Anti-Zionism versus Antisemitism: It’s not that hard

This is a cross-post from Jewish Resistance

Modern Antisemitism is not difficult to spot or define, despite the controversy; what’s more the Anti-Zionism vs Antisemitism argument is not such a formidable barrier to overcome in discussing it

Modern Antisemitism portrays Israel as the ‘Jew’ among nations, and projects antisemitic stereotypes previously attached to Jews as a people onto the country itself. Wherever you see Israel demonised as grasping, greedy, malicious, secretly conspiring — for example, controlling the banks, creating ISIS, executing 9/11 and so on, you are witnessing this phenomenon, a sick modern twist on a very old story. In short: ‘Jewish power’ is now mediated by the Jewish State. Some tropes have been subtly transformed: the blood libel, for example, has evolved into an obsession with Israel being a ‘baby killer’ and accusations that the Israeli army harvests organs from Palestinian corpses: but largely the tropes are intact.

In the course of demonising Israel in this way, modern antisemitism deploys two particularly nasty tactics: holocaust inversion — the idea that Israeli Jews are now ‘Nazis’, and the plain lie that Israel is an apartheid state. The Holocaust is belittled, declared not to have even happened, or even to have been a Jewish money-making hoax. Attempts to delegitimise Israel — to say that it legally shouldn’t exist and that Jews don’t have the right to self-determine as other peoples do — completes the list of the basic incontestables.

Having established these parameters, Modern Antisemitism then challenges Jews elsewhere to either associate with the Devil Incarnate that is Israel and suffer the consequences — in particular in Western countries by being ostracised from ‘progressive’ discourse — or dissociate themselves from it and become ‘good Jews’.

It also focuses on Israel to an obsessive degree: when it’s the only place in the middle east where an Arab woman can vote for who she wants, has full civil rights before the law, and, wearing shorts and a T, can hold hands in the street with her gay partner, you really want to know why, even with its faults, it’s seen as the ultimate abuser of human rights….particularly when the next-door neighbours are busy pushing gays off roofs and have constitutions endorsing genocide.

Anyone got a problem with that? If you have, you need to brush up your reading. Or else suck it up, because have I got news for you: This is modern Antisemitism 101, and among others the Labour Party, The UK Police and the European Union (EUMC) definitions — the existing gold standard — agree it is so. This is what folk are getting chucked out of Labour daily for, and — in cases that go so far they incite hatred and violence— Police are knocking on people’s doors to arrest them for.

But if it’s so simple, where’s the problem? Why the intense debate? Why can’t we all agree, as most do, that this kind o’thing is antisemitism, finished, done?

The problem seems to be in the debate which incorporates something called ‘anti-Zionism’ as it is being debated against antisemitism. In this configuration, ‘anti-Zionism’ apparently represents criticism of ‘Israel’. There is, it is said, a ‘line’ which is crossed.

“Oh!” you might then lament “if this is what constitutes ‘Modern Antisemitism’, how can I criticise the Israeli government itself when that government does bad stuff?”

Good question …

There’s more: the nature of Zionism, like Feminism, is that it is an ‘ism’. It has been, can be, and is — a lot of things. You can have a simple definition of either but both have multiple contested strands, historically and in the present day. What needs to be understood by the uninitiated and the unwary is that too many vicious antisemites have hijacked the ‘Z’ word in order to demonise Israel using the crude and explicitly antisemitic devices above. To defend themselves against accusations of racism, they’ve simply hidden their Jew-hate by saying that they are ‘anti-Zionist’, often by simply stuffing the Z-word in place of ‘Jew’, and a lot worse besides. They try and characterise all the demonic evil of ‘Israel’ as perpetrated by a group called ‘Zionists’ as opposed to those very nice ‘Jews’ they apparently love. They use this false dichotomy to mislead the naive and drive a wedge between Jews.

In other words, some antisemites have weaponised ‘Zionism’ as a malicious tool.

Zionism at its core is simply the expression by the Jewish people of their right to self-determination in Israel — a notion the vast majority of Jews subscribe to – so attacking Israel using this moniker feels to many Jews like Antisemitism, and it often is. As a result, subtle debates about Zionism, and its many incarnations and complex history, have been polluted.

So by using the term ‘Zionism’ you are treading in water that others have, frankly, shat in.

Well now, I can hear you say: ‘Not only has Modern Antisemitism re-focussed on Israel itself— making it difficult to criticise its actions without confusion— but now you’re saying that racists have abused the meaning of ‘Zionism’ so badly that discussing Israel using that term is off limits too! I’m bound and gagged!”

Not true. There is a solution.

Try saying:

“I criticise the elected government of Israel because ….”

It will not cause offence. It is legitimate. There is no Jew or Israeli, Jewish or Israeli organisation or religious institution I know of that will not accept as debate what comes after that ‘because …’. Israelis, god knows, do it every day. Israel is a vibrant democracy, with a ding-a-dong press that thrives on it.

‘Zionism’ in the context of criticising Israel has become a poisoned word. ‘Zio’ is now as derogatory a term as ‘Yid’. So: just don’t bother with ‘Z’. You’re asking for a world of trouble, however lovely the truths in your heart are.

If you’re an ordinary Joe. If you’re a journalist. A teacher. An activist. If you’re a radio broadcaster. It’s not difficult.

‘I criticise the elected government of Israel because …’

There. You can say what you want and debate the outcome.

‘I criticise the elected government of Israel because …’

You don’t need the Z word for attacking Israel. If you really, really must add it, you’d better have a bloody good reason.

If you want to criticise the Israeli government, criticise the Israeli government.

Try it.