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Zionism and Anti-Semitism: Argument / Counter-Argument

A Lack of Originality

One thing that characterizes dogmatists is a lack of originality. You buy into the dogma and that’s it. Your worldview is complete—and so are your rationalizations, defensive pronouncements and complaints.

I have been an opponent of the Zionist dogma for almost fifty years (wow!) because it (1) denies Palestinians their civil and communal rights; (2) corrupts many Jews with a siren song of racially based nationalism; (3) undermines the concepts of international law and human rights and (4) seduces the U.S. government into supporting Zionist ethnic nationalist ambitions.

During the last twenty years I have noticed that the arguments used by the Zionists to defend their policies and practices have been quite consistent. This can’t be because they are convincing, since they are clearly losing the battle for public opinion. It may be that being a dogmatist simply robs you of any originality and flexibility.

Recently I was again struck by this consistency when I read a brief piece published on 12 December 2018 in the New York Times (NYT) by David Harris, chief executive officer of American Jewish Committee. The piece, entitled “Why Anti-Zionism Is Malign” (“malign” here meaning malevolent) was written in reaction to an earlier (7 December 2018) NYT editorial column by Michelle Goldberg entitled “Anti-Zionism Is Not Anti-Semitism”.

The Harris piece lays out some of the basic Zionist arguments in defense of Israel and their complaints about opposition positions. That being so, I thought it presented a good opportunity to briefly run through these points and, not for the first time or the last, debunk each in turn. So here goes.

Arguments and Counter-Arguments

Argument One: Anti-Zionists are really anti-Semites.

For anyone with an accurate historical view of anti-Zionism and an accurate definition of historical anti-Semitism, Harris’s assertion is hard to understand. From the historical perspective it is comparing apples and oranges. The only way to merge the two is by realigning reality.

Zionism is a political dogma that insists on an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine. It operates like a political party line.  Anti-Semitism is the age-old prejudice against Jews as Jews. The way the Zionists attempt to realign the world so that the two different concepts merge is by making the false claim that the State of Israel represents every Jew on the planet. If you buy into that claim, it seems to follow that anyone who is critical of Israel must also be critical of Jews per se.

In her December 7 column Michelle Goldberg called this proposition into question when she noted that “There’s a long history of Jewish anti-Zionism or non-Zionism, both secular and religious,” and this testifies to the fact that “it’s entirely possible to oppose Jewish ethno-nationalism without being a bigot.” Harris and his “committee” claimed to be “outraged” by this fact-based claim.

And what are we to make of the following point, also noted by Ms. Goldberg? If many Jews do not support Zionism or Israel, there are a number of anti-Semites who do. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is courting them as potential allies.The case may be that to take up the cause of ethnic nationalism you have to be a bigot.

Argument Two: “To deny the Jewish people, of all the peoples on earth, the right to self-determination surely is discriminatory.”

One big problem here: many anti-Zionists do not actually deny Jews of the “right of self-determination.” What they really stipulate is that the Jews (or any other people) should not realize self-determination through racist policies, that in this case, deny another people (the Palestinians) of self-determination.This is one of the Zionists’ moral blindspots—the inability to see, or care about, the real consequences of their actions and ends. The use of the phrase “of all peoples on earth” implies a sense of exceptionalism that (as in so many other cases past and present) excuses all manner of crimes through the process of special pleading.

Argument Three: “To single out Israel, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, for demonization and isolation, while ignoring egregious human rights violators aplenty, once again smacks of anti-Jewish hatred.”

There are three parts to this claim: (1) that Israel is “the only liberal democracy in the Middle East”; (2) that it is being singled out for demonization and isolation while others are ignored; and (3) this process must be an expression of “anti-Jewish hatred”. Basically, there is a lot of whining going on here.

Alas, Israel is not a liberal democracy. It has always been the case that its ideologically driven aim is to give full political and civil rights to Israeli Jews only, and to this end it has used democratic facades to hide the truth. As a consequence, Israel has worked itself into an apartheid state status—an apartheid is a crime against humanity under international law.

The belated realization of this fact by “liberal Zionists” has created a lot of angst. If liberal Jews are increasingly alienated by Israeli behavior, just how liberal can that country be?

As to the use of the term “demonization”: it simply does not apply. The bases for criticizing Israel are drawn from the standards of International law and the universal declaration of human rights. There is no wild mud slinging here. The charges of Israeli racism are fact based.

To complain that those critical of Israel aren’t equally critical of others reminds one of the little kid who, when caught being really bad says, ‘Hey, what about those other guys’? As if catching him in the act, while not simultaneously chasing after others, somehow taints the accusation that the kid is a delinquent.

There is also the fact that if anti-Zionists appear to treat Israel differently, it is because the Zionist state has earned its special place of blame. How so? Agents of the Zionist state have worked for decades, and all too successfully, to arrange U.S. and other Western support of racist and illegal expansionist Israeli policies and practices. As Michelle Goldberg again suggests, the result is the corruption of “fundamental American [and other Western] values” and, one might add, the waste of billions of dollars in tax-payer money. That being the case, the Zionists deserve “special scrutiny”.

Argument Four: The Israelis have always wanted peace. However, their “efforts to forge a peace deal with the Palestinians” have been “spurned time and again” for over 70 years.”

This is an ideologically skewed version of the “peace process.” It is, of course, true that both parties have made repeated peace proposals. However, those made by Israel would have always resulted in an unsustainable Palestinian mini-state, essentially disarmed, economically under the thumb of Israel, and open to incursions by its powerful and paranoid neighbor. This might appear to Zionists such as David Harris as a good faith effort at peace—his questionable view of reality could make it seem that way—but no Palestinian could agree to what would be a surrender of their national rights.

Conclusion

Zionist presentations of their case, at least to the general public, almost always come in the form of knee-jerk reactions to various forms of criticism. This was certainly the case of David Harris’s presentation, written out of “outrage” at the rather mild criticism of Zionist positions offered by Michelle Goldberg (herself Jewish).

Harris offers no new ideas, no compromises, and certainly no mea culpas. Under the circumstances the confused and uncertain reader might approach the seeming impasse of argument and counter-argument this way: it is perhaps not an issue of what is “real.” Dogmatists of every sort have a hard time assessing objective reality. It is more a question of what sort of a world do we want to be “real”? Are the notions of international law and human rights a better or worst basis for our world than ethnocentric nationalism and religious exclusivity? We know the Zionist answer to this question and just how sensitive they are to any challenges. What then is your preference?

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Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.

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