Jewish Political Studies Review 16:3-4 (Fall 2004)
Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism
Anti-Zionism has become the most dangerous and effective form of anti-
Semitism in our time, through its systematic delegitimization, defamation,
and demonization of Israel. Although not a priori anti-Semitic,
the calls to dismantle the Jewish state, whether they come from Muslims,
the Left, or the radical Right, increasingly rely on an anti-Semitic stereotypization
of classic themes, such as the manipulative "Jewish lobby,"
the Jewish/Zionist "world conspiracy," and Jewish/Israeli "warmongers."
One major driving force of this anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism is the transformation
of the Palestinian cause into a "holy war"; another source is
anti-Americanism linked with fundamentalist Islamism. In the current
context, classic conspiracy theories, such as the Protocols of the Elders
of Zion, are enjoying a spectacular revival. The common denominator
of the new anti-Zionism has been the systematic effort to criminalize
Israeli and Jewish behavior, so as to place it beyond the pale of civilized
and acceptable conduct.
The question of whether anti-Zionism can or should be equated
with anti-Semitism is one of those pivotal issues that refuse to go
away. It is of considerable importance in any effort to define the nature
of the "new Judeophobia" and strategies to deal with it. Recently
when I addressed British MPs in the House of Commons, this was
the first order of business. Surely, they wanted to know, doubts about
Zionism or alarm at Israel's policies must be distinguished from loathing
toward Jews? Was it not true that anti-Semitism was frequently
confused with "anti-Sharonism," as The Guardian likes to claim? Did
not Jews themselves often engage in the fiercest opposition to Israeli
government policy without being accused of anti-Semitism? Finally,
exaggerated use of the Judeophobic charge, it was suggested, might
raise the suspicion that Israel's leaders were seeking to deflect or even
silence justified criticism.
My answer to such objections is that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism
are two distinct ideologies that over time (especially since 1948)
have tended to converge, generally without undergoing a full merger.
There have always been Bundists, Jewish communists, Reform Jews,
and ultra-Orthodox Jews who strongly opposed Zionism without being
Judeophobes. So, too, there are conservatives, liberals, and leftists in
the West today who are pro-Palestinian, antagonistic toward Israel,
and deeply distrustful of Zionism without crossing the line into anti-
Semitism. There are also Israeli "post-Zionists" who object to the
definition of Israel as an exclusively or even a predominantly "Jewish"
state without feeling hostile toward Jews as such. There are others,
too, who question whether Jews are really a nation; or who reject
Zionism because they believe its accomplishment inevitably resulted
in uprooting many Palestinians. None of these positions is intrinsically
anti-Semitic in the sense of expressing opposition or hatred toward
Jews as Jews.
Nevertheless, I believe that the more radical forms of anti-Zionism
that have emerged with renewed force in recent years do display unmistakable
analogies to European anti-Semitism immediately preceding
the Holocaust. One of the more striking symptoms has been the call
for a scientific, cultural, and economic boycott of Israel that arouses
some grim associations and memories among Jews of the Nazi boycott
that began in 1933. (Indeed, such actions go back at least fifty years
earlier when anti-Semitic organizations first used economic boycotts
as a weapon against Jewish competitors.) There are other highly visible
manifestations. An example is the systematic manner in which Israel
is harassed at international forums such as the United Nations, where
the Arab states have for decades pursued a policy of isolating the
Jewish state and turning it into a pariah. An offshoot of this campaign
was the hate-fest at the UN-sponsored Durban Conference against
racism of September 2001, which denounced Zionism as a "genocidal"
movement, practicing "ethnic cleansing" against Palestinians. In these
and similar public forums, as well as in much of the Western mainstream
media, Zionism and the Jewish people have been demonized
in ways that are virtually identical to the methods, arguments, and
techniques of racist anti-Semitism. Even though the current banner
may be "antiracist" and the defamation is being carried out today in
the name of human rights, all the red lines have clearly been crossed.
For example, "anti-Zionists" who insist on comparing Zionism and
the Jews with Hitler and the Third Reich appear unmistakably to be
de facto anti-Semites, even if they vehemently deny the fact! This is
largely because they knowingly exploit the reality that Nazism in the
postwar world has become the defining metaphor of absolute evil. For
if Zionists are "Nazis" and if Sharon really is Hitler, then it becomes
a moral obligation to wage war against Israel. That is the bottom line
of much contemporary anti-Zionism. In practice, this has become the
most potent form of contemporary anti-Semitism.
Indeed, Israel is today the only state on the face of this planet that
such a large number of disparate people wish to see disappear - itself a
chilling reminder of the Nazi propaganda of the 1930s. The most
virulent expressions of this "exterminationist" or genocidal anti-Zionism
have come from the Arab-Muslim world, which is the historical
heir of the earlier 20th-century forms of totalitarian anti-Semitism in
Hitler's Germany and the Soviet Union. Even "moderate" Muslim
statesmen such as Mahathir Mohammad have publicly repeated the
classic anti-Semitic belief that "Jews rule the world" while eliciting
virtually no objections in the Islamic world. The more radical Islamists
from Al-Qaida to the Palestinian Hamas go much further since they
fuse indiscriminate terror, suicide bombings, and a Protocols of Zion
style of anti-Semitism with the ideology of jihad. In this case, the socalled
"war against Zionism" unmistakably embraces the total demonization
of the "Jewish other": as the "enemy of mankind," as deadly
poisonous snakes, as barbarian "Nazis" and "Holocaust manipulators"
who control international finance, not to mention America,
or theWestern mass media, while they busily instigate wars and revolutions
to achieve world domination. Such conspiracy theories sailing
under "anti-Zionist" colors constitute a highly toxic, even murderous
worldview that today is linked to religious fanaticism and a worldwide
revolutionary agenda. The same demonizing stereotypes can, however,
be found in moderate pro-Western Egypt (home to the Protocols based
anti-Semitic soap opera Rider without a Horse), secular Baathist
Syria, conservative Wahhabite Saudi Arabia, and the Shiite fundamentalist
Iran of the ayatollahs. This is an ideological anti-Zionism
that seeks both the annihilation of Israel and a world "liberated from
the Jews" - in other words, it is a totalist form of anti-Semitism.
The danger has become especially grave because this "annihilationalist"
anti-Zionism is spreading under the guise of anti-Israelism
and hatred of Sharon to Western Europe, America, and parts of
the Third World. It has found grassroots support in the Muslim
diaspora among radicalized youth and an echo among antiglobalists,
Trotskyites, and far-Right groups as well as parts of the media. There
is a loose and shifting coalition of red-brown-green bigotry focused
against both America and Israel. Osama bin Laden is a hero not only
to those who wish to restore Islam's global hegemony but also for
some of those who still believe in the "world revolution" of the proletarian
masses or the demise of "Judeo-American" domination.
Much of the mobilizing power of "anti-Zionism" derives from its
link to the Palestinian cause. Since the 1960s, the PLO has worked
hard to totally delegitimize Zionism and the policy has largely succeeded:
this anti-Zionism involves a total negation of Jewish nationhood
and legitimate Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Israel, a denial
of the link between Judaism and the land, or of the existence of the
two Jewish temples in Jerusalem. No wonder Israel never existed on
any Palestinian maps throughout the Oslo "peace process." Nor should
it be forgotten that the Palestinian Authority has frequently combined
anti-Semitic motifs - including Holocaust denial, updated blood libels,
and Jewish conspiracy themes - with its general incitement to violence.
Moreover, some Palestinian Christians have developed a "liberation
theology" that plays on older anti-Semitic efforts to de-Judaize the
Christian tradition and finds a sympathetic echo in the West. As for
the Islamic groups among the Palestinians, they openly see themselves
as engaged in "a war against the Jews." Hamas, for example, has
embraced a full-fledged Islamicized vision of the "Jewish peril" derived
from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Palestinian suffering and Arab "anti-Zionism" have helped to infect
Europe with an old-new version of anti-Semitism in which Jews
are rapacious, bloodsucking colonialists. The theme is that Jews were
rootless, imperialist invaders who came to Palestine to conquer the
land by brute force, to expel or "cleanse" it of its natives. They are
the modern "Crusaders" with no legitimate rights to the soil - an
alien transplant, absolutely foreign to the region. They succeeded only
because of a gigantic occult conspiracy in which the Zionists (i.e., the
Jews) manipulated Great Britain and subsequently America. This is
a typically anti-Semitic narrative of which Hitler might have approved
- widely believed around the world, even credited by millions
of educated people in the West.
The popularity of the Protocols today is the one telling symptom
of the growing merger between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Zionism
is increasingly depicted in some mainstream media as being "criminal"
in its essence as well as its behavior. This flows from the leftwing
mantra that brands Zionism as a racist, apartheid, colonialist,
and imperialist movement, reviving a stigma that has anti-Semitic
echoes on a European continent still grappling with the guilt of its
genocidal and colonial past. Israel seems to be losing on both counts.
Its military actions offer Europeans the tantalizing prospect of saying
"the victims of yesterday have become the [Nazi] perpetrators of today,"
along with the opportunity to present Zionism as heir to the
darkest pages of Western colonial history such as Algeria, Vietnam,
or South Africa. Such aspersions are not a priori anti-Semitic, but
through endless repetition they are becoming the ideological rationalization
for dismantling Israel. This is the aim of "progressive" anti-
Zionism, which, unlike the classic forms of racist anti-Semitism is not
ethnically nationalist or völkisch. But it is highly discriminatory in
negating the possibility of a legitimate Jewish nationalism. The antiglobalists
either ignore or excuse the terrorism, jihadism, and anti-
Jewish stereotypes to be found in PLO nationalism/fundamentalism.
For much of the Western Left, Palestinians can only be victims and
On the far Left as well as the far Right, anti-Zionism uses a type
of discourse and stereotypes concerning the "Jewish/Zionist lobby,"
Israeli/Jewish "criminality," and Sharonist "warmongering" that is
fundamentally manipulative and anti-Semitic. This has penetrated the
mainstream debate to the point where 60 percent of all Europeans
regard tiny Israel as the greatest threat to world peace; where over a
third of those surveyed in Europe and America regularly attribute to
Jews excessive power and influence; where Jews are suspected of dual
loyalties by ever greater numbers of non-Jews; and where "anti-Zionist"
attacks on Jewish institutions and targets show that we are talking
about a distinction without a difference. Anti-Zionism is not only the
historic heir of earlier forms of anti-Semitism. Today, it is also the
lowest common denominator and the bridge between the Left, the
Right, and the militant Muslims; between the elites (including the
media) and the masses; between the churches and the mosques; between
an increasingly anti-American Europe and an endemically anti-
Western Arab-Muslim Middle East; a point of convergence between
conservatives and radicals and a connecting link between fathers and
sons. Anti-Zionism is much more than an exotic collection of radicalchic
slogans that survived the debacle of the late-1960s counterculture.
It has become an "exterminationist," pseudoredemptive ideology reconstructed
in the Middle East and reexported back to Europe with
* * *
1. This article was originally presented as a written statement at the UN
Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, and published in its official record
on 10 February 2004.
* * *
PROF. ROBERT S. WISTRICH is Neuberger Professor of Modern European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He previously held the Chair for Jewish Studies at University College, London, as well as guest professorships at Harvard, Brandeis, and Oxford universities and at the Royal Institute of Advanced Studies in the Netherlands. Between 1999-2001, Professor Wistrich was one of six historians appointed by the Vatican to the Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, which examined Pope Pius XIIís record during the Holocaust. He is the author of many books including the award-winning Socialism and the Jews (1982) and Anti-Semitism: The Longest Hatred (1992). He also scripted, edited, or presented several key documentary films for British television including The Longest Hatred (1991), Good Morning Mr. Hitler (1994), and Blaming the Jews (2003). His latest study is Hitler and the Holocaust (2001). In 2002 he became director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is editor-in-chief of its annual journal, Anti-Semitism International.
The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect
those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
The above essay appears in the Fall 2004 issue of the Jewish Political Studies Review, the first and only journal dedicated to the study of Jewish political institutions and behavior, Jewish political thought, and Jewish public affairs.
Published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (http://www.jcpa.org/), the JPSR appears twice a year in the form of two double issues, either of a general nature or thematic, with contributors including outstanding scholars from the United States, Israel, and abroad. The hard copy of the Fall 2004 issue will be available in the coming weeks. This issue focuses on "Emerging Anti-Semitic Themes."
From the Editor - Manfred Gerstenfeld
Foreword by Natan Sharansky
Foundations of an Israeli Grand Strategy Toward the European Union by Yehezkel Dror
Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism by Robert Wistrich
Watching the Pro-Israeli Media Watchers by Manfred Gerstenfeld and Ben Green
Abusing the Legacy of the Holocaust: The Role of NGOs in Exploiting Human Rights to Demonize Israel by Gerald M. Steinberg
International Organizations: Combating Anti-Semitism
in Europe by Michael Whine
Confronting Reality: Anti-Semitism in Australia Today by Jeremy Jones
Anti-Semitism in Canada by Manuel Prutschi
Anti-Semitism in Germany Today: Its Roots and Tendencies by Susanne Urban
Iceland, the Jews and Anti-Semitism, 1625-2004 by Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson
The Persistence of Anti-Semitism on the British Left
by Ben Cohen
Suing Hitler's Willing Business Partners: American Justice
and Holocaust Morality by Michael J. Bazyler
A Case Study: Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A.: A Battleground
for Israel's Legitimacy - by Joel Fishman
An Analytic Approach to Campus Pro-Israeli Activism
Case Study: John Hopkins University by Yonit Golub
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