Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

One of the most debilitating and divisive aspects of the discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the way constituencies engage the question of how anti-Zionism relates to anti-Semitism.  Very often, the division on this question is dichotomous and creates a binary of extreme positions that cannot engage with one another.  

One of these sides sees anti-Zionism, and indeed all criticism of what they call the settlement of Judea and Samaria, as anti-Semitism masquerading as political critique and individuals with humanitarian intentions being manipulated unwittingly by anti-Semites.  These folks emphasize how Israel, even when they grant its imperfections, is singled out for disproportionate criticism, that it is inaccurately depicted as the root of all discord in the Middle East and the primary source of tension between the Muslim world and the west.  And even when they grant that criticism of Israel doesn’t have to be anti-Semitic, at least in theory, they argue that it almost always is and must be viewed through the lens of this question.  Israel’s critics must be considered guilty of anti-Semitism or of unwitting and na├»ve collusion with anti-Semites, until categorically proven otherwise.

The other side, as is so often the case in this ideologically over-determined debate, seems its mirror image.  These folks argue that the accusation of anti-Semitism is a canard meant to silence valid criticism of Israeli policies and that the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza are the primary causes of contemporary anti-Semitism.  Furthermore, they accuse the “Israel Lobby” of manipulating US politics, and thus international politics, to support Israel’s continued repression and exploitation of Palestinians against American interests and values.  This accusation strikes their opponents as all too close to the ugly conspiracy theories emanating from the anti-Semitic forgery known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which depicted international Jewry as the ultimate source of all war and suffering in the world.  

So we have one side that sees the other as driven by anti-Semitism and the other conversely accusing them as driving anti-Semitism by creating hospitable conditions for its germination and providing its rationale.  If both arguments contain some truth, then everyone involved is participating in anti-Semitism in one way or another, some intentionally and some unintentionally.

Clearly, solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not lead to a peaceful utopian Middle East.  Plenty of conflicts in the region are organized around cultural, religious, historical, and even ethnic fault lines that have little to do with Israel and Israelis.  Many of these are exacerbated by unresolved issues emanating from the Western colonial endeavors that shaped the current map.  They also have much to do with the history of the cold war and more recent interventions driven by global economic developments.  

In addition to this, there’s no convincing reason to believe that any solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, even the creation of a single secular democratic republic between the river and the sea or the expulsion of most Jews from the region can bring about an end to anti-Semitism.  Anti-Semitism is a quasi-religious ideology built on a history of slanders and twisted perceptions.  As such, it will never lose its capacity to conceive evidence that corroborates its assumptions.  Many of the Zionists who labored to found the modern State of Israel thought it would both serve in the near term as a bulwark anti-Semitism and haven for its victims and eventually normalize Jewish national existence in a way that would undercut the trumped up fantasies that animated the imaginations of anti-Semites.  Zionism was both a defense against anti-Semitism and would ultimately function as its antidote.  This hasn’t happened.  Many contemporary Zionists have since moved to the position that anti-Semitism does not respond to realities of Jewish life or the ways in which Jews participate in global affairs.  They see hatred of Jews as irreducible, potentially eternal, and anyone who ignores this as ignorant and dangerous, as at best an unwitting accessory to one of the most toxic and violent movements in history.

But granting that a solution to the conflict communities will neither solve all of the tensions in the region nor eradicate anti-Semitism does not undermine the primary rationale for ending the occupation.  An accord acceptable to majorities of Palestinians and Israelis that creates a new reality that will continue to develop positive and productive relations between these national will not satisfy everyone.  Conflicts will continue, but within a framework that may settle them, or at least manage them, in less violent and debilitating ways.  And if this framework operates as it should and as many of us believe that it not only must, but that it can, these conflicts will attenuate both in tenor and in frequency.  Indeed, even though other nations and movements in the region may attempt to disrupt relations, to fan resentments and exacerbate anxieties, if the accord is a functional one and if enough people of good will exercise leadership on both sides, one can expect moments of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians in the face of regional conflicts.  And if anti-Semitism does not require the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, transforming the relations between Israelis and Palestinians will undoubtedly make it easier to continue the potentially unending fight against anti-Semitic eruptions and canards.  Israel has plenty moral and practical reasons to reengage the peace process energetically and pragmatically for its own sake.  Any benefits to regional stability and to undermining and reducing anti-Semitism are secondary, if extremely welcome benefits.

Blanket, uncritical support for Israel does not equal opposition to anti-Semitism.  Nor does criticism of Israeli policies require one to close one’s eyes to anti-Semitism, especially as it seems to wax in Arabic media and Eastern Europe at the moment.  Jewish individuals and institutions have worked hard to promote Israel and to make the case for its existence.  This is a form of hard won political power.  To paint every criticism of the exercise of that power as anti-Semitic belies an anxiety about its achievement.  Paranoia about the Jew pulling levers behind the curtain seems to mirror anxiety about being painted as the Jew pulling levers behind the curtain.  The more these same individuals and institutions support efforts to reach an accord with the Palestinians, the more effectively they abandon the reflexive conception of Palestinian nationhood as an anti-Semitic plot, the more proud they can be of achieving and exercising political power and the more effective they can be at confronting anti-Semitism.  At the same time, those who want to end the occupation through achievement of an accord between Israelis and Palestinians would do well to stop dismissing and denying anti-Semitism and focus more attention on the way complicates efforts to reach an accord.

As for Israel being singled out for criticism, I single Israel and Jews out in both celebratory and critical ways, because this is one of my primary affiliations.  Just as I focus more attention on achievements and shortcomings of my own children than on those of others, so too I focus more on Israel’s achievements and shortcomings.  And this need not result either in either chauvinistic jingoism or in hyper-critical self-flagellation.  It’s evidence of a productive commitment, one that I still believe can prove even more productive in ways that currently exist only in our most cherished dreams.


  1. Its the Supreme Court Stupid

    a binary concept.  There are a range of views available.  Not all anti-Zionism is based in anti-Semitism, but many who hold to it come to accept anti-Semitic tropes.  Thus, though many on the left many come to anti-Zionism from a principle view of wanting justice for the Palestinians, they come to accept, whether through frustration or simple intellectual laziness  the anti-Semitic meme that the Jews (through AIPAC) control the US Congress.

  2. Strummerson

    that the binary is false.  There are indeed a range of available positions, but a huge percentage of those engaged with this debate arrange themselves around polarized positions that become self-reinforcing.

  3. Mets102

    of what, exactly, Zionism is.  It is nothing more than Jewish nationalism and the corresponding belief that a Jewish state (in the ethnic, not religious sense), should exist on at least some portion of our ancestral homeland of Eretz Yisrael.

    As for anti-Zionists, those that single out Zionism alone among the various nationalist movements, while, simultaneously supporting maximalist Palestinian national aspirations (either de facto or de jure), are nothing more than anti-Semites.  When one says that Palestinians are entitled to a state, but Jews are not, they must be treated no differently than those that say Jews are entitled to a state, but Palestinians are not.  Unfortunately, too often this is not the case.

    I still hold to my belief that the only way to finally get this conflict resolved is to have President Obama take Bibi and Abbas to Camp David, effectively lock them up there and tell them they’re not leaving until a deal is reached.  We all know what the basic parameters of a deal will look like, so that would be the best way for the President to ‘facilitate’ the process.

  4. I am a Zionist (by at least one definition). I lived in Israel for several years.

    (Definition Zionist – one who supports the existence of the state of Israel as a state for the Jewish people.)

    I am also a supporter of the USA.

    But that doesn’t mean uncritical acceptance or endorsement of every act by either country. Believe me, if “zionism” means “uncritical acceptance of every act of Israel” then there are no Zionists in Israel.

    Israel does much that is good. Unfortunately, nowadays, it does much less that is good than it used to. Netanyahu is awful. I lived there from 1985 to 1988 and there was quite a lot to admire; some of that still remains. Unions were strong. Health care was cheap (IIRC, a doctor visit was $5). Family ties were strong. The country, being small, has much more interconnectedness than the USA does (e.g. “My cousin served in the army with your sister!”)

    Columnists in Ha’aretz are often sanely critical of Israeli policies, as are many Israeli authors.

    As to America, well, I needn’t detail, on this list, any of the bad or good things we do. There is plenty of both.

    One of the biggest things that both countries do right is allow criticism. Amos Oz is not tortured or killed or imprisoned. This reminds me of a joke (most things do). For much (perhaps most?) of the world’s population, such freedom does not exist.

    Back when there was a Soviet Union, an American and a Russian are talking:

    Russian: What is this “free speech”?

    American: It means I can say what I want and the government can’t stop me.

    Russian: I don’t understand. Give me an example.

    American: OK, I can stand on the street in Washington DC and shout “Ronald Reagan is a schmuck!” and I won’t get arrested.

    Russian: Ah HA! We have that too! I can also stand on the street in Moscow and shout “Ronald Reagan is a schmuck!”

  5. You say this:

    As for Israel being singled out for criticism, I single Israel and Jews out in both celebratory and critical ways, because this is one of my primary affiliations.  Just as I focus more attention on achievements and shortcomings of my own children than on those of others, so too I focus more on Israel’s achievements and shortcomings.

    and I think it is very important to understanding some of the conflict with anti-Zionism and it’s connection (or lack thereof) to anti-Semitism.

    For many of us, we understand when someone like yourself focuses this way. After all you are Israeli, it makes sense for you to concentrate on your nations and things that affect your nation. As a Jewish American, it makes some sense for me (though not as much as for you) because of the history of Judaism in the world, as well as Israel’s unique place in the world.

    I also understand when Palestinians are anti-Zionist.

    What I don’t understand is Western Non-Jews or Non-Arabs that involve themselves solely with the anti-Zionist movement I greatly suspect their motivations. Particularly when they couch their criticism in terms of Human Rights but conveniently ignore them when it comes to their own side.  

  6. I have problems with any narrow form of ethnic nationalism. However, I do believe that wider civic sense of nationalism has been a vital part of the last 500 years of democratic reform. I understand and appreciate the national aspirations for autonomy of Poles, Slovaks, Czechs, Bosnians, Eritreans, Scots, Irish, Armenians… being anti-Zionist in this simple Herzl type manifestation of national yearning would seem to me to be bizarre, and suggestive of discrimination and prejudice.

    But I worry about any national identity that derives itself from (tendentious) categories of blood and ethnicity. Israel is far from unique, however, by having a blood citizenship rule, and Germany has only slightly modified its own blood laws about the rights of ethnic Germans to return to the state of Germany.

    With my Armenian roots, I see the problems facing both the Israeli state and Jewish people over the concept of a homeland, especially when that homeland has been subject to invasion, and the ethnic categories used as a pretext for genocide. Most Jews do not live in Israel, and most Armenians don’t live in Armenia. Having been to both countries I see a similar strategy deployed by successive governments:

    Most of their financial support comes from abroad. They have to persuade their diasporas that there is only one safe place for them, and therefore remind them both how they are hated on ethnic level, and only one place will discriminate in their favour.

    In the last thirty or so years, this seems to have been part of the problem with Israeli foreign policy. The genuine narrative of isolation and vulnerability, which obtained until ’68, has to be constantly reinforced – in complete opposition to the strategic, economic and military realities. In this light, polarising the issue into one of existential extremes: everyone wants to ‘push us into the sea’, defend us from a second holocaust, will finally end up with playing the ‘you’re an anti semite’ card.

    This is what happened to my friend Tony Judt, even though he serve in the IDF. It seems to be happening with increasing rapidity to a swathe of commentators and politicians in the last few days as the desperate gambit plays out, mainly in the US.  In Israel itself where, like any normal political system, there are so many natural political differences between so many Israelis, the ‘you’re a self hating Jew’ card gets little traction these days. Most those arguments were played out in 1948 in Israel. They are getting played out now in the US

  7. ILS 27L

    was injected with HIV, Ebola, Staphiliococus, Cholera, Polio, and any other deadly disease one can conjure.

    These same people have fought these battles at the orange place, poisioned the atmosphere, created division, sullied reputations and really ruined what was a fun place to visit.

    I DO NOT  give two flying fucks is a sandstorm about your fight.

    Both sides are irrational obnoxious assholes who will not be reasoned with.

    Please Please Please take this shit somewhere…..anywhere else…..

    Admins…I’m begging you….do not let this gangrenous wound fester here to rot the core of civility out ot this site.

    I remind you….I am NOT on your side…..whichever side is yours….Both of you are irrational, hyper exercised  zealots incapable of using reason.

    Please….go away.

  8. Regina in a sears kit house

    I like the way this is being handled here. I believe the fresh air and fair, respectful discussion could possibly at least allow for more than one view of the possible solutions to the problems.

    Congratulations on maintaining decorum and civility on a calcified and contentious topic.

  9. Strummerson

    It’s a counter-proposal to the Arab League proposal of 2002 (readopted in 2007).  It was framed by an independent group not in government made up of former generals and security chiefs, as well as Yitzhak Rabin’s son.  Two of its framers – Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid – Lapid’s party) and Amram Mitzna (Hatnuah – Livni’s party) – were elected to the Knesset last month.  Both parties are likely coalition partners for Bibi at this point.  Neither individual is likely to hold a ministerial portfolio.

    I’ve checked it against the Hebrew and it’s a good translation.

  10. mahakali overdrive

    At 8:30 am, half-running to work between bed and child to school, I cannot comment on this amply enough other than to say that you’ve really done good work with this diary. It is simple yet sophisticated and, while there are various small points I could disagree with, it also makes sense.

    I’d love to expound further, but I have to run in a moment.

    I did note the interest in binary concepts in the comments; I didn’t really feel like you were positing these in your diary since you allowed for several points of view. Still, an exploration of the relationships could be further complicated, perhaps.

    As a secular Middle Eastern Jew from a Holocaust family who is absolutely committed to the radical Left and to our many fights against bigotry and xenophobia and also, who is not much of a fan of nationalism in general, issues surrounding Israel and Palestine deeply concern me.  

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