Is anti-Zionism the same as antisemitism?
- ‘Zion’ is a term used in the Hebrew Bible referring to the Land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem. The term ‘Zionism,’ coined in 1890 by Nathan Birnbaum, generally refers to “the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.”
- ‘Antisemitism’ means “prejudice against or hatred of Jews.” The term “anti-Semite” was coined by Wilhelm Marr in 1879 to describe the “anti-Jewish campaigns underway in central Europe at that time.”
- Israel is the world’s first and only Jewish state since the United Nations re-established the Jewish homeland in 1948 following the WWII Holocaust.
- Zaheir Muhsen, founder of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, is on record saying, “the Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. [...] Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people since Arab national interest demand that we posit the existence of a distinct Palestinian people to oppose Zionism.”
Those looking to conflate anti-Zionism with antisemitism frequently use the argument that the Jewish people have a fundamental right to seek and defend a homeland for their people and that to deny them this is antisemitic because it is not allowing Jewish people the same inherent right that all other peoples enjoy. This argument falls short all around the world. Just ask Kurdish, Uyghur, Scottish, Kashmiri, Tibetan, Basque, and many other groups of people about their experiences.
It is actually quite common for religious and ethnic groups to be part of larger mixed societies. Pluralism and tolerance in society is a far better strategy to safeguard a people’s well-being than pursuing nationalistic isolation. If Israeli Jews have a right to self-determination, why don’t Palestinian Arabs and Muslims?
When we consider the historical context of this issue, we quickly realize that many of the first Zionists were amongst the most antisemitic. Many figures who helped to fracture the Middle East, such as Arthur Balfour, wanted to create a homeland for Jewish people simply to remove them from their own nations. We have two separate terms for these two ideologies for a reason; they are not the same and must not be conflated as such.
In addition to being intellectually lazy and just plain wrong, it has the effect of sidelining Palestinian suffering. There can be no doubt that antisemitism is real and growing in the world, and we must denounce it fervently when it appears. However, the genuine divide between anti-Zionism and antisemitism must be recognized so that the perceived protection of one people group doesn’t allow for crimes against humanity toward another.
While many don’t wish to acknowledge it, anti-Zionism is essentially the same as antisemitism, with hatred of Jews being the driving force behind hatred of Israel. Anti-Zionism supports the eradication of the only Jewish state on earth. The cornerstone of those who consider themselves anti-Zionists is that Israel doesn’t have a right to have and maintain their homeland, a view that directly rejects Israel’s existence. This is antisemitic because it challenges Jewish people’s right to self-determination and singles out Israel to defend itself more than any other functioning democratic state.
In this way, anti-Zionists hold Israel to a different standard than other nations worldwide, unfairly singling it out for demonization and condemnation. This is a biased treatment that only contributes to the delegitimization of the Jewish state, akin to the worst type of antisemitic beliefs that single out Jewish people for different treatment. Likewise, anti-Zionism is linked with antisemitism as it often uses the most discriminatory and anti-Jewish tropes. Anti-Zionists tend to employ traditional antisemitic conspiracy theories and stereotypes, portraying Israelis and Jews in a negative light.
Anti-Zionism tends to foster discrimination against Jewish people who express their support for Israel or identify with the Jewish religious and cultural connection to the country. This can lead to hateful acts against Jews or even hate speech, which inevitably aligns with antisemitic attitudes and intimidation.
Finally, most of the anti-Zionist organizations in the United States and around the world have antisemitic affiliations. Some of these organizations even relativize the most outrageous and violent messages from radical Islamist groups like Hamas or even Hezbollah. Like any other country, Israel can be criticized for some of its actions. However, claiming that an anti-Zionist stance has nothing to do with antisemitism is wrong.