“Yes, It’s Anti-Semitism”

Jeff Jacoby in Boston Globe, cross-posted at Cross-Currents.

The claim that anti-Zionism isn’t bigotry would be preposterous in any other context. Imagine someone vehemently asserting that Ireland has no right to exist, that Irish nationalism is racism, and that those who murder Irishmen are actually victims deserving the world’s sympathy. Who would take his fulminations for anything but anti-Irish bigotry? Or believe him if he said that he harbors no prejudice against the Irish?

By the same token, those who demonize and delegitimize Israel, who say the world would be better off without it, who hold it to standards of perfection no other country is held to, who extol or commiserate with its mortal enemies, who liken it to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, who make it the scapegoat not only for crimes it hasn’t committed, but for those of which it is a victim — yes, such people are anti-Semitic, whether they acknowledge it or not.

Criticize Israel? Certainly. But those who so loudly denounce Israel in its war against Hamas are siding with some of the most virulent Jew-haters on earth. They may tell themselves that that doesn’t make them anti-Semites. But it does. “When people criticize Zionists,” Martin Luther King said in 1968, “they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.”

3 thoughts on ““Yes, It’s Anti-Semitism”

  1. Well, Zionism is a historical movement within Judaism, not Judaism itself, is it not? It was founded by the 19th century Austrian Jew Theodore Herzl, who, incidentally, before proposing Zionism, considered one solution to the Jewish Question was mass conversion to Catholicism. Interestingly, he rejected that idea because he himself believed in the social Darwinist racism of four “races”: Caucasian, Semitic, Negro, and Mongoloid. He rejected mass baptism because it wouldn’t reduce the “Semitic”-ness of Jews, even though they would become Christian. But that’s a side issue.

    The point is that Zionism has a historical origin in the very social Darwinism that created the fraud of racism in the first place, and its concurrence with the contemporary (and related) idea of the nation-state. Part of Herzl’s belief in the necessity of a specifically Jewish homeland was because they were a nation who deserved a land in the same way the Irish deserved a homeland, the Germans deserved one country, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire needed to be broken up.

    But this requires answering two questions: (1) Can Jewishness be considered in the same manner as Irishness; and (2) Is the nation-state actually the best solution for forming a governmental entity.

    In answer to (1), there is at least an argument to be made (one is free to reject it) that the fact that Jewishness is based on religion makes it a different case. One can be an Irish Jew or an Irish Christian and still consider oneself an Irishman, whose natural homeland is Ireland. There were plenty of Jews in Herzl’s time, and in our own, who considered themselves Englishmen, or French, or Americans, or Poles. FWIW, I know a Jew who does not believe Israel as a state is is homeland and doesn’t want it to be…he is quite happy being an American. It is not clear to me that Jewishness is the same as Irishness, Americanness, or any other nationality. It may be, you have to show why.

    In answer to (2), history knows of many examples in which the nation-state did not exist and yet the state operated just fine. Imperial Rome is one consideration. So is the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Outside Christianity, one can look to Mughal India. In these places a citizen, regardless of his nationality, was co-equal with any other citizen. The Mughals didn’t care if you were Muslim, Hindu, or Christian, they just considered you a subject (and treated you pretty well, I might add.)

    On the other hand, we have seen in the Balkans, in Kurdistan, and in modern India the problem of defining the boundaries of a nation-state, and the racism that occurs when nations are forcibly separated (consider the racist, anti-Serbian aspects of Croat nationalism). The nation-state ideal, which emerged in its full potential as a social Darwinist idea, has a lot of good qualities, but it carries a lot of unwanted baggage as well. It is not clear to me as well that “one nation per state, one state per nation” is the best way to foster harmony between the states. Perhaps it is, but at the very least, one must deal with the historical counterexamples of Alsace-Lorraine, the Balkans, Pakistan/India, and the unintended results of German nationalism.

    So, as a historical movement within Judaism, I think it is quite appropriate to evaluate and possibly criticize the theoretical underpinnings of Zionism. Zionism does not equate to Judaism. It does not speak for all Jews, nor all of Jewish theology. It is but one expression of Judaism, certainly the dominant one today.

    A query: If Europeans believed the Jews needed their own state, why wouldn’t Catholics need an independent state? Put another way, why do away with the Papal States? Is a justification for its removal reconcilable with the justification for a specifically Jewish nation?

    I would say, in conclusion, that Israel, as a historical entity over the past 60 years, deserves today just as much right to existence as any other state and should not be destroyed. It is a legitimate power. But that doesn’t mean the Palestinians don’t also deserve a state.

    Finally, happy New Year, and thanks for the congrats on my Facebook page! Annie and I are getting settled in quite well.

    • “Well, Zionism is a historical movement within Judaism, not Judaism itself, is it not?”

      How can you separate the two? God promised Israel land and descendants 4000 years before Herzl.

      “… the fact that Jewishness is based on religion makes it a different case.”

      How do you separate the faith from the people? God promised faithful Abraham descendants.

  2. “How can you separate the two? God promised Israel land and descendants 4000 years before Herzl.”

    Yes, but the Jews did not seem particularly desperate between 200 AD and 1800 AD to retake the Holy Land. And Herzl originally proposed southern Argentina and Uganda as possible locations for a Jewish nation before Israel. So perhaps the location was not so important to original Zionists.

    “How do you separate the faith from the people? God promised faithful Abraham descendants.”

    In the same way that “cultural” Jews do, I’m just cutting it the other way.

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