On Oct. 26, the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education passed a resolution condemning antisemitism, as it’s defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and as requested by every synagogue and mainstream Jewish organization in San Diego. Since then, Israel-haters in San Diego have been wringing their virtual hands over the audacity of a school district to define antisemitism the way most Jews define it (in a state that over the previous five years saw a 40 percent increase in antisemitic hate crimes, and in a country where Jews are the targets of60 percent of all faith-based hate crimes).
Recognizing they can’t simply say that they oppose such resolutions because Israel-haters want to exploit Jew-hatred in order to incite hatred against Israel (the world’s only Jewish state and home to nearly half of the world’s Jews), the Israel-haters wax apoplectic about how the IHRA definition “chills free speech” because it supposedly makes legitimate criticism of Israel antisemitic, is a tool for “weaponizing antisemitism,” and will somehow increase anti-Arab or anti-Muslim hatred.
I addressed why these claims are specious and themselves antisemitic in an an essay last month.
Likely because the IHRA definition in pertinent part provides it is antisemitic to deny “the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” we are seeing claims that being “anti-Zionist” is not antisemitic, as well as claims by Israel-haters actually comparing Zionism with racist colonialist ideologies like “Manifest Destiny” (which was used to justify America’s westward expansion and brutal conquest of Native Americans).
These claims are false and also incredibly insulting to the vast majority of Jews, who either are Israeli or feel a very strong attachment to Israel. Moreover, these claims get to the core of why the Arab-Israeli conflict persists, and why, despite at least eight different peace and partition offers since 1937(to create the first independent Arab state west of the Jordan River), no such offer has ever been accepted.
While the Israel-haters try to redefine Zionism to make it seem somehow equivalent to colonialist ideologies like Manifest Destiny, the truth is that the definition of Zionism is quite simple: Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people, like all other peoples, have a right to self-determination and sovereignty in part of their Indigenous homeland.
Not only is there nothing in the definition of Zionism that believes Jews are superior to any other people or race, the idea of Jews being Zionist and even willing to fight for their right to be sovereign in their homeland predates the phony European concept of race by over 1,500 years. We just finished celebrating Hanukkah. While many Americans may think Hanukkah is a Jewish version of Christmas, or just a fun, candle-lighting, jelly-donut-eating holiday, that would be incorrect. Not that Hanukkah isn’t fun (it is), but at its core, Hanukkah is a celebration of a successful Jewish revolt in the land of Israel and the reestablishment, after centuries of Greek colonial rule, of Jewish sovereignty and self-determination in “Zion” (another word in Hebrew for Jerusalem).
Nearly 300 years after the successful Jewish revolt against the Greek/Selucid Empire, the Jewish people’s Zionism led to other Jewish revolts against colonial rule, this time against the Romans. From those ultimately unsuccessful revolts, archeologists have found numerous Judean coins, including coins inscribed in ancient Hebrew with the words: “Freedom for Zion.” It is that longing for freedom in Zion, the 3,000-plus year history of the land of Israel’s centrality in the Jewish people’s faith, culture and consciousness, coupled with the sad reality that the Jewish people have been regularly subjected to deadly discrimination and oppression in almost every land in the Diaspora, which led to the 19th century political movement called Zionism. And when Israel gained its independence in 1948, Zionism became the world’s first successful Indigenous movement of a dispossessed and colonized people regaining sovereignty in their Indigenous homeland.
Like many Indigenous peoples throughout the world, Jews were consistent victims of European oppression and violence for centuries, precisely because they were perceived as not being a part of the “superior” European world — beginning with the Greek colonialization and attempted Hellenization of the land of Israel and continuing through World War II — when over 6 million Jews were murdered. Throughout this time period, the Jewish people’s dream of freedom in Zion and for sovereignty in the land of Israel (what the Romans called “Palestina”) never waned. It is why at every Passover seder, and in countless other prayers, the Jewish people have regularly prayed and sang in Hebrew about their longing for a return to Zion.
It is this context that makes the arguments of the “I am only anti-Zionist” antisemites so clearly hollow. As Zionism simply stands for the proposition that the Jewish people have a right to sovereignty in part of their Indigenous and historical homeland, saying you are anti-Zionist, but not anti-Jewish, is the equivalent of saying you are not anti-Maori, but “only” want to deny the Maori any sovereignty in their Indigenous lands, or that you are not anti-Algonquin, Mississaugas, Odawa, Oji-Cree, Ojibwe, or Potawatomi, you “just” hate the Anishinaabe movement for a sovereign Native American state called Anishinaabaki.
As for those dishonestly comparing Zionism with “Manifest Destiny,” or other supremacist forms of colonialism, it bears noting that when the descendants of the English, French and Spanish conquered and colonized North America, they never discovered a single archeological finding written in ancient English, French or Spanish; but archeological artifacts written in Hebrew and referring to Jewish kings, Jewish prayers (that Jews still say to this day) and even to ancient vitners in the land of Israel are ubiquitous.
What the “I am only anti-Zionist” antisemites also ignore (or more aptly seek to deflect attention from) is how closely anti-Zionist tropes track antisemitic tropes, which for centuries were used to incite discrimination and violence against Jews.
The 19th-century antisemite demonized Jews, among all peoples on Earth, as the primary cause of the world’s problems. Anti-Zionists demonize Israel, the Jew among the nations, as the primary cause of the world’s problems. For the 19th-century antisemite, Jews were bloodthirsty baby killers. Anti-Zionists routinely demonize the one Jewish state as a bloodthirsty baby killer. The 19th-century antisemite demonized Jews as being nefariously in control of banks, the media and governments. Anti-Zionists regularly demonize Israel or Zionists as controlling the banks, media and foreign governments. The parallels are clear.
But the most antisemitic aspect of the anti-Zionist creed has to be the ubiquitous attempts to erase Jewish history and to tar Zionism as a colonialist endeavor. George Orwell famously said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
That erasure is at the core of anti-Zionism. It is also at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Because ultimately, the anti-Zionist’s claims about colonialism are what psychologists refer to as projection. In the seventh and eighth centuries, Arab armies from the Arabian Peninsula conquered and colonized all of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Since then, their descendants, just like the descendants of Europeans in all of the lands conquered by Europeans, have generally resisted all Indigenous rights and independence movements. It is why over the past millennia, there has never been an independent state for the Kurds, Amazigh, Copts, or any other Indigenous people in the MENA (other than the Jewish people).
Antisemitism is the oldest form of bigotry. For over 2,000 years. it has led to countless expulsions and murders of Jews. Today, it includes anti-Zionism, a hatred of Jewish sovereignty and of the ability of Jews to defend themselves in their own state. Many want to paint this hatred as somehow being progressive, when the core motivation behind this hatred is a regressive desire to destroy the one successful Indigenous rights movement in the MENA, and to once again make Jews stateless and defenseless. No one should allow themselves to be taken in by such counterfactual duplicity.
Above is the coin referenced in the article which is inscribed with “freedom for Zion”.
Question for discussion: Many progressives think that Israel is a colonialist project. How does this view square with the fact that Jews are indigenous to the land now called Israel?