World / December 5, 2023

How Zionism Feeds Antisemitism

Our best hope against antisemitism is to defeat Israel’s dual campaign to raze Gaza and bind our fate as Jews to that insidious project.

Dave Zirin
Anti-Zionism is not Anti-Semitism, despite house resolution 894, david kustoff, max miller

A young person holds a sign that reads “Anti-Zionism is not Anti-Semitism” during a “Freedom for Palestine” protest march that drew thousands of participants on November 4, 2023, in Berlin, Germany.

(Sean Gallup / Getty)

The cynicism of House Resolution 894 “strongly condemning and denouncing the drastic rise of antisemitism in the United States and around the world” is boundless. Put forward by two Jewish Republicans, Representatives David Kustoff and Max Miller, it states that the official view of the US Congress is that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism.” This is unserious, inane, and dangerous.

Democratic Representative Jerry Nadler, also Jewish, replied to HR 894, by saying: “With this resolution, the GOP has shown themselves fundamentally unserious about combatting antisemitism.… its authors carefully avoided mentioning any of the obvious instances of antisemitism coming from their own leaders.… For example, the resolution implicitly compares some peaceful protesters with the January 6th rioters and insurrectionists.… More problematically, the resolution suggests that ALL anti-Zionism—it states that all anti-Zionism is antisemitism. That is either intellectually disingenuous or just factually wrong.… the authors, if they were at all familiar with Jewish history and culture should know about Jewish anti-Zionism that was and is expressly NOT anti-Semitic. ”

Good for Nadler for speaking truth in the face of Orwellian absurdity. But it’s not enough. This bill is part of a larger movement to make people feel unsafe to say that they oppose Israel’s war crimes in Gaza. If you think it is a coincidence that we are getting this “resolution” as the temporary cease-fire ends and as Israel is expanding its killing campaign into the south of Gaza, then, as my Bubbe would say, I have this bridge in Brooklyn you just have to buy. If you think that the rash of stories this week where Israeli police are releasing “new information” about the Hamas killings of October 7 just as the bombings move south are also a coincidence, then maybe I could throw in the Manhattan Bridge for free.

This is a bill that will receive near-unanimous support from antisemitic Republicans and Christian Zionists like Speaker of the House Mike Johnson: the people who love Israel and hate Jews. That any Democrat would link arms, or in Chuck Schumer’s case hold hands, with these people is a mark of shame.

But that’s not the only reason to oppose HR 894. We must stand against condemning anti-Zionism as antisemitism, because it will only feed the existing hate against the Jewish community, much of which is already afraid. While it’s true, as I wrote in October and as Nadler affirms, that anti-Zionism and antisemitism should never be conflated, it is also true that this kind of ham-fisted, coercive defense of Israel aids and abets antisemitism—an antisemitism that then becomes exploited and weaponized to support Benjamin Netanyahu’s martial agenda.

What Netanyahu, Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, and Hollywood amplifiers like Juliana Margulies (three people who seem to be trying to “out-racist” one another) push is the idea that criticism and protests against Israel’s policies are inherently antisemitic and therefore need to be silenced by the state. Their logic threatens Jews everywhere. If politically confronting Israel is branded as antisemitic, then for people new to this movement, it may stand to reason that to be Jewish is to be a Zionist. Netanyahu has devoted his life to binding the fate of all Jews to the furtherance of the Israeli state. This is rank antisemitism: the assumption that to be Jewish is to support Israel’s crimes. To be clear: Anyone who attempts to fasten a 5,000-year-old religion to a 150-year-old colonial project is guilty of antisemitism. They are pushing the idea that my family, merely because of our religion, supports war crimes abroad and the crackdown on critics at home.

It is naïve to think that this won’t create blowback against Jews. We are already seeing an increasing number of disturbing protests at Jewish institutions throughout the world. If the GOP and many Democrats push the idea that being Jewish means supporting Zionism and its current agenda, then the consequences will fall on the shoulders of Jews outside Israel’s borders. As leftists, we must forcefully oppose the idea of collective guilt or collective punishment of Jews for Israel’s crimes. If Israel believed the same logic about Palestinians, then thousands more kids would be alive today.

It can’t be surprising that the GOP would be insensitive to the fallout of these kinds of declarations. Their right-wing base is a cauldron of antisemitism, and their presidential candidate Donald Trump met with avowed Nazis while president. Netanyahu and Greenblatt have never minded this, because Trump has reserved most of his violent ire for “liberal Jews,” a group that many Zionists also hold in great contempt. With every anti-Jewish attack stoked by Trump, from Charlottesville to Pittsburgh, Netanyahu steps in to thank Trump and say that this is proof that Jews need their own ethno-state for protection. The opposite is true. What Jews need is a mass left resistance to antisemitism, and that resistance also needs to be against Zionism and for Palestinian liberation. If antisemitism is “the socialism of fools,” then Zionism is Judaism for reactionaries.

As a left, we need to fight against any hint of antisemitism in our ranks. But ridding the struggle of this scourge is our job, not the job of a Congress trying to squelch protest and dissent. Every day I hear from people whose employment is being threatened over Instagram posts or surreptitiously taped classroom lectures. HR 894 will fuel this suffocating reaction. We need to say no to the war on Gaza and no to the brazen neo-McCarthyism aimed at silencing critics. As Jews, we also need to be aware that our best hope against antisemitism lies in defeating Israel’s dual campaign to raze Gaza and bind our fate to those war crimes.

Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin is the sports editor at The Nation. He is the author of 11 books on the politics of sports. He is also the coproducer and writer of the new documentary Behind the Shield: The Power and Politics of the NFL.

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