In a long Guardian op-ed, Peter Beinart argues that anti-Zionism isn’t antisemitic. In his piece (Debunking the myth that anti-Zionism is antisemitic, March 7), Beinart argues that the 30 countries who’ve adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, which defines as antisemitic denying Jews the right self-determination, have made a tragic mistake.
First, he claims it’s wrong to suggest it’s racist to deny Jews the right to self-determination by making the following argument:
The Kurds don’t have their own state. Neither do the Basques, Catalans, Scots, Kashmiris, Tibetans, Abkhazians, Ossetians, Lombards, Igbo, Oromo, Uyghurs, Tamils and Québécois, nor dozens of other peoples who have created nationalist movements to seek self-determination but failed to achieve it.
Yet barely anyone suggests that opposing a Kurdish or Catalan state makes you an anti-Kurdish or anti-Catalan bigot.
However, these aren’t currently states, whereas the Jewish state actually exists. Opposing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is to oppose the continuing existence of actually existing Jewish state – which is completely different than opposing a theoretical state that doesn’t yet exist. On a moral level, opposing Zionism in 1947 is radically different than opposing it in 1948.
Beinart then argues that to define anti-Zionism as antisemitic is to silence millions of Palestinians and Arab Israelis who reject the idea of Zionism, a logic that not only denies Jews – and only Jews – the right to define what is racist, but also absurdly grants that right – or at least a right to veto any such definition – to Palestinians, who, based on polling, are the most antisemitic people in the world. In this line of critique, Beinart is echoing the talking points of Jeremy Corbyn’s most ardent supporters, who (unsuccessfully) campaigned against the party adopting the IHRA definition by claiming that it would silence Palestinian voices.
Beinart also maintains that it’s false to argue, as many have, that, as a practical matter, anti-Zionism and antisemitism are animosities necessarily related to each other.
In the real world, anti-Zionism and antisemitism don’t always go together. It is easy to find antisemitism among people who, far from opposing Zionism, enthusiastically embrace it.
Actually, in the ‘real world’, they do in fact go together. A comprehensive study by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) and the Community Security Trust showed an extremely strong correlation, in the UK, between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, with those expressing extreme hatred of Israel being far more likely than most people to also express classic antisemitic views. The study concluded that “the nexus between medieval and modern anti-Jewish tropes and the ways in which Zionism, the State of Israel and the actions of its government are questioned, criticised or condemned, have become central to understanding and defining contemporary manifestations of antisemitism”.
Whilst the case that anti-Zionism is antisemitic doesn’t rest upon the intentions of anti-Zionists, it’s dishonest to deny a relationship between the two.
Beinart then tries to undermine the case for anti-Zionism being fundamentally antisemitic by noting that some who are, or at least profess to be, Zionists also express classic antisemitic views – such as some on the far-right. However, the fundamental moral legitimacy of Zionism doesn’t hinge on the moral purity of a minority of its adherents. Trying to undermine the claim that anti-Zionism is antisemitic by pointing to the moral hypocrisy of some Zionists is as flawed as arguing that the moral case against slavery in America was undermined by the racism of some anti-slavery activists.
Zionism is the belief that Israel has a right to continue to exist. Anti-Zionism is the belief that says Israel has no right to exist and shouldn’t continue existing. It is not a theoretical position. It’s an effort to forcibly dispossess over six million Jews of a right they currently have. It doesn’t say that nation-states shouldn’t exist, just that the Jewish state – the only safe-haven for Jews around the world – shouldn’t exist.
It also seems predicated on the premise that millions of Israeli Jews in the Middle East would, in the long run, be safe and have their rights protected in a country with a Palestinian majority and a Palestinian government – confidence that only makes sense if you ignore endemic antisemitism in the region and the experience of hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Muslim majority countries since World War 2. Anti-Zionism isn’t just antisemitic in theory. In practice, it would almost certainly have a profoundly dangerous antisemitic impact.
For all their erudition, Beinart and his Guardian fellow travelers fail to grasp a point that most Jews know instinctively: that Jews can never, and will never, replace the Jewish state with the pre-Holocaust state of perpetual political weakness which left Jews continually vulnerable to antisemitic scapegoating, violence and genocide.