Why anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism must be understood as separate issues

The danger of using the terms ‘anti-Zionist’ and ‘anti-semitic’ in an interchangeable manner is that this ​“uses Jewish suffering to erase the Palestinian experience”​.

Zionism is a nationalist ideology that promotes the existence of a Jewish state in Israel. Whilst ostensibly this seems understandable given the documented persecution faced by Jews, the problem arises in that Zionism seeks to ‘Judaize’ the land incorporated in Israel, fostering a byproduct of hostilities towards non-Jewish members of the community who are perceived as a threat to Jewish hegemony in the region. Anti-semitism, however, refers to hostility, discrimination, and prejudice against Jews solely for being Jewish. As such, where anti-semitism is an immoral and unjustified prejudice, anti-Zionism reflects the criticism of the Zionist structure of Israel and how, in a quest to ‘redeem’ Israel to its Jewish roots, Zionism has actively resulted in the neglect and subjection of the indigenous Palestinian Arabs.

Problematically, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, in 2016, announced that one example of antisemitism is ​“denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination”​, referring to anti-Zionism. However, to be anti-Zionist is not to be opposed to the Jewish right to self-determination. Whilst some anti-Semitists mask their prejudice in anti-Zionism rhetoric, anti-Zionism actually refers to the wider human rights issue faced by the Palestinian Arabs as a result of the ​way​ in which Jewish self-determination in the state of Israel is occurring.

This highlights that a large proportion of the debate surrounding anti-Zionism is rooted in different conceptual understandings of what it means to be anti-Zionist.

Ironically though, those who depict anti-Zionism as an attempt to deny Jewish self-determination, implicitly assert and endorse the inequity of self-determination because, in order for self-determination to be afforded to Jews in the Zionist vision, the denial of self-determination to Palestinians​ in Israel is necessitated. Consequently, by supporting Zionism as the Jewish right to self-determination, one simultaneously rejects the Palestinian right to self-determination.

The misconception through the conflation of the two terms, anti-Zionism and anti-semitism, is characterising those who oppose Zionism as antisemitic when, in reality, large proportions of anti-Zionist rhetoric is a protest against Zionism’s inherent suppression of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel. To argue that the defense of the Palestinian Arabs, who are forced to live a life of inequality based on their ethnicity, is anti-Semitic is a flawed and socially constructed logic used to maintain Palestinian Arab suppression. There is no sound reason to determine that the rights of one ethnicity come at the price of another’s.

Consequently, I argue that anti-Zionism, in its genuine form, is not the opposition to Jewish people and their right to self-determination through the establishment of a Jewish state. Rather, it is the opposition to the Zionist justifications for Palestinian Arab suppression. The tenets of Zionist ideology fundamentally enshrine and aspire to create and maintain a state which encapsulates the components of an ethnocratic regime through its championing of one ethnic group above another, leaving minority groups like the Palestinian Arabs vulnerable to discrimination and human rights abuses in the name of protecting the ethnic majority.

One of the primary reasons that​ anti-Zionism is a specific form of anti-racism​, is that the Zionist vision was, and continues to be, the subjection of the indigenous Palestinians who have consequently suffered economic, social, and political marginalisation in the name of ensuring the survival of the Jewish character of Israel. For instance, the ​unidirectional land transactions​ in Israel function as a means to further ethnicise Israel as a Jewish state, in accordance with the Zionist vision, by restricting Palestinian Arab access to land sales and purchases. ​Yiftachel has identified that this economic exclusion actively prevents the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel from participating in any economic transactions in over 75% of state land.

A fundamental pillar of democracy is the conscious effort to affirm the equality of citizens​ “regardless of their religious,… racial or ethnic affiliation”​. Subsequently, Israel’s “manipulation of ethnic political geograph[y]”​ through its biased economic land policies to directly weaken the​ ​Palestinian Arab minority exhibits the undemocratic ideals upon which Israel has been structured to disproportionately favour those of Jewish ethnicity. Consequently, it is ​not anti-semitic to criticise Israel for being a nation rooted in ethnic nationalism​ and discrimination and advocate for it to adopt a system of equality endorsing civic nationalism, since anyone with a ​commitment to democracy is necessarily an implicit critic​ of Zionism.

Even when claiming to be a democracy, the superficiality of this claim is exhibited in the attempts to undermine legitimate Palestinian Arab presence in government. For instance, with regards to elections, in 2014, the ​Knesset passed a law ​that sought to diminish the likelihood of the four Arab parties securing their seats in the 2015 elections by raising the threshold for representation from 2% to 3.25% of the popular vote.

However, the Arab parties ​united to create the Joint List​ and ran on a single ticket, securing the position of the third largest political party despite those of Zionist ideology who had actively tried to diminish the Palestinian Arab political presence in Israel. Moreover, Netanyahu’s coalition aimed to further minimise the Palestinian Arab political influence by devising a suspension bill designed to allow a three-fourths majority the authority to ​eject representatives who deny the Jewish character​ of Israel, directly making political participation in government contingent on allegiance to the hegemonic ideology of Zionism.

Moreover, there are many Jews who acknowledge the inherent racism of Zionism, demonstrating that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are wholly unique conversations. For example, Ray Filar, an anti-Zionist Jew, notes that the problem with Zionism is that it perpetuates that ​“to condemn Israeli human rights abuses is to ignore the Jewish history of persecution that makes the modern Israeli mentality intelligible”​. Filar also observes from first-hand experience that Israel is ​“obsessed with ethnic purity”​, and that Zionism is ​“indistinguishable from the Israeli nationalism that sees the oppression of Palestinians…as necessary collateral for Jewish survival”​.

Of course, anti-semitism is inherently wrong and should be condemned in all instances. However, in the same way that castigation of anti-semitism is important in order to protect the equality and liberty of Jewish people, castigation of Zionist justifications for Palestinian Arab subjection is important as an equal moral obligation. To argue otherwise is to argue that Palestinian Arabs are intrinsically less valuable as human beings than Jews, and critiquing this logic is ​“a moral responsibility”​.

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