Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism: The Case for Divorce

Although terrorist attacks in Europe are typically indiscriminate in terms of targeting ethnicity, the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism continues to fuel attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in Europe by Muslims and non-Muslims. Among Muslims, this toxic mindset, which is common, though hardly universal, can change. This distinguishes it from the fundamentally non-rational traditional European anti-Semitism based on Christianity or Nazi ideology. Muslim views are generally more rooted in actual historical injustice and thus can be affected by changing facts on the ground.

Israeli historians have long refuted myths that Israel's creation exemplified "A land without a people for a people without a land." Israel's birth in 1948 removed by force, or threat of force, 700,000 inhabitants from land on which the new state was to be built. This is known as the Nakba (Catastrophe) by those displaced and their descendants. Moreover, ethnic cleansing has continued to this day through illegal West Bank land expropriations, often accompanied by terror. Dramatic repressive actions by the Israeli government in Gaza or the West bank often lead to spikes in assaults on European Jewry.

The linkage of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is tragic, but hardly surprising given successful efforts by the Israeli government and overseas supporters to declare no distinction between them. This formula has produced recent efforts to ban free speech advocating boycott and divestment policies once utilized against the South African apartheid regime. Jews who have opposed Zionism (or the particular variant of it embraced by right-wing Zionists) are labeled self-hating. Why wouldn't Muslims opposed to Israel or its policies see virtually no daylight between Jews and Zionism? Historically, however, the relationship between anti-Semitism and Zionism is complex and of little comfort to contemporary Zionists. For example, traditional European anti-Semites, rather than being hostile towards Zionism, were sometimes its perverse champions. During the 1930s, many Nazis, including Adolf Eichmann, were sympathetic to Zionism, in much the same way the KKK in the 1960s supported the Black Muslims' quest for a separatist "black nation." Zionist leaders occasionally negotiated with Nazi officials to facilitate Jewish emigration. Members of the Stern Gang admired Italian fascism and even sought a tactical wartime alliance with the Nazis to oust the British from Palestine.

In the U.S. today, the Christian right combines implicit anti-Semitism and impassioned support for the Israel's aggressive colonial expansion. Their reasoning is based on Bible passages tying the Second Coming of Christ to the preexistence of the State of Israel. The anti-Semitic aspect of this vision involves what happens after Christ's reappearance: Jews will convert or be consigned to eternal damnation.

European anti-Semitism unrelated to Nazism was also used, before, during and immediately after WWII, to encourage Jewish emigration to Palestine. The reluctance of many countries to accept large numbers of Jewish refugees was a boon to Zionists in Palestine who desperately needed able-bodied emigres to add to the minority Jewish population. At times, as noted in Yosef Grodzinsky's In the Shadow of the Holocaust, this meant manipulating, and, in a few cases, coercing, non-Zionists in DP camps for WWII refugees to go to Palestine when they would have wanted to go elsewhere. In this endeavor, Allied camp administrators were often complicit.

Contemporary anti-Semitic incidents serve the same function and, indeed, Prime Minister Netanyahu has encouraged migration of French Jews to Israel as a safe haven after last year's attacks. It should be noted, as Israeli journalist Tom Segev exhaustively documents in The Seventh Million: Israelis and the Holocaust, the Zionists were not all that sympathetic to the victims of Nazism once they dis-embarked in Palestine. Then, and perhaps now, they wanted them to enlarge the Jewish population and fight Arabs, even against their will, but not so much to help them heal and thrive. If the historical relationship between anti-Semitism and Zionism is more complicated and darker than many are aware, it's also true that Zionism, as embodied in the Israeli state, may be a far greater danger now to the safety of Jews outside and inside its borders, than would be the case if Israel had not existed, certainly in its aggressively expansionist form.

This concern is not new and there have always been many non-Zionist Jews who worried about Israel creating problems for Jews seeking to integrate as citizens of other nations: about being accused of dual loyalties, or subjected to anti-Semitic taunts to "Go back to Israel." Israeli government actions have begun to alienate American Jews, particularly younger ones, and there have been a number of organizations and prominent individuals that have spoken out in support of the Palestinians, just as there have been Israelis who have fought against the settlement expansion. This current of disaffection has emerged on a smaller scale among European Jewry. It might diminish Muslim anti-Semitism there if it grows and first develops visible bonds with Muslim who are not anti-Semitic. Obviously, alliances would depend on shared goals and those could range from support for a two-state solution, a bi-national state, or even a "Northern Ireland" model applied to the Occupied Territories.

It is important to note that European Muslims are not uniformly anti-Semitic. A review of polling data, undertaken by Gunther Jikeli, the Director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy, found Muslim anti-Semitism has fluctuated over the past decade, and is dependent on the degree of religiosity, country of origin, where they live now, and other factors. Moreover, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, while related, are not invariably connected, with anti-Zionism being far more widespread, both among Muslims and non-Muslims.

Obviously, the long-term answer to the current crisis would involve a resolution of the territorial dispute at the heart of the Israel-Palestine impasse. In the meantime, viewing Anti-Zionism as "married" to anti-Semitism is historically inaccurate, self-serving for right-wing Zionists, damages Muslim anti-Zionists, and pointlessly discourages liberal anti-Zionism and Jewish anti-Zionists. Only racists of all persuasions oppose a long overdue divorce.