by Micha Danzig
“When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism!” — Martin Luther King Jr.
For years now, it has been open season on Jewish students at many college campuses in the United States and in Europe. And although the deep antisemitism that permeated the Labour party has taught many in the United Kingdom that antisemitism comes from the political left, American Jews still view the greatest risk of antisemitism as coming from the right. Then there is a small group that argues this left-wing hatred is somehow not antisemitic.
A 2014 survey of Jewish university students revealed that 54 percent of the Jewish students in the United States and 51 percent of those in the United Kingdom were personally subject to or witnessed firsthand anti-Semitism. This figure sadly makes sense given that for over 20 years in America, Jews have been — on a per capita basis — the most targeted group for hate crimes, including numerous assaults and murders of visible Jews in the greater New York area this past year. Many of these attacks have been perpetrated by people who neither adhere to nor are influenced by neo-Nazi ideologies, the suspects in the attack on a Jersey City kosher supermarket in December 2019, for example, were identified as followers of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.
While many of these antisemitic incidents occur on college campuses, they rarely receive any public attention. But when they do, the typical response from many on the political and academic left is that their hate is not of Jews but of “Zionism.”
“I am not an antisemite, I’m anti-Zionist” is the new version of the “some of my best friends are Jewish” defense.
In fact, when news came to light of USC student Rose Ritch being bullied into resigning as student government vice president, the defense of many was that the attacks were because Ritch is a Zionist, not a Jew.
But since approximately 90 percent of Israelis are Zionist— meaning they believe the Jewish people have a right to sovereignty and independence in their indigenous, historical and religious homeland — and approximately 95 percent of American Jews have a favorable view of Israel, the “I am only anti-Zionist” defense rings hollow. It is the equivalent of racists arguing they are not racist because they “only” hate those who believe in the civil rights movement. Or a misogynist arguing he doesn’t hate women because he only hates the women who believe in the women’s suffrage movement.
Of course, those who want to carve out an exception for the “only anti-Zionism” defense often argue that there are religious Jews who are against Zionism and that there are people who oppose all forms of ethnonationalism. While there is some merit to these examples, these respective groups are so minuscule in number as to be meaningless in the context of the hate targeting Jews both on and off-campus.
Yes, there is a minority within the minority of ultra-Orthodox Jews today who — despite praying daily for the return of Jewish sovereignty over their ancestral lands — believe that a Jewish polity in the land of Israel should only happen after the Messiah comes.
Given that their opposition to Zionism is not based on any discriminatory animus or double standard, but on what the overwhelming majority of Jewish scholars and rabbis believe to be a mistaken theological position, one can stipulate that for this tiny group, their anti-Zionism is not antisemitism.
The same applies to the relatively few people who oppose all ethnic states, from Armenia to Latvia to Serbia to Estonia. One can stipulate that those few people oppose Zionism but are not antisemitic in their justifications.
But given that most anti-Zionists never take any issue with the many other states based on a specific ethnicity, this exception applies to a group of people so tiny as to be statistically insignificant. (In fact, the people who tend to be most vocally “anti-Zionist” are typically those demanding another ethno-state for the Palestinian people, yet paradoxically demand the annihilation of the one ethno-state of the Jewish people.) And like the relatively few ultra-Orthodox Jews who identify as anti-Zionist, the few people who actually oppose all ethnic states are neither the source nor inspiration of antisemitic hate crimes in America or Europe.
Anti-Zionism is almost always antisemitic in part because (a) it applies hatred to most of the world’s Jews, and (b) almost all of its proponents are not members of the aforementioned exceptions. Anti-Zionism is almost always antisemitism because — as the late, great Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (Z”L) often stated — “Jew-hatred is a mutating virus.” Today, it is going through its fourth mutation. This fourth mutation does not focus hatred on Jews because of their religion or race, but on Jews as a nation.
Like all viruses, as Jew-hatred mutates, it keeps many of its previous characteristics or defining features. In its latest iteration, the “I am only anti-Zionist” claim reveals how closely the current mutations hew to its previous versions.
In the third mutation, which started when Wilhelm Marr coined the term “anti-Semitism” in 1879 (to promote hating Jews as a distinct race), Jew-hatred justified denying all Jews — regardless of their professed faith or level of religious observance — equal rights. Anti-Zionism seeks to deny the Jewish people, among all people on earth, national rights.
In previous mutations, Jews, among all peoples on earth, were demonized as the primary cause of most (if not all) of the world’s problems. Anti-Zionism demonizes Israel, the Jew among the nations, as the primary cause of all of the world’s problems.
In the previous mutations, Jews were baby-killers. Anti-Zionism demonizes the Jewish state as a unique predator-state and “baby-killer,” ignoring the tens of thousands of children murdered in the Middle East and North African in conflicts that have nothing to do with Israel.
In previous mutations, Jews were demonized as controlling banks, the media, and governments. As Representative Ilhan Omar illustrated, anti-Zionism demonizes Israel or Zionists as controlling banks, the media and foreign governments.
Another aspect of antisemitism that remains from the previous mutations is the attempted erasure of the Jewish people. Erasure first appeared in the efforts to forcibly convert Jews in both Europe and the Middle East, followed by the persecution of those who did not convert. This was followed by the attempted physical erasure of the Jewish people which culminated in the Holocaust. After the Jews re-established and successfully defended their sovereignty in Israel, the next phase of erasure was against Jewish history and peoplehood.
George Orwell famously said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” After three failed attempts by multiple Arab League armies to physically erase the Jewish state in “wars of annihilation” starting in 1948, the erasure of Jewish history started to play a prominent role in the anti-Zionism mutation of antisemitism.
We see it in the statements of figures like Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who in addition to referring to Jewish control of American politicians, also tried to revise history by asserting that “Jesus was a Palestinian.” This “Jesus was a Palestinian” erasure was also taken up by far-left activist Linda Sarsour. We also see this attempted erasure in claims by officials of the Palestinian Authority, which denies any Jewish connection to the Temple of Solomon, Jerusalem, and any part of the land of Israel.
The far-right certainly leads the way in promoting the racialized version of antisemitism. But when it comes to the fourth mutation, the far-left leads the way in the United States and Europe. Of course, calls for the ethnic cleansing and demonization of Jews are also heard from some on the far-left in America. Witness Congressman Rashida Tlaib and her T-Shirts that depicted a future Middle East without Israel, Professor Marcus Lamont Hill and his recitation of the river to the sea mantra (which calls for wiping Israel off the map), or Congressman Hank Johnson referring to Israelis living in Judea and Samaria as “termites” in 2016 (a Nazi-like description of Jews that was picked up two years later by Louis Farrakhan, a hero to many on the far-left).
The fact that Louis Farrakhan has remained for decades an honored photo-op among numerous Democratic politicians and activists shows the blind-spot the political-left has for even the most virulent and outspoken antisemite in America. It is this blind-spot that makes left-wing antisemitism so dangerous.
In the same manner that many on the left can’t see or find a way to excuse Farrakhan’s vitriol, they find even more reasons to rationalize the “I am only anti-Zionist” antisemitism. Unlike far-right antisemitism, this antisemitism appears to be far more prevalent in the American mainstream, in particular on American college campuses.
No one publicly questions or excuses David Duke’s antisemitism. And if students espousing Nazi or white supremacist views engaged in a social media campaign to drive a Jewish student to resign from student government, their college or university would likely suspend or expel the guilty students immediately. Yet it has been four months since Rose Ritch was viciously and incessantly harassed, and USC has not disciplined any student.
Rabbi Sacks understood the dangers of the “anti-Zionism” variety of antisemitism. He even condemned the rise of this mutation of antisemitism in a speech to Parliament, years before it became clear to the rest of the United Kingdom how deeply antisemitic Corbyn was. We should not have to wait for our schools, universities, and political parties to become infected with anti-Zionist antisemitism before we realize it is dangerous. This does not mean we have to excuse or become tolerant of far-right antisemitism. We should not and cannot. But we can walk and chew gum at the same time. And given how fast far-left antisemitism has grown over the last 20 years, we must have zero-tolerance for it. Honoring the memory of Rabbi Sacks requires it.
This piece originally appeared in the Jewish Journal, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.