Sadly, the line that is being put about, including recently by Nick Cohen in the Guardian (Link) maintains that one cannot be anti-Zionism without being anti-Semitic. I do wonder whether Nick needs to get out more. Certainly his circle of ‘anti-Zionists’ is very different from mine. For Cohen anti-Zionism is a ‘call for the total destruction of the world’s only Jewish state’, whereas for me and my friends it is a cry for Judaism to redeem itself and for the peoples of the Near East to find ways of living together that are both Just and Peaceful.
My guess is that, as an atheist, Nick Cohen would be uncomfortable with Britain as a ‘Christian State’ and with, say, Iran, as an Islamic State. So why would we be comfortable with a ‘Jewish State’, isn’t that exactly the trajectory of ethnic definition that brought the Holocaust? (To be clear, I believe the notion of a ‘Christian State’ to be nonsensical, contradictory and dangerous).
The lie that anti-Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism is being pushed by governments and on University campuses, and to repeat, it’s a lie. Not only is this lie designed to limit freedom of speech, it is intended to prevent legitimate criticism and reasonable questioning of Israel’s policies and actions. That there are some anti-Zionists who are also anti-Semitic seems very likely: but if it is wrong to tar all Jews with the same brush – and it is – it is disingenuous and deceitful to claim that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic. Large numbers of Jews worldwide are deeply unhappy with what is being done and said in their name. Large numbers who care deeply for Jews and Judaism worry that Israel’s oppressive actions make them more vulnerable.
They, together with all right minded people ask “is it reasonable to question and/or criticize the government of a country?” Most in the West would answer “yes”, not least because we’re rather good at it. Trump criticizes Obama, Corbyn criticizes Cameron and everyone everywhere criticizes North Korea, (That last one’s OK ‘cos it’s North Korea!). And Israel’s governments are not shy of criticizing even their friends let alone Russia and Syria. Why do we assume that their trenchant criticisms of e.g. Iran, are in a different, and acceptable, category to criticisms from UK of Israel?
Some people make it a question of Semantics (not Semitics), but, hey, that’s a semantic problem. How many know that Zionism has hijacked a word, ‘semitic’, that was invented to describe a group of similar, ancient languages? So, while ‘anti-Semitism’ may be ok, despite having the same root, ‘anti-Semitic’ bizarrely makes us opposed to a group of languages, including Aramaic and Hebrew.
Letting that go, anti-Semitism, as with all kinds of racism, is disgusting, disgraceful, stupid and unChristian. And that goes for racism that is hidden behind a respectable front, “but they’re different from us, aren’t they?” That the church has had to confront and deal with hundreds of years of hatred of Jews shows how hard it has sometimes been to listen to and follow Jesus. Hatred of anyone doesn’t square with Christian Faith. Zionism is an ideology, not a person, and one that gives priority to one people group, Jews, over another, simply on the basis of faith or race. (That Israel is confused about both is hardly surprising; it would be amusing were it not for the adverse affect upon individuals). As with Capitalism or Communism, so with Zionism. I may be opposed to them, I may question, criticize and challenge them, but that doesn’t mean that I hate those who embrace them. Some atheists are vehemently opposed to Christianity and other religions. That doesn’t make them racist.
Anti-Zionism’s criticism of a ‘Jewish State’ is not a demand for the demise of the State of Israel. Israel should become a State for all its people and begin on its way to being a civilised and democratic nation. Anti-Zionism should not determine the future for Palestinians and Israelis. That must be in the hands of those whose recent history is there, (where recent is defined as more than two generations). What is at question is the racist and supremacist ideology which is at the heart of the Zionist state. What we hate when confronted with an Islamic State is exactly what we should hate when dealing with a Jewish state. What it feels like for a Muslim or a Hindu or Sikh, when extremists call England a ‘Christian’ Country is a tiny measure of what it feels like for a Palestinian living under the ‘Zionist-Jewish’ State. What is it like to be Jewish in an Islamic State? Even where the constitution guarantees equal treatment it must feel like being second-class. Christians in Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan find it best to keep quiet. Is that a desirable future for this world? Politicians, whether in UK or US who want us to be ‘Christian’ need to get a grip on theology and history and stop trying to co-opt the One Creator God as their political back-stop – ‘You shall not take the Name of the Lord Your God in vain’ (No Ref given: Christians will know where to look. Politicians may have to ask!).
So, let’s move away from the sterile debate about whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic and address the real issues posed by Zionism. For a Jewish perspective we could try this from Robert Cohen.