If anti-Zionism is now limited to the criticism of Israel’s policies towards Palestine, any opposition to the land grab that Israel is trying to do in the name of Zionism cannot be called anti-Semitism.
A. Faizur Rahman
On December 5, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 311 to 14 in favour of a Republican-sponsored resolution which, inter alia, declared that “anti-Zionism is anti-semitism”. When Republican Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky voted against the resolution and suggested that Congress was more interested in Zionism than American patriotism, the White House condemned him.
There is nothing surprising about the American establishment’s enduring sympathy for Zionism. If U.S. President Joe Biden unabashedly called himself a Zionist in Tel Aviv on October 18, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson flaunted his Zionism at a dinner hosted by the hard-right Zionist Organisation of America on December 3. Mr. Johnson’s closeness to Israel, reported Haaretz, reflects the American evangelist movement’s deep ties to the Israeli right.
The effects of the ideological propinquity between Jewish and Christian Zionism have long been felt on American foreign policy. In his widely-debated essay, ‘God’s Country?’, Walter Russell Mead wrote that conservative strains within American Protestantism have “changed US foreign policy in profound ways” to the extent that the “rising evangelical power has deepened US support for the Jewish state” in line with the Zionist belief that god blesses those who bless the nation of Israel (Genesis 12:3).
“The aim of Zionism”, according to the First Zionist Congress, 1897, “is to create for the Jewish people a home in Eretz Israel secured by law”. Zionist Jews claim Palestine to be Eretz Israel or the Land of Israel and believe that it was promised to them by God (Genesis 17:8). Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon Belaboured this specious conviction in April 2019 at the United Nations Security Council. With dramatic flourish, he held up a copy of the Hebrew Bible and announced, “This is our deed to our land” because it proves the “Jewish ownership of the Land of Israel”.
Astonishingly, it was this mythologised biblical dogma that ended up being recognised in two of the most momentous pronouncements of the last century — the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and UN Resolution 181(II) of 1947. The Zionists cited both these documents in their May 1948 Declaration of Independence to assert their “natural and historic right” to establish “a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel”.
An investigative reading of an “appeal” contained in this Declaration would reveal that the “historic right” to establish a Jewish state in Palestine was claimed on the basis of theology, not history. The appeal asks “Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel... and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream — the redemption of Israel”.
The “redemption of Israel” is an eschatological concept of Rabbinic Judaism (found in the Jerusalem Talmud called Yerushalmi) according to which god will redeem all Jews from exile by bringing them back to the region promised to them in the Bible. Rabbi Avraham Blass of the Yerushalmi Institute believes that “with the revival of the Nation in Eretz Yisrael” the Israelis are experiencing the period of redemption today.
Besides, for more than a millennium, Muslims had ruled Palestine. Although Britain captured it from the Ottomans during World War I, at the time of issuing the Balfour Declaration, it did not possess any jurisdiction over Palestine as Turkey was still the legal sovereign.
In the perceptive words of the renowned Jewish novelist, Arthur Koestler, the Balfour Declaration amounted to “one nation solemnly promising to a second nation the country of a third”. Nonetheless, it brought into existence Israel, the only country in modern history to have been created on a land that did not legally belong to it.
As the foregoing arguments show, shorn of its biblical irredentism and rhetoric of autochthony, Zionism gets reduced to just another term for the forcible occupation of entire Palestine. This is what the Israeli Prime Minister was trying to tell the UN on September 22 when he arrogantly waved a map of Greater Israel that included the West Bank and Gaza.
Notwithstanding Mr. Netanyahu’s expansionist designs — now in the process of being brutally implemented — anti-Zionism today is not about denying Israel’s right to exist on the land allocated to it by the UN. This right became unassailable after the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) recognised it.
Anti-Zionism of the 21st century is, therefore, limited to the criticism of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians which includes the denunciation of every atrocity (especially the ongoing massacres in Gaza) the Jewish state has been committing against the Palestinians with a view to occupying all their lands after forcing them to leave.
This cannot be anti-Semitic because the Berlin-based International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”.
Citing this, the U.S. Department of State clarifies that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”.
According to historian Avi Shlaim, the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is a “propagandistic ploy” to claim that any criticism of Israel and its policies is anti-Semitic. This is exactly what Mr. Netanyahu did when in March 2021 he condemned the International Criminal Court decision to investigate Israel’s alleged war crimes as “undiluted anti-Semitism and the height of hypocrisy”.
Certainly, everything must be done to counter undiluted and even diluted forms of anti-Semitism that violate the IHRA’s definition of the term. But, it would be hypocritical of the West to suppress free speech and repress critics of Israel to overcome its own anti-Semitic past. Jewish-American philosopher Susan Neiman called the weaponisation of the West’s historical guilt “philosemitic McCarthyism”.
Put simply, if the occupation of the whole of Palestine is what the Israelis seek to accomplish in the name of Zionism, any opposition to this land grab cannot be anti-Semitism.
This article was first published in the Hindu newspaper.
A. Faizur Rahman is Secretary-General of the Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought. E-mail: [email protected]