Imagine a group of people who work to destroy the United States because, they claim, its origins are illegitimate. Further, imagine that these people maintain that of all the countries in the world, only the US is illegitimate. And then imagine that these people vigorously deny they are in any way anti-American. Would you believe them?
Substitute Israel for the United States, and you will understand the dishonesty and absurdity of the argument that one can be anti-Zionist, but not anti-Semitic.
However, this is exactly an anti-Zionist’s rationale. They argue that the existence of a Jewish state in the geographic area known as Palestine, there never having been an independent country known as Palestine, is illegitimate. They do not believe any other country in the world is illegitimate, no matter how bloody its origins, and then they get offended when they are accused of being anti-Semitic.
So how can they even make this argument?
First, they change the topic. They declare it is unfair to charge those who merely “criticize” Israel with being anti-Semitic. Yet, I believe that is an ignorant, uneducated argument. Criticizing Israel is fine. It is not a perfect country and judgment of its government’s policies is not anti-Semitic. What is, contrastingly, anti-Semitic, is denying Israel’s right to exist. Anti-Zionism is not criticism of Israel – it is unmitigated opposition to Israel’s existence, acceding to the deprivation of an indigenous people’s country.
Zionism is the movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland. Throughout the past 3,000 years, there were two independent Jewish states located in what is called Israel. In 70 AD, invaders annihilated both, and, according to Haaretz, no Arab, Muslim, or any other independent country or settlement ever existed in that land, with the exception of permanent housing projects for Bedouins in the Negev. Palestine is called Palestine only because the Romans named it that in an attempt to remove all memory of the Jewish state they had just obliterated.
Second, an anti-Zionist will claim they are not anti-Semitic because Zionism has nothing to do with Judaism or being Jewish. This is categorically false. It is the equivalent of saying that the United States has nothing to with being American.
Judaism has always consisted of three principal components: God, Torah and Israel. If Israel is not a part of Judaism, neither are God or Torah.
Third, anti-Zionists claim that Judaism is only a religion, and therefore Jews are only members of a religion, not a nation. Nevertheless, the Jewish people are referred to as the “nation of Israel” recurrently within the Torah and other scriptures. We, the people, are the nation. This is also why there are irreligious, secular and even atheist Jews – because Judaism is not purely a religion, unlike Christianity and Islam, in which there dwell no atheists or disbelievers.
Fourth, an anti-Zionist claims that Israel is illegitimate because Judaism is racist. This is the fraudulent accusation Israel—and America—haters make against two of the least racist, most accepting and diverse nations in the world. The reality is that half of Israel’s Jews are not white, and anyone, of any race, ethnicity or religion, can become a Jew. Moreover, one in every five Israelis is a non-Jew, and these Israeli citizens, primarily Muslim Arabs, have the same rights and privileges as Jewish Israelis.
As for Israel’s control of the West Bank, that has nothing to do with race. Israel does not control the West Bank because Palestinians are another race. Rather, they control it as a result of the Palestinians’ having sought to demolish Israel in 1967 during the Six-Day War, and ultimately having lost.
The West Bank was the heartland of the ancient Jewish state. It’s home to many of our holiest sites, such as the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, that we were previously cut off from. In any peace deal, the border between Israel and the West Bank would unquestionably have to change. A sum of 500,000 Jewish settlers would have to leave elsewhere, and Palestine and Israel would need to exchange some major territories. As of now, no Palestinian or Israeli leaders have agreed on precisely where to draw the border.
Palestinians specifically have rejected offers to form their own state on five separate occasions since 1948, and that is the preeminent reason as to why they still do not have one. Since the onset of this endless dispute between Israel and Palestine, Palestine has always been more interested in destroying Israel than forming its own state.
Finally, an anti-Zionist asserts that Israel’s origins are illegitimate. Of all the world’s 200 countries, the only one anti-Zionists contend illegitimate is also the only Jewish one. That forgone conclusion is all you need to understand their motives.
Why, for instance, do they not make this same assertion about Pakistan? In 1947, nine months before the establishment of the State of Israel, India was partitioned into a Muslim state, Pakistan, and a Hindu state, India. And Pakistan, unlike Israel, had never existed before.
In contrast to Israel’s founding, which created approximately 700,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands and 700,000 Arab refugees from what became Israel, the founding of Pakistan created about 7 million Muslim refugees from India and about 7 million Hindu refugees from Pakistan. And while the highest estimate of Arab deaths in the conflict that took place when Israel announced its establishment is 10,000, the number of deaths due to Pakistan’s creation is 1 million.
So why is Israel’s legitimacy challenged and Pakistan’s not? There is but one answer: Israel is the one Jewish state. Of course, not all anti-Zionists hate Jews, but if you seek to destroy the United States, you do not have to hate every American to be anti-American. If you seek to destroy the one Jewish state, you do not have to hate every Jew to be an anti-Semite.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise everywhere, and more often than not, it is veiled under the cloak of anti-Zionism. Although this form of prejudice is less evident and thus harder to recognize, it is still there and in full force. When you hold Israel to a double standard, when you deny Jews’ right to self-determination and demonize the one Jewish state, that is unequivocally anti-Semitic. And when society turns a blind eye and accepts this anti-Semitism, we create an atmosphere in which both discrimination and oppression can flourish.
As I have come to learn, there is no such thing as anti-Zionism without anti-Semitic intent, without anti-Semitism. They are one and the same. History tells us what kinds of ideas serve as tinder and what kinds of words as the match. Believing and acting as if anti-Zionism is freestanding of anti-Semitism is the oxygen that allows noxious ideas to burn on and fosters the persecution of a people.
We have been down this heinous path before, but there is a difference now. Anti-Zionism can no longer be the provenance of the anti-Semitic or a platform for them to broadcast their propaganda and bias. We will not sit idly by and watch as others decide for us what we believe in, how we pray and live our lives, and who we are. We will not abdicate our rights as a people or cower in the presence of injustice.
And perhaps that is why anti-Semitism has found a welcoming home through anti-Zionism. When a small percentage of the world’s population, a minority, can stand tall, resist, and not just survive, but thrive, it is unnerving to those who have only their failures and hate to fall back on.
Please note that the opinions in this piece are presented solely by the author, and neither The New York Jewish Week nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
Sarah Gorbatov is a sophomore at The IDEA School in Tenafly, N.J. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.