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October 23, 2019 11:36 am

Why Anti-Zionism Is Worse Than Antisemitism

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Opinion

New immigrants experience their first High Holidays in Jerusalem as official residents of Israel, Oct. 6, 2019. Photo: The Jewish Agency for Israel.

There is currently a noisy and often bitter debate over the issue of anti-Zionism and antisemitism. The vast majority of the Jewish community, which remains resolutely Zionist despite rumors to the contrary, sees anti-Zionism as either a mask for traditional antisemitism or inherently antisemitic in and of itself, as it denies to the Jews the right to self-determination granted to every other people, and proposes the destruction of an existing Jewish nation.

Anti-Zionists of one stripe or another counter-claim that they are simply defending the rights of the Palestinian Arabs, who have been done a grave injustice, or that they are merely criticizing current Israeli policies, whose detrimental nature is an inherent expression of Zionism’s immorality. Invoking all the current names for evil that still exist in an irreligious age, they hold that Zionism is racist, colonialist, oppressive and inimical to the revered gods of human rights.

What cannot be denied is that, to a great extent, anti-Zionism has become an ideology of hate. To the extent that it demonizes Israel using classic antisemitic themes and stereotypes, and that it openly employs intimidation and violence against Jews, it is without doubt objectively antisemitic. The question, then, is whether it is also subjectively antisemitic — that is, whether it is inherently, in and of itself, antisemitic.

In this context, it seems worthwhile to examine what may not be anti-Zionism’s primary document, but what is perhaps its most potent and politically successful expression: the Palestinian National Charter. Adopted in 1964, the charter amounts to the founding document of Palestinian national ideology and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the most militant anti-Zionist group short of Hamas that has ever existed.

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The Palestinian National Charter has never been officially abrogated, and there is no question that the vast majority of Palestinians and their supporters, and indeed anti-Zionists worldwide, continue to hold to its ostensible principles.

Most of the charter deals with the nature of the nascent Palestinian national identity and its political expression, as well as specific grievances against the official Zionist movement and the State of Israel. Only a few times does it actually refer to the Jews themselves outside of a political context. Its most explicit — and, it must be said, convenient — claim regarding the Jews is “Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.”

Putting aside the question of antisemitism, it is worth asking what the nature of this claim means in and of itself. What, in other words, is it actually saying about the Jews?

The answer is quite apparent: The Jews are not a people, and therefore have no national rights whatsoever. And it is safe to say that the overwhelming majority of anti-Zionists around the world agree with this.

Leave aside the most essential problem with this, which is that it seeks to define the essence of being Jewish — and, being an Arab document, abrogates to non-Jews the right to do so, and to impose this definition upon us, as is codified in another clause: “The Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians.” Even without this, it is quite clear that it is a remarkable statement, because placed in the context of gentile views of the Jews, antisemitic or otherwise, it is quite unprecedented.

This is because, throughout the long history of philo- and antisemitism, non-Jews never claimed that the Jews were not a people. Christianity and Islam never much loved the Jews, but always acknowledged that they constituted a nation. In the modern era, an official of the French revolutionaries once famously said, “For the Jews as a people, nothing; for the Jew as a citizen, everything” — something that could not possibly have been said if the Jews had not been a people in the first place.

The very foundation of anti-Zionism, however, is the claim that the Jews are not a people. Where traditional antisemitism held that the Jews should not exist, anti-Zionism holds that the Jews do not exist. Neither Haman nor Hitler ever went so far. If antisemitism has an essence, it is that it, in one form or another, negates the Jews — but nowhere is this negation taken further than in anti-Zionism.

That may well be why, if nothing else, anti-Zionism shares with antisemitism the same outcome of its terrible logic: genocide. It is a short leap from saying the Jews do not exist to doing what is necessary to prove yourself right. And indeed, anti-Zionism’s Achilles’ heel has always been the paradoxical question: if the Jews do not exist, what should be done with them?

Palestinian anti-Zionists and their supporters essentially propose an apartheid solution: the Jews should be made second-class members of the human race, doomed to perpetual wandering, weakness, and deracination — their non-existence confirmed by the imposition of arbitrary alien identities. The endgame of this, one imagines, is obvious: disappearance.

Other forms of anti-Zionism have gone much further. As George Orwell once pointed out, during World War II, Gandhi believed that the Jews should commit mass suicide in order to show the world how horrible Hitler was. The implications of this might outdo even Auschwitz, since it would involve the Jews not merely being eliminated, but also having to do it themselves. And this is, more or less, precisely what today’s anti-Zionists are demanding of Israel.

In the face of this, however, there is at least some hope, as it is clear that anti-Zionism, like antisemitism, is fundamentally absurd: The Jews are a people, we have the right to define our own identity, we have the right to claim those rights inherent in that identity, and we are not obligated to annihilate ourselves because of the abstract constructions of non-Jews. And we can hold uncompromisingly that any human being, Jewish or gentile, is bound by morality to reject any such construction.

The Jews are one of the world’s smallest minorities; therefore, the world has certain moral responsibilities and obligations towards us. First and foremost ought to be the simple elemental recognition and respect — the radical admission that we do exist, which anti-Zionism, as much as if not more than antisemitism, seeks to erase.

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