Monday, June 21, 2010

Zionism and Judaism

The never-ending refrain that we hear on the Huffington Post is that "Zionism and Judaism" are not the same and are completely separate. The two HP bloggers who have written whole articles on the subject are MJ Rosenberg and Sharmine Narwani, who of course were pushing the viewpoint that Zionism and Judaism were totally different, and therefore that anti-Zionism was not anti-Judaism, which in turn was not anti-Semitism.

On the surface, this line of argument makes perfect sense. Zionism is a political movement, Judaism is a religion, and Jews are a people. They have nothing to do with each other, and one can be against Zionism but be perfectly fine with both the Jewish people and the Jewish religion. Right? After all, that is what HP talkbackers, including Narwani and Rosenberg, have been saying for years.

Unfortunately for them, the whole thing really doesn't work, and part of their problem is because they are using the classic anti-Zionist tactic of changing what the word "Zionism" means so as to make it appear undesirable. Narwani and Rosenberg don't do this, in fact they avoid all the issue altogether by implying that anything critical of Israel is "anti-Zionism," a classic anti-Zionist strawman. What Narwani and Rosenberg do attempt is to change the definition of anti-Semitism. Narwani just pulls the usual tactic of implying that anti-Semitism only exists as a last resort counter-argument, but Rosenberg actually goes out and says:
"Anti-semitism is the dislike of Jews."
Wrong. "Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews." This may seem like a petty distinction (and I am all about petty distinctions) but when it comes to the issue of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism it makes a big difference. In Plessy v Ferguson the Supreme Court ruled for "separate but equal" schools between American blacks and whites. Was this racism and discrimination? Yes. Was it based on dislike or hatred toward blacks? Maybe, but there is no way to prove it.

As much as the AZs try to pretend that Zionism is something that it is not, Zionism is the Jewish nationalist movement. People who are Zionists believe that Jews should have their own homeland and be able to decide their own national destiny. It therefore follows that people who are anti-Zionist believe that Jews should not have their own homeland, are not a nation and should not be able to self-determine, a right granted to all other people. Zionism is the self-determination movement of the Jewish people, and yet I have heard AZs tell me that Zionism and Judaism have nothing to do with each other. How can the national movement of the Jews have nothing to do with Jewish people? Only a fool would make that claim, and we have met quite a few at this point.

This is why it is so absurd when AZs claim (and they do) that though they are anti-Zionists they have nothing against the Jewish people. They do, whether they intend it or not, because when they advocate against Zionism they are advocating against the national rights of the Jewish people. Period. It isn't up for discussion. They always claim they have a good reason, and I am sure in their minds they do, but in that case I would wish that they are at least honest with their audience. 

If this doesn't seem problematic, just imagine if I wrote on this blog that "I don't think the Palestinians are a people. They were made up by Arab leaders and they aren't a real nation. They should not have their own state and should instead be scattered throughout the world and remain stateless forever. But I have nothing against Palestinians! I love them, I think they are awesome!" No one would believe me, because in that example I have singled out the Palestinians for denying them of their rights to which they are entitled as human beings. 

At this point some of you may say, "Ah-ha! Well in that case how come there are so many Jewish anti-Zionists, huh? If Zionism is so irreversibly tied to Judaism then how can anti-Zionism have such a long history?" There are a couple of responses to this:
First of all, throughout Jewish history the number of Jews who had views that could be defined as truly "anti-Zionist" has been at the most 1% of Jews. If 1% of America voted for Nader in the last presidential election, should we give him the job and ignore the 99% of Americans who felt otherwise? I didn't think so.
Second, there are Jews who don't think organized religion is a good thing. There are Jews who think they should get rid of Hebrew, Shabbat services, and talit. But are you going to tell me that Hebrew, Shabbat and talit have nothing to do with Judaism? Not very likely, I would hope.

So to conclude, anti-Zionism is anti-Judaism (aka anti-Semitism), but not in the way that we have all come to think of it. An anti-Zionist may like the Jews as individuals, and may have some as friends. An anti-Zionist may not hold any prejudices against the Jews, and he may be Jewish himself. But an anti-Zionist, when faced with the nation of the Jewish people, will stand against them and say, "I deny you what I allow everyone else in this world. What the rest of the world takes for granted you may never have. For no other reason than you are Jewish." That is nothing more than simple discrimination. Not hatred, not dislike, but anti-Semitism all the same.

Don't tell me Zionism has nothing to with Judaism. It has everything to do with Judaism. As does anti-Zionism.


  1. As Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin wrote on the subject, anti-Zionism also presumes that other people have the right to tell the majority of Jews what it means to be Jewish. Jews don't dictate to others what beliefs they can and can't have but only in the Jews' case, do others tell them they have no right to believe in Jewish nationhood. Telling Jews they can't be who they are is more than dislike and hatred; it is anti-Semitism. Zionism is the essence of the Jewish Bible - go and look it up. And of course, ever since Judaism appeared in human history, anti-Semites have always hated this or that aspect of who the Jews were. It is no different today.

  2. "People who are Zionists believe that Jews should have their own homeland and be able to decide their own national destiny."

    this statement has a corollary

    "People who are anti-Zionists believe that Palestinians should have their own homeland and be able to decide their own national destiny."

    Zionism is now inextricably linked with the disenfranchisement and oppression of the Palestinians. Sort that out, and you may find much of what you describe as Anti Zionism simply evaporates.

  3. Anonymous, Zionism has never had anything to do with the Palestinians. Notable Zionists such as Alan Dershowitz and yours truly believe that a Palestinian state should exist alongside Israel. Your "corollary" is not only a strawman but an attempt to cloud the issue with an irrelevant distraction.

    The "disenfranchisment" of the Palestinians is a direct result of their decision to make war against the Jews, not of Zionism. The "oppression" is a result of their refusal to end the war, not because of Zionism. Ultimately the only reason why people attempt to make Zionism "about" the Palestinians instead of the Jews is to try and find a good reason to be anti-Zionist beyond simply having something against Jews.