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Anti-Zionism and antisemitism are not the same. Equating them harms all Jews.

Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are linked, and the former certainly can be present in the latter, but it is not always. In fact, assertions that the two are inherently synonymous are themselves antisemitic. The post Anti-Zionism and antisemitism are not the same. Equating them harms all Jews. appeared first on The Georgetown Voice.

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It is common to see anti-Zionist arguments met with accusations of antisemitism. Public figures are branded antisemites for criticizing the Israeli government. Anti-Zionist Jews are called self-hating. Conversations about Palestine are derailed by charges of anti-Jewish bigotry. Such an emotionally charged claim is certainly compelling, but there’s a problem: It just isn’t true.

Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are linked, and the former certainly can be present in the latter, but it is not always. In fact, assertions that the two are inherently synonymous are themselves antisemitic. Such claims often rely on the idea that Jews as a collective must support the Zionist cause, which is not only untrue but also paints Jews as a monolith. Though the percentage of Jews who oppose Israel is a minority, it is a significant one. As many as one in 10 U.S. Jews actively supports the controversial Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement—a movement aimed at pressuring Israel into conforming with certain demands surrounding its treatment of Arab Palestinian residents of the region. The idea that Jewishness and support for Zionism must always come hand in hand is false.

This truth does not mean that anti-Zionism is not inherently antisemitic. Regardless of the existence of anti-Zionist Jews, anti-Zionism would indeed be antisemitic if it were an inherent part of Jewish liberation. But it isn’t.

Supporters of Israel will often push the notion that to deny the nationhood of Israel would be to deprive Jews “of all people on earth” of the right to self-determination. But there is no shortage of examples of other peoples without total control of the governments that rule over them, including Uyghurs, Kashmiris, and Basques. These peoples, much like Jews, deserve self-determination, and separatist movements exist within many of them. But to oppose the establishment of an ethnostate for these groups is not generally considered evidence of bigotry against them. To claim that the protection of Jews necessitates a Jewish state is not just wrong, but dangerous. It buys into the arguments made by other ethnonationalists that the existence of a state controlled by one ethnicity or religious group is required to ensure that such a group is protected.

In fact, not only is the existence of a Jewish state not necessary for Jewish rights, it is so unnecessary that many prominent Jewish thinkers have viewed it as actively harmful to Jews globally. For one thing, many religious Jewish thinkers have historically viewed the creation of a Jewish state of Israel as contradictory to divine will. Further, Zionism has encouraged the already too-prevalent perception of Jews as “alien” within whichever countries they inhabit. By painting Jews as not just an ethnic and religious minority group in any given country, but actually as foreign nationals of a separate Jewish state, Zionism reaffirms the antisemitic belief that Jews are natural outsiders and ought not to be treated as equal citizens of countries outside of Israel. And this argument has been utilized to actively perpetuate harm: There is a great deal of evidence that some Nazis adopted Zionism as a way to expel Jews from Germany.

Even accepting the flawed premise of a Jewish nation-state as necessary for the protection of Jews, it would still be a great leap to believe that support for Israel as it currently exists is required. For one thing, Israel was created on land that was already inhabited; Palestine housed nearly 2 million residents of varying ethnicities in 1947, the year before Israel as a nation was established by a United Nations partition. Even beyond its location, there are many things to criticize about the conduct of the nation. To wish for national self-determination for Jews does not mean support for displacement of Palestinians, disproportionate criminal punishment for Arab residents of Israel, or air strikes on Palestinian civilians. Like any nation, Israel is far from perfect. To label any criticism of a country’s policies and political stance as antisemitic is entirely unjustified.

Of course, concerns over the conduct of Israel the nation, as it exists today, are irrelevant to a form of Zionism that supports merely the theoretical existence of a Jewish state. But this raises a further concern with labeling anti-Zionism inherently antisemitic: What Zionism means is not always clear. There are, undoubtedly, forms of what could be called Zionism, the opposition to which would lead to warranted accusations of antisemitism. For example, if one views Zionism as the belief that Jewish individuals ought to be welcome in the land that is now Israel, and anti-Zionism as the belief that they ought not to be, then anti-Zionism is certainly antisemitic; nobody ought to be excluded from a region based on religion or ethnicity. But to use this truth against those who oppose Zionism under many of its other definitions would be clearly absurd. Nonetheless, that is often how it is used.

The association of an entire religion and ethnicity with a specific nation has tangible, real-world impacts. In 2021, antisemitic hate crimes in America rose by 34 percent from the previous year, a change which officials attribute partially to Israeli violence in Gaza. This is an example of anti-Zionism that is antisemitic, but it’s also illustrative of the way equating anti-Zionism and antisemitism in all cases harms Jews. If people did not view all Jews as somehow connected to or representative of Israel—a view that is only encouraged by the assertion that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are the same—hate crimes related to the actions of the Israeli state could be greatly reduced. 

Discussions of Israel are often going to be fraught. There’s no avoiding the many obstacles involved in having conversations around such a tense international situation, with so many interests on all sides vying for support. But such tension doesn’t need to be compounded by accusations of antisemitism where they don’t belong. Zionism as a political idea needs to be judged on its own merits and condemned for its own failings, and antisemitism needs to be taken seriously and actively combatted. And conflating the two related but separate concepts actively hinders both pursuits.


Annette Hasnas
Annette is a contributing editor for the Voice and a former child.


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