When does anti-Zionism become anti-Semitism:Address to NCJW
by Philip Mendes
Thursday June 2, 2011
The question as to whether Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism are one and the same thing inevitably correlates with attitudes to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Those who lean towards the "Greater Israel" end of the spectrum are more likely to answer yes, whilst those who favor the "Greater Palestine" solution are more likely to answer no. As a long-time supporter of Israel but also of two states for two peoples, I sit close to the middle of these two spectrums, and hence my response to the question is necessarily a complex one. That is yes and no.
Historically, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism were two separate ideologies. Anti-Semitism is a racist prejudice that exists independently of any objective reality. It is not about what Jews actually say or do, but rather about what anti-Semites falsely and malevolently attribute to them. As reflected in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, it is a subjective stereotyping based on notions of collective Jewish guilt.
In contrast, anti-Zionism (particularly prior to the creation of the State of Israel) was based on a relatively objective assessment of the prospects of success for some Jews in Israel/Palestine. Opposition came from both Jews and the international Left.
However, in recent decades anti-Zionist fundamentalism and anti-Semitism have increasingly converged. Of course, left-wing attacks on Zionism and Israel incorporating anti-Jewish prejudice are different to the traditional anti-Semitism of the far Right. They constitute a form of political, rather than racial anti-Semitism. And most of their key proponents deny being anti-Semites. Nevertheless, this group arguably create an anti-Jewish discourse and the potential for an openly anti-Semitic movement by demonizing all Israeli Jews and all Jewish supporters of Israel as the political enemy.
Three Left positions on Zionism and Israel
Historically, the Australian Left has incorporated a wide spectrum of views on Zionism and Israel ranging from unequivocal support for Israel to even-handedness to hardline support for Palestinian positions. Today, there are arguably three principal Left positions on Zionism and Israel.
One perspective, which can broadly be called pro-Israel, is balanced in terms of favouring a two-state solution, and supporting moderates and condemning extremists and violence on both sides. This is a minority position, but is held by a number of centre-left leaders such as the current Australian Labor Party Prime Minister Julia Gillard and most of her key Ministers, the former British New Labour leader Tony Blair and other prominent New Labour figures, and the former German Greens leader and Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer. It is also supported by a number of social democratic members of parliament in western countries who have formed Friends of Israel groupings, and some social democratic intellectuals and trade union leaders.
Other supporters of this perspective include trade unionists around the world represented by the Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP) group, country-specific trade union friends of Israel groups, Left Zionist groups aligned with the Israeli peace movement such as Meretz USA and Ameinu, and the Engage group in the UK which consists of Jewish and non-Jewish academics opposed to proposals for academic boycotts of Israel. In addition, there are a number of small radical pro-Israel groups including the Workers' Liberty group in the UK, and the heterogeneous group of German intellectuals involved in the Anti German Movement.
A second perspective endorses a two-state solution in principle, but in practice holds Israel principally or even solely responsible for the continuing violence and terror in the Middle East. This position, which probably represents the majority of the western Left, is held by many social democrats, Greens and trade unions, and also by some Jews represented in groups such as the Tikkun community in the USA and the Australian Jewish Democratic Society.
This perspective holds that an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is the key prerequisite for Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation. In general, adherents of this view recognize that not all Israelis are the same, and understand the difference between particular Israeli government policies and the Israeli people per se. Many favour alliances with Israeli Left and peace groups who hold similar viewpoints.
Some components of this second perspective may reasonably be characterized as unbalanced and naïve at best, and as failing to offer a corresponding critical analysis of contemporary and historical Palestinian actions and strategies which have acted as serious barriers to peace. Little reference is made, for example, to the Palestinian rejection of Israeli offers of statehood at Camp David and Taba in 2000/2001, the violence of the Second Intifada directed at mainly Israeli civilians, the 2005 election victory of the extremist fundamentalist group Hamas, and the universal Palestinian demand for the return of 1948 refugees and their descendants to Green Line Israel, rather than the Palestinian Territories. A number of advocates of this view refuse to tolerate viewpoints which defend any Israeli actions, or criticize any Palestinian deeds.
Nevertheless, the rights and wrongs of Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories are legitimately subject to a robust international debate. This debate also takes place within the democratic structures of Israel itself. And many of the concerns about either the efficacy or morality of Israeli actions are shared by a significant minority of Israelis and Diaspora Jews.
The third Left perspective I have called anti-Zionist fundamentalism because it is akin to religious fundamentalism. This view, which is held mainly but no longer exclusively by far Left groups, regards Israel as a racist and colonialist state which has no right to exist. Adherents hold to a viewpoint opposing Israel's existence specifically and Jewish national rights more broadly which is beyond rational debate, and unconnected to contemporary or historical reality. Suicide bombings and other forms of violence directed specifically against Israeli civilians are viewed as legitimate strategies for eliminating the Jewish state.
This form of anti-Zionism is substantively different to the earlier pre-1948 Left tradition of anti-Zionism. That tradition opposed Zionism as a political movement on theoretical grounds. In contrast, anti-Zionist fundamentalists today wish to eliminate the actual existing nation state of Israel. Israelis and their Jewish supporters are depicted as inherently evil oppressors by the simple process of denying the historical link between the Jewish experience of oppression in both Europe and the Middle East and the creation of Israel. Conversely, Palestinians are depicted as intrinsically innocent victims. In place of the fundamental and objective centrality of the State of Israel to contemporary Jewish identity, anti-Zionist fundamentalists portray Israel as a mere political construct, and utilize ethnic stereotyping of all Israelis and all Jewish supporters of Israel whatever their political views in order to justify their claims.
The purpose of negating the reality of Israel's existence is to overcome the ideological barrier posed by the Left's historical opposition to racism. Any objective analysis of the Middle East would have to accept that Israel could only be destroyed by a war of partial or total genocide which would inevitably produce millions of Israeli Jewish refugees, and have a catastrophically traumatic effect on almost all Jews outside Israel. But advocacy of genocide means endorsing the most virulent form of racism imaginable. So instead anti-Zionist fundamentalists construct a subjective fantasy world in which Israel is detached from its specifically Jewish roots, and then miraculously destroyed by remote control free of any violence or bloodshed under the banner of anti-racism.
Anti-Zionism converges into Anti-Semitism
This fundamentalist discourse is reflected in a number of manifestations of contemporary anti-Zionist rhetoric.
Firstly, there is a pathological and obsessive hatred and demonization of Israel unrelated to the actual actions and reality of that State. These include claims that Israel is the world's worst human rights abuser, or that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians. For these critics, Israel becomes a uniquely evil symbol of international imperialism.
Some of this critique seems to be based on the discriminatory notion that because Jews experienced the Holocaust, they have a moral obligation to behave better than any other people. Yet no such obligation is imposed on other historically oppressed groups. Conversely, examples of Palestinian extremism such as suicide bombings and calls for the military elimination of Israel are either denied, or alternatively approved as a rational response to Israeli policies.
Secondly, there are proposals for academic and other boycotts of Israel based on the ethnic stereotyping of all Israelis. The aim of such caricatures is to impose pariah status on the whole Israeli nation. These proposals single out Israelis in that no such boycotts are proposed against other countries or nations involved in territorial expansion or human rights abuses. These campaigns have resulted in a number of examples of discrimination against Israeli scholars and researchers in British academic institutions.
Thirdly, there is the extension of the denunciation of all Jewish Israelis to all Jews - Zionist or otherwise - who are supportive of Israel's existence. These Jews are collectively denounced via group libel as accomplices of racism and genocide whatever their actual ideological and political position on solutions to the conflict.
For example, John Docker, one of the key Australian proponents of an academic boycott of Israel, has attacked all Jews who support Israel.
According to Docker,
The Australian Jewish community lies in moral ruins. Australian Jewish leaders and intellectuals have disgraced themselves, have engaged in written and verbal abuse, misrepresentation, insult and slander, and have lost their honour and dignity due to their implicit support...for the past and continuing genocidal assault on the indigenous peoples of Palestine.
Another Australian academic Ned Curthoys argues that left-wing Jews who defend Israel's right to exist should effectively be excluded from progressive political discourse. A Canadian academic Michael Neumann is even harsher, accusing Jews of "complicity in Israeli crimes against humanity" no different to the complicity of Germans in Nazi war crimes. And Bongani Masuku, International Relations Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), has declared that Jews who support Israel are not welcome in South Africa, and should be coerced to leave. He also called on COSATU's members to boycott Jewish-owned businesses.
This collective labelling of all Jewish supporters of Israel as evil inspired a number of UK student unions in the 1970s and 80s to disaffiliate Jewish student societies on the prejudiced grounds that they were Zionist and hence allegedly racist. Similarly, the 2001 United Nations anti-racist conference in Durban was blighted by a hysterical anti-Semitic campaign involving the public vilification, intimidation and harassment of Jews by numerous non-governmental organisations.
And small sections of the German new Left translated their anti-Zionist beliefs into action via violent attacks on Jews. One example was the November 1969 bombing of the Jewish Community Centre in West Berlin during a Kristallnacht commemoration ceremony. The second example was the participation of two West German revolutionaries in the 1976 Entebbe terrorist attack on an Air France plane flying from Tel Aviv to Paris which involved the segregation of the Jews (not just Israelis) from all the other passengers to keep them as hostages.
Fourthly, there are stereotypical descriptions of Jewish behaviour, and attacks on alleged Jewish global power, wealth and influence. Conspiracy theorists accuse Jews of controlling western governments, finance and the media; planning the 9/11 attacks; and responsibility for the US-led war in Iraq.
For example, during the Australian controversy over the awarding of the Sydney University peace prize to Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi, a number of commentators accused the Jewish community of exerting undue financial and political influence. In the UK, the prominent weekly magazine New Statesman published in January 2002 a front cover depicting a golden star of David piercing a union flag. The cover and an accompanying article titled "a kosher conspiracy" implied that a rich and powerful Jewish lobby was unduly influencing media coverage of Israeli-Palestinian issues. And Perry Anderson, the editor of New Left Review, claimed that powerful Jews used their disproportionate influence in business, media and government to control American policies towards Israel.
Finally, deliberate attempts are made to diminish and trivialize the extent of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust by comparing Jews with Nazis. For example, numerous critics have equated the Star of David with the swastika, former Prime Minister Sharon with Hitler, claimed that the Israeli army is the equivalent of the Nazi SS, and argued that the 2009 Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip was reminiscent of the Nazi assault on the Warsaw Ghetto. These analogies do not appear to be used in regards to any other international conflicts, and seem to be motivated solely by a desire to offend and hurt Jews.
According to Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland:
If anti-Zionists wonder why Jews find this anti-Semitic, perhaps they should imagine the Black reaction if the civil rights movement - or any other vehicle of Black liberation - was constantly equated with the white slave traders of old. It feels like a deliberate attempt to find a people's rawest spot - and tear away at it. To put it at its most basic: Jews are being compared with those who murdered our families.
The UK-based Australian journalist John Pilger has regularly used this analogy, arguing, for example, that an Israeli attack on Gaza constitutes a "final solution to the problem of the Palestinians" similar to the "Nazi strangulation of the Warsaw ghetto". In a further article published in 2009, he included eight separate equations of Israel's actions in Gaza with the Nazi Holocaust.
The convergence of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism was particularly apparent during the recent debate over the attempted introduction of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) policy by Marrickville Council. Three particular developments are worth noting:
BDS proponents are dishonest
Firstly, many key anti-Zionist fundamentalists disingenuously deny being anti-Israel, and in some cases, even claim to be pro-peace.
For example, Marrickville Council mayor Fiona Byrne, denied in The Drum 13 January that her BDS proposal was an anti-Israel resolution, or in any way implied support for the abolition of Israel.
Elsewhere, she claimed to support a peaceful solution, two states or otherwise. Which means she is not sure whether she supports a peaceful two-state solution, or a genocidal war to destroy Israel.
Lee Rhiannon, the national Greens Senator, also denied on Sky News on 14 April that the BDS campaign was anti-Israel.
Similarly, Mommar Mashni, a representative of the Australians for Palestine lobby group, stated in The Australian on both 16 and 19 April, that the BDS campaign was a peaceful movement dedicated to a two-state solution.
Associate Professor Jake Lynch, a self-described peace researcher and Director of the University of Sydney Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, opined in crikey.com that a BDS would be more successful than the various failed international peace initiatives in promoting a viable two-state solution.
And Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees from the University of Sydney also asserted that the BDS would be successful in ending decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The problem with this analysis is that the leading Palestinian proponents of BDS do not seek an end to the occupation to facilitate a peaceful two-state solution, but rather the demonization of all Israeli Jews and the delegitimization of Israel. The key statement distributed by the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel in July 2004 is crystal clear that the first and foremost priority is to reverse the events of 1948 that lead to the Palestinian refugee tragedy, whereas ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 is only identified as a secondary task.
A recent clarification by Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the global BDS movement in New Matilda 2 May 2011, is even blunter. He claims that the BDS movement has no position on a one or two-state solution. It neither formally supports the existence of Israel, or formally supports its destruction by military or demographic means. But he then admits that his own position favours the abolition of Israel and its replacement by an Arab State of Greater Palestine. For Barghouti, the national rights of the Palestinians take absolute precedence over the rights of what he calls euphemistically the "other inhabitants of the land". So much for the two-state solution.
BDS proponents malevolently exploit the willingness of self-denying Jews to vilify their own people
The BDS campaign has tapped into the long history of radical Left anti-Semitism whereby a small number of unrepresentative token Jews (some would call them "Uncle Toms" but I prefer the term "self-denying" Jews since they deny any feeling of solidarity with other Jews who are oppressed or attacked) are opportunistically encouraged to exploit their own religious and cultural origins in order to vilify their own people. This happened in 1929 when American Jewish Communists were obliged to defend the anti-Jewish pogroms in Palestine. It happened again in 1952/53 when Jewish Communists were rolled out to endorse Stalin's anti-Semitic Slansky show trial and Doctors Plot. It has happened many times since 1967 when left-wing Jews are pressured to publicly conform to the anti-Zionist fundamentalism of the far Left.
The radical Left would never employ such techniques against other historically oppressed groups. They would not publish the views of Indigenous Australians who completely oppose land rights, or demand that a feminist journal publish the views of women who totally oppose abortion. They would certainly not publicize the views of Palestinians or Arabs who support Zionism.
But during the BDS debate this offensive and ridiculous misrepresentation of Jewish views was prominent. For example, Lee Rhiannon claimed that "many Jewish communities support this work". In fact, no Jewish communities support the BDS. Rhiannon was referring to a handful of Jewish individuals and tiny Jewish organizations on the far Left. The Jewish community group in Marrickville, the Inner West Jewish Community and Friends Peace Alliance which is left-oriented and strongly supportive of a two-state solution, devoted considerable time and resources to opposing the Marrickville BDS proposal.
Similarly, Fiona Byrne proudly cited support from the NSW Jews against the Occupation group which has about 10 members, and also claimed support from "a growing number of Jews from all over the world". Stuart Rees argued on 2 April that the BDS campaign was encouraged by "many Israeli citizens" (maybe a dozen), and Samah Sabawi argued on the Australians for Palestine website that the BDS campaign has been supported by "a growing number of Diaspora Jews and Israelis".
In fact, the only prominent Jewish supporter of BDS is Antony Loewenstein, the same self-denying Jew who uses the term "Zionist" as a form of abuse, and who has called for a public inquiry into the alleged power and influence of the Jewish lobby in Australia.
The increasing capture of academic and media journals and institutions by the powerful pro-Palestinian lobby
This lobby now controls the Middle East policy of journals such as Overland, Arena, New Matilda (better known as New Palestine) and Crikey.Com, the Sydney University Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, the NSW Greens, and a number of trade unions such as the NSW Teachers Federation which support BDS.
These organizations fanatically exclude alternative left-wing Jewish views defending Israel's existence. Most of them have their own self-denying "Court" Jews that toe the party line. Overland use Michael Brull and Antony Loewenstein, Arena use Les Rosenblatt, CPACS use Loewenstein and John Docker, and New Matilda and Crikey.Com both use Loewenstein.
Thank you Philip Mendes for a most lucid analysis to the National Quadrennial Conference of NCJWA in Melbourne this week. My sole consolation re the fundamentalist Far Left is that probably a greater number of fundamentalists of the Far R, for various reasons of their own, prefer the Jewish State to the Islamic ones. In addition, the number of ordinary citizens in the middle who are not high-profile, perhaps the silent majority, are no friends of the Arab States and are inimical to Islamic Sharia laws in those countries,- whether they like Jews or not. In addition,- another thing in favour of the Jewish State is that no Australians or Americans need to go and fight there, nor get killed to protect the Jews as they supposedly are trying to do the Moslems in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Lybia. The do-gooders of the Left who try to help the Hamas in Gaza or Fatah in the WBank, supposedly on humanitarian grounds,- these are the true anti-Semites or the Arabs" and Palestinians" "useful idiots" from the naive West!
Posted by MM on 2011-06-03 14:21:56 GMT