Anti-Semitism & Anti-Zionism: One and the Same?

In contemporary political discourse regarding the Israeli government, anti-settlement, and anti-military aggression stances are often given the label of anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism is also regularly equated with anti-Semitism. Pro-Palestinian liberation politicians like U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar are regularly pelted with anti-Semitism accusations. Some even go as far as blaming Omar for a recent attack on a synagogue, like Republican Congressman Chip Roy, who quoted Senator Kamala Harris’ tweet about rising anti-Semitism, and tagged Omar, implying that she was somehow at fault:


Given that Israel was founded on the idea of being a Jewish State, making such a connection (that is, the connection of opposition to Israeli governmental policy to anti-Semitism) is somewhat rational, although it neglects to consider a few details. First, that not all Israeli Jews are pro-settlement and pro-occupation. In fact, a recent poll suggests only 15 percent of Jewish Israelis support annexing the West Bank, a policy idea being thrown around in current right-wing Israeli political discourse. Such a policy would essentially make a two-state solution impossible, or at the very least complicate an already immensely complicated issue. If this were to occur, Palestinians would likely have to be given Israeli citizenship, or remain stateless persons with no land to call their own, thus furthering their oppression. The first option sounds more ideal, although citizenship through consent, rather than absorption, paints a much more hopeful picture of the defense of Palestinian civil rights.

Tribal Politics in the Middle East

On the other hand, it could also be argued that these annexation policies are Islamophobic or racist; that is, they are based on the idea that Muslims are not as worthy of civil rights such as citizenship and/or collectively owning land. While there may be some truth to this argument, there is perhaps a bigger issue at hand: conservative, even tribal politics, an issue that has plagued the Middle East since at least the early 20th century, when Western colonialism began to destabilize the region, and seemingly for much longer. To clarify, tribal politics refers to the formation of groups that are almost always closely associated to religion and are treated as the sole unit upon which the morality of political actions is based. Some examples of these are the Sunni and Alawite Muslims of Syria and surrounding areas. These group formations leave those outside the dominant tribe vulnerable.

A View from the Secular West

I come from the island of Newfoundland, Canada, a generally liberal and secular part of the Western world. Along with most of my peers, I was not raised religiously. Because of this, religious based tribalism is a foreign concept to me. Canada was historically formed as a predominantly Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican Christian country. Gradual secularization has made this less prevalent, although the moral values prescribed by the Ten Commandments remain widely held. I understand that because of these factors, my analysis of the situation may be discarded due to my worldview that could be considered incompatible with that of Middle-Easterner, but I will continue for those who can look past this.

Arguing for secularization in a land of historical and spiritual significance to three of the world’s major religions would undoubtedly be fruitless (although, this has already somewhat happened naturally in Tel-Aviv). I do not see much point in criticizing people’s faith, or their method of making sense of this crazy thing we call life. A religion is, among other things, a guide to living life morally, which, when followed in good faith, is quite a beautiful thing. However, when religion is used as the justification for mistreatment of underprivileged groups, or as the basis for one nation’s supreme right of sovereignty over another, it fails to fulfill this purpose. This begs the question: Is being anti-Zionist an inherently anti-Semitic stance?

A helpful illustrative example of this narrative comes from UK Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who in a short educational video demonstrated why he believes that modern-day anti-Zionism is the new wave of anti-Semitism:


Both the Jewish and Palestinian Right to Self-Determination

The validity of Rabbi Sacks’ claim depends on the on one’s understanding of the term Zionism. If it is understood as the Jewish people’s divine right to exclusive sovereignty over the West Bank and surrounding regions, it is a quite harmful idea, which could lead to increased political instability and civil unrest in the region. If Zionism is to be understood in a more modest sense, such as “the Jewish right to national self-determination”, as our co-editor Hillel Schenker argues, it is not mutually exclusive with Palestinian national self-determination. It is certainly difficult to disagree with notion that: if you do not support Jewish people’s right to self-determine (that is, to be a country based on their shared identity, history, culture, etc) you must have something against Jews. Given his claim that Jews are the only people indigenous people to the region however, it seems Rabbi Sacks may be somewhat leaning towards my first definition of Zionism.

The danger here is that people tend to take Sacks’ argument and run with it, interpreting Zionism as Israel’s supreme right to the land inhabited by Palestinians.

Islamic, Jewish, and Christian conservatives seem to have found common ground on many issues, for example; homosexuality, premarital sex and abortion, all of which they agree are wrong in God’s eyes (which are whole other cans of worms too big to open for this blog entry). It would create significant progress towards resolving the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, if common ground could be found about the meaning of Zionism, and if this definition could be administered without the continued oppression of Palestinians and the denial of their right to national self-determination.



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