Are Zionists more antisemitic than anti-Zionists?
Probably. The evidence suggests not only that anti-Zionism doesn’t equal antisemitism but that while some anti-Zionists are indeed antisemites, Jew-hatred in the United States and Europe is more prevalent among supporters of the Jewish state. I’ll explain why below.
But first a word about our Zoom conversation this Friday, December 17. It will be at our usual time, Noon ET, and usual link. No registration required. After that, there will be no more newsletters or Zoom calls until the new year.
This Friday’s call will be about “settler-colonialism.” If you follow pro-Palestinian discourse, you’ve probably heard the term. It suggests that Israel—like the US and Australia—is a country created by settlers who dominated and displaced the indigenous population. If you follow pro-Israel discourse, you may have heard this claim rejected as inaccurate and offensive. A lot rides on this debate. And this Friday, we’ll host it.
Professor Alan Johnson is editor of the journal Fathom and a senior research fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Center. Last month, he authored an open letter “explaining why Israel is not a ‘Settler Colonial’ society.” Leila Farsakh is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and the author, among other works, of Palestinian Labor Migration to Israel: Labor, Land and Occupation. She will argue in favor of the settler-colonial paradigm. It should be a fascinating discussion. Please join us.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Now back to anti-Zionism and antisemitism. French President Emmanuel Macron, Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt all believe that anti-Zionism—opposing a state that privileges Jews over Palestinians—constitutes antisemitism. That’s wrong. The Satmar Rebbe is a passionate anti-Zionist; he’s not an antisemite. Twenty percent of American Jews think Israel should be a democratic, non-Jewish, state; they’re not all antisemites either. And the vast majority of Palestinians are anti-Zionists; why shouldn’t they be? For Palestinians, political Zionism has meant expulsion and subjugation. A Jewish state offers the Palestinians under its control either second class citizenship or no citizenship. Opposing that doesn’t make Palestinians antisemites; it makes them human.
The real question isn’t whether anti-Zionism constitutes antisemitism. It’s when both anti-Zionism and Zionism overlap with antisemitism. I say both because some anti-Zionists are indeed antisemites: The 1988 Hamas charter, for instance, condemned Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and also quoted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which claims that Jews seek to control the world. But some Zionists are antisemites too: Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary who in 1917 declared that, “His Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” had, as prime minister twelve years earlier, championed legislation restricting Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe.
Think of three circles: anti-Zionist, Zionist, antisemite. When do they—and do they not—overlap?
In the US, the data suggests that—contrary to what you hear from politicians and Jewish leaders—Zionists are probably more likely than anti-Zionists to hate Jews. Poll after poll shows that, in the US today, hostility to Israel is far greater on the left than the right. And while surveys generally ask for people’s views on Israel, not Zionism, it stands to reason that if leftists are more likely to condemn Israel, they’re more likely to oppose Zionism. Studies of antisemitism, however, suggest that it’s far stronger on the American right. Earlier this year, the political scientists Eitan Hersh and Laura Royden asked Americans a series of questions traditionally used to measure antisemitic attitudes—for instance, “Jews in the United States have too much power” and “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America.” They found that, “While antisemitism in the U.S. is often written about through a “both sides” lens, our evidence — the first of its kind in testing hypotheses through experiments on a large representative sample — suggests the problem of antisemitism is much more serious on the right than the left.” Unless you define anti-Zionism as antisemitism, in which case you’ve created a tautology, the Americans most likely to dislike Jews and the Americans most likely dislike Zionism are different people.
In Europe, the story appears somewhat similar, but with a disturbing twist. This fall, Andras Kovacs, a sociologist and professor of Jewish Studies at the Central European University, and Gyorgy Fischer, the former research director for Gallup in Hungary, published a fascinating study entitled, “Antisemitic Prejudices in Europe.” To some degree, the evidence they find resembles evidence from the US. As a general rule, for instance, Western Europeans like Jews more but Israel less whereas Eastern Europeans like Jews less but Israel more. For instance, Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic exhibit some of the continent’s highest rates of both support for Israel and hostility to Jews. In Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands, by contrast, sympathy for Israel is far lower and so is antisemitism.
The reasons for this aren’t a mystery. Kovacs and Fischer find a strong correlation between antisemitism and xenophobia. “Antisemitism,” they write, “is largely a manifestation and consequence of resentment, distancing and rejection towards a generalised stranger.” Which is why Europe’s most antisemitic countries are also the most Islamophobic. But the very xenophobia that leads some Europeans—especially Eastern Europeans—to dislike Jews can also make them admire Israel. Israel, after all, has exactly the kind of immigration policy that many European xenophobes want for their own countries: an immigration policy that welcomes members of the dominant group and keeps out pretty much everyone else. Moreover, if you’re a xenophobe who dislikes the Jews in your country because they dilute ethnic and religious purity, Israel offers them a place to go and be with their own kind. That’s one of the reasons Arthur Balfour embraced Zionism in 1917. He liked the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine in part because he wanted Eastern European Jews to go there and not to his country.
The parallels with the American right are obvious. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban demonizes George Soros in classically antisemitic terms while lavishing praise on Israel. As president, Donald Trump described American Jews as money-grubbers who are loyal to Israel, or should be, while giving Benjamin Netanyahu unconditional support. The ideological dynamic is the same. The Jews in one’s own country are bad because they undermine traditional ethnic and religious hierarchies—both because they’re not Christian and because they tend to support other minority and immigrant groups. But Israel upholds ethnic and religious hierarchies, which makes it good. Ann Coulter, for instance, who often derides American Jews, admires Israel in large measure because it has the kind of immigration policy she wants to implement in the US.
If this were all that Kovacs and Fischer found, leftists could feel pretty smug. But it’s not all. Anti-Israel Europeans are generally less likely than pro-Israel Europeans to express traditional antisemitic attitudes. They’re less likely to say that “The Jews’ suffering was a punishment from God” or “The interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population.” But Kovacs and Fischer also investigated whether anti-Israel sentiment bleeds into antisemitism in other ways. And they found that, for a significant chunk of anti-Israel Europeans, it does. They asked Europeans to respond to statements like, “Because of Israel’s politics, I dislike Jews more and more,” “When I think of Israel’s politics, I understand why some people hate Jews,” and “Israelis behave like Nazis towards the Palestinians.” And the two researchers found that while roughly one-quarter of the Europeans who support boycotting Israel disagree with all these antisemitic statements, another quarter agree with some of them, and another quarter agree with all of them.
European Muslims appear particularly likely to allow their hostility to Israel to color their view of Jews. Kovacs and Fischer note that while European Muslims are less likely than many Eastern European Christian populations to hold antisemitic views that don’t relate to Israel, they are significantly more likely to hold antisemitic views that do relate to Israel. Acknowledging this is tricky because bigots like Trump and Orban are all too happy to use Muslim antisemitism as to justify Islamophobia, which is rampant in both the US and Europe. But courageous progressive Muslims like Mehdi Hasan have acknowledged it, nonetheless. As he wrote in a 2013 essay in The New Statesman, “anti-Semitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community; it’s routine and commonplace.”
Obviously, European Muslims aren’t the only people who conflate Israel and Jews. Non-Muslim anti-Zionists in the US do it when they ask Jewish students to answer for Israel’s actions. So do Zionists. Donald Trump conflated Jewish identity and allegiance to Israel when he told a group of American Jews in 2020 that Israel is “your country.” And diaspora Jewish leaders do it when they claim Zionism is an inherent expression of Jewish identity rather than a political choice.
Conflating Zionism with Jewishness is dangerous for both Palestinians and Jews. It’s dangerous for Palestinians because they get branded antisemites for opposing a Jewish state. It’s dangerous for Jews because they get blamed for the actions of that Jewish state. And while, overall, antisemitism is a bigger problem in the US and Europe on the right than the left, this particular kind of antisemitism, which stems from the conflations of Israel and Jews, is a problem on both the right and left. Irrespective of your views about Zionism, combatting it is a common responsibility that we all share.
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See you Friday,