(Anti-Zionism = Anti-Semitism) + (Zionism = Racism)

“Anti-Zionism = Anti-Semitism” and “Zionism = Racism” are twins. They illuminate each other, the way figures and forms overlap into each other.

Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitic. They are two separate formations. Anti-Zionism might, however, be construed as “anti-Jewish,” without being “anti-Semitic” as such. Because Zionism is a putative Jewish political interest. No matter what Haredi Jews and the anti-Zionist Jewish left want to argue, the Zionist movement and the establishment of the State of Israel and Jewish life in the State of Israel constitute a central chapter in 20th C. Jewish history. Israel today is now the national home of millions of Jews with its own unique and profound forms of Jewish culture. By definition and for now, blanket anti-Zionism stands opposed to a putative Jewish interest. And because anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are adjacent, because they share the same intentional objects, namely Jews and Jewish power, they seep into each other regularly.

Zionism is not racism, or a racist project. Not per se. Zionism is and was a national project that might, however, be construed, at least historically, as “anti-Arab,” without being racist as such. Because pan-Arabism was a putative national interest and a central chapter in 20th century politics and culture of the Middle East and because the Arab nation and the Arabs of Palestine (as both were once called) had every sound reason to reject on principle mass Jewish immigration to Palestine. Historically, cold realist Zionist leaders like Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky understood this perfectly well. Zionism was a putative Jewish political interest that stood against the Arab political interest in Palestine. Because anti-Arabism is adjacent to racism as one of its forms and because Israeli-Palestinian power relations are asymmetrical, Zionism and anti-Arab racism seep into each other regularly.

The wrong way to navigate the collision between Zionism and anti-Zionism is to pretend that conflict, in general, is not humanly deep-seated and genuine, and that this particular conflict is simply the effect of bad-faith acting on the part of one party alone against the good-faith acting of the other party. Rightwing Zionists and leftwing anti-Zionists do this all the time. What both ignore is that anti-Semitism and anti-Arab racism are things in the world today. They come from a deep well of the western imaginary and stick to and drive discourse. One does not have to be an anti-Semite or a racist per se to draw on deep wells of anti-Semitism and racism.

If Zionism was “only” anti-Palestinian, and if anti- Zionism was “only” anti-Jewish, then there might be greater clarity to the contours of a conflict that is “only” political, not configured according to the structure of a meta-ideological “ism.” A way forward is to set aside the diabolism of the friend/enemy distinction with an eye towards coming to some form of a decent accommodation of two competing national interests in either a 2 state or a 1 state compact.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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7 Responses to (Anti-Zionism = Anti-Semitism) + (Zionism = Racism)

  1. droytenberg says:

    Hi Zack. This all sounds very sensible, except for the distinction you make between antisemitic and anti-Jewish. To me these are synonymous terms.

    How do you distinguish them?

    • Eliana says:

      Hello. I’m not Zack but I think he means that anti-semitism is hate or prejudice against Jews whereas anti-Jewish means anything opposed to a Jewish communal aspiration, whether this is motivated by anti-semitism or by something else like feeling that a particular Jewish communal aspiration like Zionism is incompatible with one’s own aspirations.

    • zjb says:

      check out Gavin Langmuir’s famous Toward a Definition of Antisemitism. I might have mentioned him here at the blog and you could find his name doing a word search. The difference is that a/j reflects real social-political conflict between jews and others, whereas with a/s Jewish things, qualities, behaviors are chimerical, made up, etc.

  2. dmf says:

    “putative” is doing an awful lot of work here.
    In general I think the academic collections we call Religion suffer from some serious confusions of social sciences and theology, reminds me of when talking-head people talk about what say “real” Islam does or doesn’t stand for in relation to some news event/story. There is no Necessity, no Imperatives and no Grounding, and nothing enduring in politics (or any other human doings), as we make use of language/images/etc their uses (and so their meanings) change. See for example the developing work in geography studies on “territory” (what is, where is, who is, how is, Israel etc)

    • zjb says:

      agreed about putative, but it’s my way to bracket the truth question. Usually i think the the perceived interest is just as “real” as the actual interest

      • dmf says:

        sure what matters is what people act on, my point was more that these (terms, identities, evidence for, etc) are not, and cannot be, settled matters. We must take some things for granted to make use of them but we should acknowledge that they are manufactured and limited and not discovered and comprehensive.

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