This article was last modified on November 4, 2006.

On Zionism and Anti-Semitism

In the October 18, 2006 edition of The Post-Crescent, Appleton resident Bernard Green wrote the following letter:

When criticism is grounded in prejudice and propelled by hatred of Israel, it is reprehensible. When it also masquerades as honorable intent towards Jews, such hypocrisy must be exposed. Robert Nordlander, in his Oct. 7 letter, admits he has written numerous letters critical of Zionism, but never against Judaism. This is like saying, “I’m not anti-American, I simply believe the United States should cease to exist.” Zionism is the Jewish independence movement that has profound religious roots. Its purpose has been for 2,000 years to restore Zion, ancient land of Israel, to the Jewish people. Criticism of Israeli policies is fine if applied in the same manner as one would condemn the policies of any other country. For about 20 years, Nordlander has directed his bias, bigotry and inflammatory criticism against Israel, but never, for example, against the Arabs. Such criticisms are disproportional and reflect a double standard, as Dr. Jacobs (It’s Your Call, Sept. 18) points out. Well-meaning criticism of Israel does not constitute anti-Semitism and can be a legitimate expression of reasoned views. However, “political” criticism often constitutes a cover for Jew-hatred, with Israel repeatedly being targeted. Anti-Semitism can be exposed when Israel is judged differently from other states. As Professor Yehuda Bauer asserts, “If you deny Israel the right to do what other states may legitimately do, or if you deny the Jews a right to a state like other people have, then this is anti-Semitism.” Such denial implies that the Jewish people should be deprived of their country and of vital channels for social, economic and cultural development. When approached by a student who attacked Zionism, Martin Luther King responded, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism” (Seymour Lipset, December, 1969). This is true all too often.

There are numerous problems with Green’s argument, which we will use as an example of pro-Zionist arguments in general.

Appeal to Authority

One logical fallacy is Green’s appeal to authority, who in this case is Martin Luther King, Jr. King’s words, incidentally, are quite possibly completely made up (though not by Green). A thorough examination of the quotation cited and the alleged sources of such a quotation reveal that its existence is highly dubious, to say the least.

But the greater issue is that the opinion of an authority does not make something true. Assuming King is an expert on Zionism and Israel (which seems unlikely, but let us assume for the sake of argument) he would still only be presenting an opinion. He is not sharing an observation or explaining some research he has done. In this quotation, King is interpreting “anti-Zionism”, an interpretation that is easily discounted by the actual definitions of the term.

Defining Our Terms

Any argument should involve a definition of terms, because one of the greatest causes of debates is the misuse of a term to fit the needs of one position. In this example, Green makes it clear he thinks that Zionism is simply the right of Israel to have their own state. While anti-Zionists may have argued against the creation of Israel in the 1940s, arguing the case after the fact is pointless and no respected person would attempt this. This is not what anti-Zionists mean when they say “Zionism”.

Starting with the basics, let us be clear what it means to be Jewish. Someone who is a “Jew” is a member of a specially designated group, either of a particular religion (Judaism) or a particular ethnic group. A person can be one or the other, both or neither. An anti-Semite is someone who is opposed to either the Jewish faith or the Jewish bloodline (or both).

The concept of “Zionism” is a political belief, which can be held by both Jews and non-Jews. Not all Jews believe in Zionism (as evidenced by such outspoken critics as Noam Chomsky). Zionism can be summed up as the idea that the Jewish people have a right to certain land in the Middle East. This land includes the current state of Israel, as well as certain surrounding areas that are in dispute and which are currently held by the Palestinian people. Someone who is anti-Zionist does not believe the Jewish people have a right to the land, particularly if acquisition of the land involves military action and the relocation of Palestinians.

Lastly, the country in the Middle East of importance here is “Israel”. The land that defines Israel was made official in 1948. Not everyone in Israel is a Jew (though many are) and not everyone in Israel believes in expanding the borders of Israel. Someone who is anti-Israel dislikes the country of Israel or perhaps their policies or people.

The important thing to notice here is that Jews, Israel and Zionism are three very different terms (though they often overlap). A person can be in favor of or opposed to any number of these things in any combination. To lump two of them together (as Green does with Jews and Zionism) creates some very false arguments.

Opposition to Zionism

As stated, one can be opposed to Zionism and not be opposed to Israel as a state. Many people think anti-Zionists want Israel to be “wiped from the map” or “wiped from history”, but this is a very absurd assertion.

If America anounced that the lands of Canada ought to be theirs (not unlike in the War of 1812) and people stood up and said that Canada belongs to the Canadians, they mean simply that: America ought to leave Canada alone. No one is suggesting that because America should not invade Canada that America must also be destroyed.

Zionism is a political belief and like all political beliefs will have two or more sides that ought to be discussed and debated. Raising questions about particular political positions or specific politicians is not in any way a condemnation of the country as a whole, and if anything actually strengthens a country’s democracy.

At the time of this writing, there are many vocal critics of President George W. Bush. Sometimes these critics are said to be “anti-American” or that they should “move to France”. But the same people who are against these critics were often the people criticizing President Bill Clinton ten years ago. Neither the Clinton critics or the Bush critics “hate America”, they are simply raising their voices as America’s freedom of speech entitles them to do. Why must we assume those who speak against Zionism or the leadership in Israel are against the people of the state or the country as a whole?

The Blend of Politics and Religion

Zionism is a political belief that is rich with religious background and significance. Both the Jews and Christians who support Zionism often base their support upon what they see as a divine intention to give the land of Palestine to the Jews. But, again, a person can be opposed to a political doctrine without opposing the religion of those people who support it.

Opposition to Zionism is based on a dislike of the political consequences, not the religious roots it stems from. There is nothing religious about opposing the killing of Palestinian civilians or the removal of them to a new place. Destroying lives and homes is an ethical violation, and quite possibly violates international law.

An American counterpart can be seen in some Christians’ desire to have the Ten Commandments on display in courtrooms or other public buildings. This political viewpoint quite obviously has roots in the faith of the supporters. But disagreeing with this viewpoint does not make the dissenter anti-Christian.

Those who push for the separation of church and state are not exclusively atheists (though atheists occasionally are included in this group). Many of the politicians and judges who feel religion should not be present on public land are very firm believers in God and Christ. In fact, some would make the argument that religion is strengthened by the separation — God is, for many Christians, a very personal deity.

Is Anti-Zionism Pro-Terrorism?

Some critics of anti-Zionists accuse the latter not only of speaking against Israel, but being in favor of the Arab terrorists. This argument is similar but different than the one above where opposing Israeli military force is equated with wanting Israel’s destruction. In this case, specific destructors of Israel – Arab terrorists – are singled out.

As a critic of Zionism, I do not favor Israel or any Arab country arbitrarily. I feel that Israeli military action is often unwarranted, just as Arab terrorist actions are generally unwarranted. I would not support either one. I speak against Zionism rather than against terrorism because of what I call “the whisper on the scream”: my voice against terrorism would be unheard among the majority, whereas the voice against Israel is much less heard and needs help.

The news is quick to condemn suicide bombers but often gives a fair pass to the Israeli military. While I do not support either one, I often wonder: why is one acceptable and the other reprehensible? If violence is brought against civilian targets, the results are the same: innocents are killed. Whether the source is from a “terrorist” or a “soldier” makes no difference to me.

If Israel acted completely within the law, I would have no objections. I fully respect their sovereign rights. What I do not respect are their hawkish demands for rights and land they have no claim to.

The Failed Logic Behind Zionism

Quite simply, the logic behind Zionism fails. Perhaps the land of Israel was owned by the Jews 2000 years ago and was wrongfully stolen from them by the Romans. This does not give the Jews a right to steal the land back, regardless of Biblical support.

Would we accept that American Indians have the right to overthrow Washington and send millions of Americans to resettle in Canada for something from 500 years ago? Or perhaps the Celts can behead Tony Blair and Prince Charles and reclaim their long-lost England? If these ideas sound absurd to you, they should. And so should Israel’s claim to Palestinian land.

What was given to them legally by the British (who, in turn, probably acquired the land through violent means) is now theirs. To fight for anything else is illegal, immoral, absurd and should not have American public support.

Also try another article under Political, Religious
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

One Response to “On Zionism and Anti-Semitism”

  1. Sethums Says:

    You support both suicide bombings and Israeli military action? Or is that a typo? “The news is quick to condemn suicide bombers but often gives a fair pass to the Israeli military. While I do support either one,.. “

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