Anti-Zionism Is Still Kosher

Jerry Haber responds to the notion that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism.

It is understandable that Zionists will be offended when members of Palestinian civil society issue a statement opposing “all forms of racism and bigotry, including, but not limited to, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Zionism, and other forms of bigotry.” Dr. Steven Bayme rightly criticizes the Palestinian statement as “problematic because it equates Zionism with racism and apartheid, terms which appropriately lack legitimacy in contemporary political culture.”But when he equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, itself a term that “lacks legitimacy in contemporary political culture,” wherein does he differ from the critics of Zionism?

Bayme acknowledges that criticism of Zionism was once a respectable option, and no doubt he would concede that most of the Jewish world was once not Zionist. So when and how did anti-Zionism become “anti-Semitic? Here is his argument:

First, Israel is no different from other ethnic states, and so singling out Israel for criticism is anti-Semitic. Now I consider questionable both the premise and the conclusion. But even if Bayme is justified in concluding that singling out Israel is morally inconsistent or hypocritical, how does he get to the charge of anti-Semitism? That requires the additional premise that the reason why Israel gets singled out is Jew-hatred. Are there no other legitimate reasons why Zionism can be opposed, especially by Palestinians?

That many Zionists came to Palestine with the express purpose of building a Jewish homeland, purchased land for Jewish-only settlement, boycotted Arab labor, demanded eventually a Jewish nation-state in defiance of the natives, expelled natives from their homes, denaturalized them through the Nationality Law, expropriated or forced sales of native land for Jewish settlement, established a military government and a second-class status for its Arab citizens, accorded preference to one ethnic group over another in immigration, made membership in the nation represented by the nation-state a matter of religious affiliation, and barred from that nation non-Jewish natives of Palestine—all in the name of Zionism—doesn’t enter the picture, according to Bayme. None of these considerations is of relevance to the Palestinian critics of Zionism. No, their motivation can only be anti-Semitism!

Next, Bayme holds that respect for Jews requires acceptance of the “collective will” of the Jewish people to realize its national aspirations; and so if that will is denied, it's anti-Semitism. Presumably the same argument applies to the aspirations of all national groups for statehood, e.g., French Canadians, Basques, Kurds, and Palestinians. Are we similarly to conclude that those who opposes statehood for these groups ipso facto hates them? Was Golda Meir a Palestinian-hater because she denied not only the collective will of the Palestinian people, but also the fact that they constituted a people?

Anyway, the idea that Jewish people, or any people, has a “collective will” should make liberals cringe. And who determines that the Jews’ “collective will” is Zionism? And if it is Zionism, who determined that it must take the form that it took in the State of Israel? The answer is simple: David Ben-Gurion. So if one doesn’t like the state Ben-Gurion shaped and thinks that Palestinians and Israelis would be better served by a different regime for both, that constitutes anti-Semitism?

One can be a Zionist and believe that the Jews constitute a people with the right to self-determination without believing that such self-determination must be implemented in an exclusivist religio-ethnic state like the one founded hastily by Russian Jewish Zionists in 1948. One can believe that the Jewish people’s right to self-determination cannot be implemented in Palestine at the expense of a Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and to live as a free people in their native land. And, of course, one can believe, as do many anti-Zionists, that Jews do not constitute a people with any right to national self-determination, but are rather a religio-ethnic community. All of these viewpoints are kosher. It is preposterous to label them “anti-Semitic.”

Finally, when Bayme dismisses alternatives to Israeli Zionism as discredited by “history,” he should recall that the same argument was used to discredit Zionism. Appeals to “collective will” and the judgment of “history” are not consonant with liberal thought.

There are indeed anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism. And they were rightly criticized in the Palestinian statement that aroused Bayme’s ire.