to understand” that brown children are being murdered + people are being displaced under the occupation of one of the most powerful armies in the world. It is willful ignorance to conflate these simple horrors with religion + geopolitics. #FreePalestine”. In a single sentence, she invoked intersectionality twice:
- “Brown children are being murdered” is proof of racial imbalance.
- “One of the most powerful armies” is proof of unjust power imbalance.
Despite using the term “conflate,” she neglected to realize that:
- She conflated race – brown children being murdered – with morality. Besides that, she’s actively trying to propagate the libel that insinuates that Israelis are Caucasian in contrast to Palestinians.
- She conflated power with morality. She paid no heed to the vastly different circumstances under which the rockets were being fired and failed to acknowledge the innocent Israelis and Jews who were deliberately murdered by Hamas.
Cori Bush, a progressive congresswoman, claimed in a speech on the House floor that “the fight for black lives and the fight for Palestinian liberation are interconnected.” Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, superstar of the far left, declared that “this is not about both sides. This is about an imbalance of power… we are scared to stand up to the incarceration of children in Palestine because maybe it’ll force us to confront the incarceration of children here on our border.” Trevor Noah, the host of the Daily Show, supplied perhaps the most bizarre explanation yet. After a few minutes spent lamenting the unfathomable intricacies of the conflict and asking a few rhetorical questions for good measure, he then contemplated, “personally, I can’t watch that footage and look at those numbers and see a fair fight. Like set aside motives and intentions, and just look at technology– technology alone.” He proceeded to analogize Hamas’s rockets targeting Israeli citizens to his younger brother helplessly trying to punch him.
Forging past the anticipated conflations of power, race, and morality, Representatives Bush and Cortez explicitly insert America’s border and race crises into the conversation, attempting to establish connections between the struggles.
Trevor Noah’s interpretation was the most disturbing. He clearly perceives the power imbalance as so extreme that he discarded intentions altogether. Irrespective of whether or not one of the belligerents is a recognized genocidal terrorist group, the fact that Israel has spent billions of dollars on technology to intercept 90% of incoming rockets – thereby decreasing their casualties by an estimated tenfold – is unfair. It would, in Trevor’s opinion, be much fairer if Hamas could freely bomb Israeli citizens, untrammelled by pesky Iron Domes. Furthermore, depicting Hamas as a helpless toddler and whitewashing Israel’s six civilian deaths (at the time), dozens of injuries, millions of dollars in damages, and psychological trauma induced by the salvo of rockets, is yet another manifestation of this worldview– see, the oppressor physically cannot suffer; that is solely the prerogative of the victim.
The issue with assigning such definitive roles and labels to this conflict is that it is not nearly as clear-cut as some people like to believe, and attempting to render it a victim-oppressor dynamic benefits no one. The idea that every struggle must be traced back to intersectional theory, that the current situation must automatically be rooted in a racial or power disparity, is entirely false. The history of the conflict cannot be encompassed in a book or film, so I shudder to think how some try to whittle it down to a sentence or two. I am not going to begin to try explicating the complexities here; whether that’s even feasible is uncertain. What I can guarantee, however, is that if you discuss the conflict with academics or historians, the consensus is that the conflict extends far beyond either race or power dynamics. All promulgating intersectional theory accomplishes in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then, is the simultaneous spread of misinformation, radicalization, and animosity under the guise of social progress.
This is where the opposition to Zionism comes in. Holding true to the narrative that the Jews must be immoral because they are in power (the oppressors), intersectionality dictates that Zionism – a system that enables and bolsters the oppressors – must be the Jewish equivalent to racism or colonialism. Palestinians, conversely, are designated as the victims.
Reducing the conflict to terms like this by foisting Western ideas and concepts upon it removes all nuance from the conversation by wrongly presupposing that the conflict is inconceivably one-sided. Furthermore, judging the conflict through a racial – and not rational – lens shatters any chance of solving it that might have previously existed because neither side sees it as such. That’s not to say that there isn’t an unbearable level of Palestinian suffering within Gaza and the West Bank; still, though, it’s essential to understand the actual factors behind it as opposed to ascribing the blame to race or power discrepancies. What intersectionality within this context does achieve, however, is deceiving progressives who are familiar with Western politics into mistakenly believing that the conflict is not only devoid of intricacies but that it is manufactured on, and an issue of, race and power dynamics– when that is simply not the case.
There is certainly some hypocrisy within the anti-Zionism movement. The same group of people who frequently delegitimize, demonize, and impose a double standard on Israel are the ones who were so insistent – and justifiably so – that former President Trump calls COVID-19 by its official name as opposed to needlessly associating it with Chinese people. Questioning Israel’s right to exist, for example, is not a threat that is levelled at any other country and intimates falsely that Israel, the Jewish state, is uniquely evil. Progressives pointed out that tying a disease to China would inevitably result in attacks against Asian Americans– and it did. Clearly, they are aware of the potential harm to American Jewry that is a consequence of gratuitously criticizing the Jewish state and reporting a slanted version of events. Yet, amidst a 440% spike in antisemitism, most offer their performative condemnations and shamelessly double down on their vitriolic rhetoric.
Furthermore, the same group of people who are adamantly and rightfully against cultural racism – which filled the void of biological racism by stating that white culture, not people, is superior – claim that Zionism is an evil ideology despite the fact that roughly 90% of diaspora Jews are Zionists. They contend that they are not antisemitic because only Zionist Jews are the problem, certainly not all Jews. An example of this tactic is Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the Labour Party, periodically hurling “Zionist” as a pejorative, yet refusing to acknowledge his antisemitism. Thus, denying the inherent antisemitism of labelling anti-Zionists “good Jews” while labelling Zionists “bad Jews” is eerily reminiscent of how cultural racists deny their racism by insisting that it’s possible for minorities to be “good”– only the ones who assimilate into white culture.
Furthermore, this is the reason why the Neturei Karta, a fringe religious sect of anti-Zionist Judaism, are propped up by several individuals as proof that “good Jews” – ie Jews who oppose their right to self-determination – exist. (It’s of note that most people who make use of this ruse are woefully misinformed with regard to Neturei Karta’s principles.) Finally, this is why the “Zionism is racism” mantra has become so prevalent– because it’s the furthest one can encroach into antisemitic territory while still maintaining plausible deniability. Thus, many exploit this loophole, thereby circumventing the classical definition of antisemitism. To clarify, I am not equating the effects of anti-Zionism with cultural racism but rather the way in which they both gained prominence in the wake of the informal termination of the traditional form of bigotry. It is truly unfortunate that those who stand so staunchly against some forms of bigotry have such a proclivity to engage in others.
The anti-Zionist ideology is shared by Jews and gentiles alike. As I mentioned earlier, it was expected that antisemitism espoused by non-Jews would transmute in order to malign the Jewish state. An issue, at least in this case, with progressivism is the emphasis that it places on identity politics. Essentially, it is the idea that one must belong to any particular group to discuss issues related to it (there are some exceptions, but I am not going to delve into them here). Thus, the fact that there are a significant number of Jewish anti-Zionists is of concern because they confer authenticity and the air of legitimacy upon gentile anti-Zionists. The Jewish voices are amplified, and, in kind, the potential havoc that the movements can wreak. Organizations that issue statements that would typically be roundly condemned as antisemitic are treated with impunity because Jews are utilized as tokens to deflect these otherwise damaging and truthful allegations. Thus, especially since the identity argument is held in such high regard, it is unsettling that some Jewish people are allowing for antisemitic and anti-Zionist deeds to be both perpetrated and overlooked in their name.
Of course, I am not in any way advocating for people – Jewish or other – to not find fault with the Israeli government and policies. That would be absurd, unfair, and unconscionable. Saying that there is ample material with which to criticize the current Israeli government is an understatement. Furthermore, disingenuously wielding accusations of antisemitism as a cudgel to silence opposition to Israel is deplorable and, again, helps no one. But when people or organizations substitute valid and legitimate critique for promoting the destruction or termination of Israel as a Jewish state, that sentiment – and not to mention subjecting Israel to an impossible double standard – crosses the line from sound criticism to antisemitism. Again, calling for the cessation of the only Jewish state is equivalent to calling for the last line of defences around Jews in Israel and in the diaspora to be obliterated. Perhaps that message is not what people disseminating those ideas intend to convey, but history has routinely demonstrated how the Jewish people have fared in the absence of our own state. It is especially worrying when these views stem from Jewish sources because it imparts tacit permission upon others to say the same– others who generally have more malicious intent than the token Jewish people they exploit for legitimacy.
That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t some appallingly misguided Jewish anti-Zionist groups (as well as Zionist groups). Take IfNotNow, for example. They identify themselves as an American Jewish progressive activist group opposing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They have delved so deeply into intersectional ideology that their viewpoints concerning the conflict have been considerably warped by it. Just a few days ago, they posted a video of a crowd chanting in Arabic “bomb Tel Aviv,” ostensibly oblivious to the English translation. Although they were notified about the genuine meaning of their post multiple times, they failed to take it down for an entire day.
The following day, in response to Hamas rockets prompting AIPAC to tweet that “Hamas cares more about killing Israelis than the lives of Palestinians”, IfNotNow responded with, “Simply an incredibly racist and dehumanizing talking point that AIPAC knows is not true”. I had to read it over a few times for it to finally register. This Jewish group’s outlook is distorted by striving to force-fit the conflict into the intersectional narrative to the extent that, in a perversion of reality, they defended a terrorist group that was firing rockets at innocent Israeli civilians and also has genocidal aspirations against the Jewish people. Thus, by IfNotNow issuing these viewpoints, it imbues individuals who seek to demonize Israel and the Jewish people with immunity, an insurance of sorts. So, when antisemites are confronted with valid accusations of antisemitism after vilifying Israel, they can simply tokenize IfNotNow as evidence that “Jewish groups agree with me, so I can’t be antisemitic.” Although this defence is not impervious to refutation – one can easily point out that the vast majority of diaspora Jewry are staunch Israel-loving Zionists in contrast to IfNotNow’s base – it manufactures a shield around antisemites, granting them, through identity politics, a licence to express their bigoted views without fear of retribution.
Zionism has been, and will always remain, a core tenet of Judaism. Already, there are movements among young Jews that erupted as a backlash against the phenomenon of progressive anti-Zionism such as the New Zionist Congress, Jewish and Proud, Jewish on Campus, Jewish Perspective, and A Jewish Resistance. These movements are composed of people who cherish and embrace Israel, understand the historical significance and cruciality of the Jewish state, and yet are more than willing to criticize the Israeli government if and when their actions warrant it. They demonstrate that it is possible, if not vital, for progressive Jews to love Israel. Rather than allowing Zionism to drive a wedge between ideologically opposed factions of our community, we must harness its unifying power, as it is one of the few beliefs that are compatible with and complementary to nearly every political ideology. The profound and ineffable connection between the Jewish people and Israel has only grown stronger over time, and I have absolute confidence that Zionism will continue to lead our way to a brighter future. Am Yisrael Chai.