Is anti-Zionism anti-Semitism?

In my various debates, I often come across the position that anti-Zionist movements are intrinsically anti-Semitic in nature. A lot of people ask me to comment on this topic.

The justification for this position is that Zionism refers to the re-establishment of Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, and to deny Zionism would be to deny the rights of the Jewish people to safety and self-representation as a historically oppressed group.

It is true that Jewish people are historically oppressed, and it is true that they remain in dire need of self-representation in a world where anti-Semitism is blatantly on the rise. However, I do not believe, as a matter of computable fact, that anti-Zionism is actually anti-Semitism. I believe the assertion to simply be both logically and historically inaccurate.





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Etymological argument

Just as, in algebraic logic, if 2 times “a” is 2 times “b”, or if minus “a” is minus “b”, then “a” must be “b”; if anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, then Zionism must be Semitism. The statement suggests:

  • to be anti-Zionist is, allegedly, to be anti-Semitic,
  • therefore, Zionism and Semitism can be used as substitutable terms,
  • therefore Zionism is Semitism.

We know that this is instinctively wrong. Zionism and Semitism are two very different concepts. According to the Oxford Dictionary:

[Zionism is a] movement for (originally) the re-establishment and (now) the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. It was established as a political organization in 1897 under Theodor Herzl, and was later led by Chaim Weizmann.

Whereas, according to the same Dictionary:

[A Semite is a] member of any of the peoples who speak or spoke a Semitic language, including in particular the Jews and Arabs.

As we are aware of many Zionists who are not Semitic people (such as George Bush and other Christian American Zionists), and many Semitic people who are not Zionists (such as Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappé and Norman Finkelstein), we can determine that Zionism and Semitism cannot be used as interchangeable terms because they have clearly distinct meanings.

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Moral argument

Related, to use Zionism and Semitism as interchangeable terms would be to deny Jewish groups who have alternative interpretations of the Torah – interpretations that distance themselves from more radical Zionist ideas – a right to identify as Semitic people. I believe that these people have the right to identify as Semitic people if they have Semitic ancestry, and hence one cannot conclude that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

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Historical argument

The assertion that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism also assumes that all anti-Zionist movements have a single origin, and that that origin was a response to – or an attack on – Semitic identity.

This is not true; anti-Zionist movements are diverse, and include a plethora of different reasonings – political, economic, anthropological, diplomatic, logistical/pragmatic, and so forth.

Yes, it is true, that many members of anti-Zionist groups are also anti-Semites. It is also true that anti-Zionist arguments can be hijacked by anti-Semites. However, any claim that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism would imply that all anti-Zionists are fueled completely or in part by an objection to Semitic identity.

I think it would be highly controversial to suggest that Noam Chomsky, for example, is a “self-hating Semite” because of his opposition to Israel. Many people believe that his objection to Israel is done out of love for the Semitic people.

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Pragmatic argument

Finally – and related – are not Palestinians who suffer as a result of Zionism Semitic people? What about common arguments that more aggressive elements of Zionism actually undermine and discredit the ambitions of Jewish people to have legitimate and secure self determination? All these other factors must be taken into consideration.

Clearly, then, anti-Zionism is not always anti-Semitism.

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