In a recent New York Times op-ed titled “Anti-Zionism isn’t the same as Anti-Semitism,” columnist Michelle Goldberg defended Ilhan Omar, a newly elected House representative who has claimed that Jews have hypnotized the world for their evil works. A person can oppose “Jewish ethno-nationalism without being a bigot,” Goldberg explained. “Indeed,” she went on, “it’s increasingly absurd to treat the Israeli state as a stand-in for Jews writ large, given the way the current Israeli government has aligned itself with far-right European movements that have anti-Semitic roots.”
It’s true, of course, that anti-Zionism isn’t “the same” as common anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism is the most significant and consequential form of anti-Semitism that exists in the world today. Anti-Zionism has done more to undermine Jewish safety than all the ugly tweets, dog whistles, and white nationalist marches combined. It is the predominant justification for violence, murder, and hatred against Jews in Europe and the Middle East. And it’s now infiltrating American politics.
What was once festering on the progressive fringes has found its way into elected offices and the heart of the liberal activist movement. As Democrats increasingly turn on Israel, Jewish liberals, many of whom have already purposely muddled Jewish values with progressive ones, are attempting to untether Israel from its central role in Jewish culture and faith for political expediency.
Now, of course, merely being critical of the Israeli government isn’t anti-Semitic. No serious person has ever argued otherwise. I’ve never heard any Israeli official or AIPAC spokesman ever claim that Israel is a “stand-in for Jews writ large,” nor have I ever heard an Israeli prime minister profess to speak for all Jews. (We have the ADL for that.) Israel has featured both left-wing and right-wing governments, and like governments in any liberal democracy, its leaders can be corrupt, misguided, or incompetent. Israelis criticize their governments every day.
However, opposing “Zionism” itself — the movement for a Jewish homeland — is to deny the validity of a Jewish claim to a nation altogether. It puts you in league with Hamas and Hezbollah and the mullahs of Iran. The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s 1968 charter states that “Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.” This, it seems, is now also the position of a number of Democrats.
A person doesn’t have to believe in the divine promise of Israel. Judaism’s ancient roots make it both nation and faith. One can believe in the historic necessity of a Jewish nation for those who have faced annihilation and oppression in nearly every part of the world throughout every part of their long history. To argue against Jews’ nationalism — which is to say, to argue against the ability of Jews to defend themselves in their own state — is substantively anti-Jewish.
Let’s face it, it’s not as if Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who believes “Palestine” should replace Israel on the map, is merely unhappy about Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies. She’s unhappy that the Jewish state exists. Omar (D-MN), who sounds like she’s quoting “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” isn’t mulling over the reality of returning to ‘67 armistice lines. She’s concerned about Jews running the place.
Now, media sweetheart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who, like the others, supports the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, an effort to economically destroy the Jewish state—and everyone in it, whether they support “settlements” or not—is probably just embracing and normalizing a standard position of the socialist left. (Not even the Palestinian Authority, incidentally, which relies on Israeli capitalism to survive, supports BDS. American progressives are moving to a position more extreme than Fatah’s.)
That apparently includes, as Marco Rubio tells it (and Chris Murphy confirms), some unknown number of senators — perhaps a significant number, perhaps not — who voted against the Middle East Security Bill, which includes a provision that protects states that don’t want to spend taxpayer dollars on companies that engage in BDS activism. I’m inclined to believe senators probably oppose the anti-BDS bill because they didn’t want to give President Trump a victory. But Bernie Sanders says the problem is that the law “punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity.”
Now, if you believe there’s a First Amendment issue with ensuring that government contractors don’t engage in discrimination, you might have an argument. As of right now, though, the only people Sanders believes government contractors should be able to discriminate against are Jews. This is anti-Zionism in practice.
It’s difficult to escape the fact that Israel is constantly singled out by authoritarian types. In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the Jewish state on 21 occasions, while condemning North Korea, Myanmar, Syria, Iran, Sudan, and other genocidal and terror regimes a total of five times. China has set up internment camps for Uighur Muslims, but Western leftists and Islamic states continue to be obsessed with the liberal Jewish state, which has engaged in dozens of good-faith efforts to make peace with the Palestinians.
For Sanders and Goldberg, and other progressives, Israel might be okay if its citizens went ahead and elected appropriately socialistic politicians to run the country. Goldberg is right that there is nothing inherently bigoted about arguing for a binational state. It’s merely suicidal for Jews in this situation. Or, one might say, functionally anti-Semitic.
It’s true that Israel is an “ethno-nationalist” state like — well, I guess, like every nation in Europe and the Middle East — and primarily concerned with protecting Jews. This is an especially important job because the rest of the world has repeatedly and dramatically failed at the task. For Jews who are a part of a wildly successful and relatively safe minority here in America, it’s easy to demand that Israelis adhere to their progressive notions. In the real world, however, anti-Zionism is disaster. There are a few thousand years of history to prove it.