[Marxism] Anti-Zionism Isn’t the Same as Anti-Semitism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 8 09:54:36 MST 2018

NY Times Op-Ed, Dec. 8, 2018
Anti-Zionism Isn’t the Same as Anti-Semitism
By Michelle Goldberg

Rashida Tlaib, an incoming Democratic House member from Michigan. She 
and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota have said they support efforts to pressure 
Israel economically.CreditCreditCarolyn Kaster/Associated Press
On Monday, in an interview with The Intercept, Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan 
Democrat who in November became the first Palestinian-American elected 
to Congress, went public with her support for the Boycott, Divestment 
and Sanctions movement, which seeks to use economic pressure on Israel 
to secure Palestinian rights. That made her the second incoming member 
of Congress to publicly back B.D.S., after Minnesota Democrat Ilhan 
Omar, who revealed her support last month.

No current member of Congress supports B.D.S., a movement that is deeply 
taboo in American politics for several reasons. Opponents argue that 
singling out Israel for economic punishment is unfair and 
discriminatory, since the country is far from the world’s worst violator 
of human rights. Further, the movement calls for the right of 
Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants to return to 
Israel, which could end Israel as a majority-Jewish state. (Many B.D.S. 
supporters champion a single, binational state for both peoples.) 
Naturally, conservatives in the United States — though not only 
conservatives — have denounced Tlaib and Omar’s stance as anti-Semitic.

It is not. The conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is a bit of 
rhetorical sleight-of-hand that depends on treating Israel as the 
embodiment of the Jewish people everywhere. Certainly, some criticism of 
Israel is anti-Semitic, but it’s entirely possible to oppose Jewish 
ethno-nationalism without being a bigot. Indeed, it’s increasingly 
absurd to treat the Israeli state as a stand-in for Jews writ large, 
given the way the current Israeli government has aligned itself with 
far-right European movements that have anti-Semitic roots.

The interests of the State of Israel and of Jews in the diaspora may at 
times coincide, but they’ve never been identical. Right-wing 
anti-Semites have sometimes supported Zionism because they don’t want 
Jews in their own countries — a notable example is the Polish government 
in the 1930s.

Conversely, there’s a long history of Jewish anti-Zionism or 
non-Zionism, both secular and religious. In 1950 Jacob Blaustein, the 
president of the American Jewish Committee, one of the country’s most 
important Jewish organizations, reached an agreement with Israel’s prime 
minister, David Ben-Gurion, in which Ben-Gurion essentially promised not 
to claim to speak for American Jews. “Jews of the United States, as a 
community and as individuals, have no political attachment to Israel,” 
said Blaustein at the time.

Decades later, such a statement from the committee — or any major, 
mainstream Jewish organization — would be unthinkable. A consensus set 
in “that Jewish identity can be reduced to Israelism,” Eliyahu Stern, an 
associate professor of modern Jewish history at Yale, told me. “That’s 
something that takes place over the second half of the 20th century in 

The centrality of Israel to American Jewish identity has at times put 
liberal American Jews in an awkward position, defending multiethnic 
pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as 
unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority. (American white 
nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke 
at this contradiction.)

Until fairly recently, it was easy enough for many liberals to dismiss 
consistency on Israel as a hobgoblin of little minds. A binational state 
might sound nice in theory, but in practice is probably a recipe for 
civil war. (Even the Belgians have trouble managing it.) The two-state 
solution appeared to offer a route to both satisfying Palestinian 
national aspirations and preserving Israel’s Jewish, democratic character.

Now, however, Israel has foreclosed the possibility of two states, 
relentlessly expanding into the West Bank and signaling to the world 
that the Palestinians will never have a capital in East Jerusalem. As 
long as the de facto policy of the Israeli government is that there 
should be only one state in historic Palestine, it’s unreasonable to 
regard Palestinian demands for equal rights in that state as 
anti-Semitic. If the Israeli government is going to treat a Palestinian 
state as a ridiculous pipe dream, the rest of us can’t act as if such a 
state is the only legitimate goal of Palestinian activism.

At times, I’ve agreed with those who see something disproportionate in 
the left’s fixation on Israel. But the oft-heard argument that other 
peoples are suffering more than the Palestinians can be a form of 
weaponized whataboutism, meant to elide the unique role America plays as 
Israel’s protector.

In an op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal last week, Secretary of 
State Mike Pompeo listed Saudi Arabia’s growing ties to Israel as a 
reason not to downgrade America’s relationship with the kingdom, despite 
the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. If the Trump 
administration is going to use our alliance with Israel as an excuse for 
abandoning fundamental values, surely Americans are justified in 
subjecting that alliance to special scrutiny.

Meanwhile, Israel is ever more willing to ally itself with foreign 
leaders who share its illiberal nationalism, even when they’re hostile 
to Jews. “In the past, Israel has always adhered to a clear policy that 
it will not engage with political parties ostracized by the local Jewish 
community,” Anshel Pfeffer wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last 
year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, wrote Pfeffer, “has 
abandoned this policy.”

Netanyahu has nurtured a particularly close relationship with the 
Hungarian right-wing populist Viktor Orban, whose government is waging a 
demonization campaign against the Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire 
George Soros. Just this week Soros’s Central European University 
announced it has been forced out of Hungary. And Netanyahu’s office is 
trying to negotiate a compromise with Hungary over the contents of a 
museum that many fear will whitewash Hungary’s role in the Nazi genocide 
of the Jews, essentially putting Israel’s imprimatur on a modified form 
of Holocaust revisionism.

Netanyahu, then, seems to understand that being pro-Israel and 
pro-Jewish are not the same thing. Liberal American Jews, particularly 
younger ones, are learning that lesson as well. Some staunch Zionists 
are bad for the Jews — witness Steve King, the Republican congressman 
from Iowa who invokes his support for Israel when he’s called out for 
his blatant white nationalism.

At the same time, people with an uncompromising commitment to 
pluralistic democracy will necessarily be critics of contemporary 
Israel. That commitment, however, makes them the natural allies of Jews 
everywhere else.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter 
(@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Michelle Goldberg has been an Opinion columnist since 2017. She is the 
author of several books about politics, religion and women’s rights, and 
was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2018 
for reporting on workplace sexual harassment issues. @michelleinbklyn

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