Op-Ed: No Excuses, Progressive Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism
In 1975 the United Nations General Assembly passed its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism. Although rescinded some years later, it established a plan for delegitimizing Israel by undermining Jewish national claims and rewriting history. That plan continues today, finding expression in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement, the left-wing obsession to brand Israel an apartheid state, and the revisionist Palestinian narrative. It is also enabled by a Jewish left that excuses progressive Israel bashers by falsely distinguishing anti-Zionism from Jew-hatred.
But denying that Jews are entitled to sovereignty in their homeland requires the suppression of Jewish history and acceptance of an incompatible national myth that has no factual foundation. To deny Jews the basic right of self-determination is to denigrate their stature as an extant, ancient people; and treating them differently from all other nations on earth is indeed a form of anti-Semitism.
There seems to be no shortage of politicians, academics and celebrities who embrace anti-Zionism. One of the most visible lately is rock musician Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame, who publicly promotes the BDS movement and who recently spoke before the United Nations accusing Israel of apartheid and ethnic cleansing, though both claims are demonstrably false. Mr. Waters is typical of social and political progressives who blame Israel for destabilizing the Mideast and who find common cause with an Arab-Muslim world that has no regard for democratic ideals or human rights.
Those who claim only to want justice for the Palestinian Arabs either don’t know that they are historical latecomers to Israel, or do know but are simply motivated by hatred for the Jewish State. To some ears, it sounds more rational to deny Israel’s legitimacy by adopting a competing national claim, even one that is predicated on doctrinal anti-Semitism and historical revisionism.
Whereas there is irrefutable archeological, ethnographic and literary proof that Jews have inhabited Israel since time immemorial, there is no similar evidence of an ancient, indigenous Palestinian people. To compensate for their lack of historicity, the Palestinian Arabs deprecate the Jewish connection to Israel with lies and distortions that are often repeated by their supporters on the left.
They contend, for example, that the Jewish People originated in Europe and that the Temple never stood in Jerusalem. They claim that the Jews were complicit in the Crusades, although Jews suffered far worse than anyone else at the hands of the Crusaders. They argue that the archeological record, which is so rich in linguistic, cultural and architectural evidence of ancient Jewish life in Israel, is simply the product of Zionist propaganda. In so doing, they project their own lack of national bona fides onto the only people with a continuous link to the land.
The audacity of such claims is truly Orwellian.
When history fails they default to faith, attempting to lay superior religious claims that are not borne out even by their own scriptures. Despite the assertion that Jerusalem is the third holiest city in Islam, for example, it is not mentioned in the Quran and was considered an insignificant, provincial backwater during Ottoman times. The Jews’ ancient capital – the single holiest site in Judaism – became significant for Muslims only after the Jewish population began to grow during the early part of the last century, but this newfound importance was political, not scriptural.
Islam’s modern claim to Jerusalem is a response to the success of the Jews in reclaiming sovereignty in a homeland that had been usurped through jihad and in which they were scorned by Muslims as a subjugated minority under Sharia law.
An essential fact omitted from the Palestinian narrative is that the Arab population of Israel was not primarily an ancestral one, but rather was relatively insignificant and transient during the lengthy period of Ottoman rule. The Arab-Muslim population began to increase through immigration in the early 1900s in order to offset Jewish population growth. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Arab immigration continued under the watchful eyes of the British, who administered the Mandate until 1948 and who conspired to hold Jewish national aspirations in check.
That much of the Arab population originated elsewhere is indicated by the definition of “refugee” employed by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which applied the term to those Arabs who established residency within Mandate territory between June 1946 and May 1948, but who lost their homes and livelihoods when Israel was attacked by the Arab armies after declaring her independence.
Clearly, refugee status was not reserved for Arabs who were native-born or descended from aboriginal ancestors, which reflected the reality that the “refugee” population was neither uniform nor necessarily indigenous.
Unfortunately, the truth is always the first casualty in any conflict; and those who denigrate Zionism have no justification for doing so in light of the Palestinian Arabs’ lack of history as compared to the Jews’ ancient – and well-documented – connection to their homeland. This dichotomy should raise a red flag for those who argue that anti-Zionism is not a form of anti-Semitism.
If Zionism is the modern political movement through which the Jews achieved national regeneration, then to be anti-Zionist is to begrudge Jews the basic right of self-determination. Could one have denied Italians the right to exercise sovereignty through the Risorgimento, or the Germans through unification, without being accused of national or ethnic bias? If not, then singling out the Jews as the only people not entitled to national integrity is indeed a form of bigotry, particularly considering that the only independent nation ever to have existed in the Land of Israel was Jewish, not Arab or Muslim.
It could be argued that the Jews are unlike any other people, and this may very well be true – though not in the way Israel’s detractors might think. After the Romans conquered the Kingdom of Judea, much (though not all) of the population was dispersed into exile. But rather than assimilate and disappear, the exiled remnants of Israel maintained their religious and national identity while living among hostile societies in the Mideast, North Africa and Europe.
Few peoples could have maintained such a cohesive identity for so long in diaspora when the more natural instinct would have been to assimilate into the safety of anonymity.
Because the Jews persistently clung to their heritage throughout their exile, they were seen as strangers wherever they sojourned. As a consequence, they were subjected to relentless persecutions, including confinement in ghettos, systematic harassment, expulsions, pogroms, and genocide. They lived everywhere but belonged nowhere.
Through Zionism, however, they sought to reassert their national sovereignty and ameliorate their condition as a wandering, vulnerable minority. Therefore, rejecting their right to national sovereignty effectively constitutes a denial of their right to be free from persecution.
Anti-Zionists may disavow such intent, but the unfounded claim that Jews are alien to their homeland suggests otherwise. Those who deny Jews the right to live safely in the land of their ancestors are consigning them to perpetual harassment, persecution and, if past history is any indication, extermination. It is the refusal to assimilate that galls the most strident haters of the Jewish State.
Considering the traditional left-wing antipathy for religion and nationality, the survival of a unique culture encompassing elements of both is an affront to the left’s secular, post-nationalist worldview. Regardless of how strenuously anti-Zionists might deny that disparaging Israel is the same as hating Jews, it is difficult to ignore their penchant for ascribing anti-Semitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories to Israel without shame, embarrassment or irony.
Though liberals treat Jew-hatred as a right-wing phenomenon, the left has always embraced anti-Semitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories, particularly those alleging pervasive Jewish influence, power and wealth. Indeed, classical anti-Semitism is on full display at Occupy Wall Street rallies, at Israel Apartheid Week events, and in BDS initiatives.
Even the mainstream is susceptible when propaganda is presented as authoritative scholarship, as it is in the book, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. While this book is lauded by many, it is based on the ludicrous proposition that the Israel lobby unduly influences American foreign policy. Its intimation of inappropriate influence echoes the theme of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the fraudulent work published in Tsarist Russia alleging a Jewish plot for world domination.
Similarly, false reports of Israeli soldiers intentionally killing Arab children are meant to evoke images of the blood libel, which was common in Christian Europe in generations past and is still prevalent in Arab-Muslim culture today. Stories drawing on such repugnant themes often appear in prominent media outlets, which apparently do not thoroughly scrutinize sources that put Israel in a negative light. During last year’s war in Gaza, for example, CNN reported the killing of an Arab child by Israeli rockets at a time when the Israelis were actually withholding fire. The story was exposed as bogus when it was learned that the boy was killed by Hamas explosives.
Perhaps more insidious was a dubious story published by the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet in 2009 claiming that the Israeli military was illegally harvesting the organs of dead Arabs. Such stories are similar in tone to traditional blood libel charges that accused Jews of using Gentile blood and flesh for ritual purposes.
The entertainment industry has become a breeding ground for anti-Israel sentiment as many artists have adopted the Palestinians as their cause de jour. Unfortunately, because of their visibility, celebrities are often given far more credibility than they deserve – no matter how inane, uninformed or malignant their opinions might be.
Roger Waters, who endorses the BDS movement, lobbies other musicians not to perform in Israel, and falsely accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing and apartheid, is by no means the only celebrity offender. Several years ago a group of artists and performers published a statement entitled, “Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation,” to protest the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to include Tel Aviv in its “City-to-City Spotlight.” The list of signatories was lengthy and included, among many others, actors Julie Christy, Jane Fonda, Danny Glover and Viggo Mortensen, writer Alice Walker, and musician David Byrne.
The Toronto group claimed to be protesting Israeli apartheid and the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. However, Israel is not an apartheid state under any definition; and the so-called “humanitarian crisis” was shown to be nothing more than Arab propaganda.
If such activists were truly concerned about humanitarian violations in the Mideast, they would be protesting the harassment and murder of the Copts in Egypt or the persecution of women, minorities and political dissidents in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and most other Arab and/or Muslim countries.
Instead, they expend great energy defaming Israel, a country in which Arab citizens live where they want, speak and worship freely, vote in elections, and serve in government.
Apparently, the truth is no deterrent to self-appointed guardians of relative morality, who repeat malicious propaganda and attempt through unethical boycotts to silence all who disagree with them. Unfortunately, because artists and performers who slander Israel are usually involved in other progressive causes, they are uncritically absolved of any prejudicial intent by the stewards of political correctness.
It has become fashionable for celebrities to condemn Israel, encourage boycotts, and represent the Palestinian myth as true despite its lack of historical foundation. But because these views are based on revisionist history and classical stereotypes attributed to the Jewish State, the bold repetition of outrageous lies regarding Israel – and they are outrageous – bespeaks ill-intent or malice.
While some may jump on the bandwagon out of ignorance, even the ignorant have an intellectual obligation to reevaluate their core premise when faced with hard facts that undercut their position. If they simply ignore facts that present inconvenient truths, their ignorance becomes willful and, thereby, no less profligate than intentional malice. And so it is with the Israel-bashing chorus in the artistic community, whose message – when stripped of all pretense – has much in common with that of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently called Zionism a crime against humanity.
The only difference is that Erdogan is an Islamist whose views are dictated by a religious doctrine that considers the Jews a dhimmi people who were subjugated through jihad and who, therefore, lost the right to national ascendancy in their homeland. It is ironic that progressive artists who condemn Israel claim to be promoting human rights, and yet take the same position as Islamists who preach doctrinal hatred and persecute those they consider infidels.
But then again, progressivism at its most extreme has a long tradition of excusing totalitarian excess, as long as that excess springs from the political left or from anointed groups deemed to be reacting against foreign or colonial intrusion.
The greater mystery is why so many secular and liberal Jews defend or support anti-Zionists and refuse to denounce their anti-Semitism. Since the days of the ghetto, paralyzing caution and timidity have dictated the apologetic way some segments of Jewish society have responded to hostility and aggression.
The more extremist elements, however, are not simply making excuses for the excesses of their political compatriots. Rather, many of the secular and assimilated – particularly those on the left – actively promote and support progressive extremists whose disdain for Israel is rooted in hatred of Jews and Judaism.
Apologists who stubbornly cling to the fiction that anti-Zionism is not a form of bigotry need to examine the motivations of social and political activists who reject Israel’s legitimacy. Those who deny Jewish history, promote a revisionist Palestinian narrative, or falsely accuse Israel of crimes that actually occur in Arab-Muslim society are not acting with purity of impulse.
At its core, anti-Zionism rejects the Jews’ fundamental right to self-determination, devalues their national identity, and presumes that they should be treated differently from all other peoples. Despite apologetic attempts to characterize progressive Israel-chiding in neutral political terms, an appropriate word already exists to describe the act of delegitimizing the Jewish State – and that word is “anti-Semitism.”