Anti-Semitic Forms of Anti-Zionism

Imagine for a moment any of the following events taking place in some possible world:

  • The California Board of Regents (the governing institution for the University of California system) passes a resolution that included language that could be interpreted as tepid criticism of the Jewish state.
  • A state legislature creates a sub-committee to study whether a different sub-committee should begin researching state investments as they relate to the Middle East conflict.
  • A single college president says something that, artfully interpreted, could be construed as supportive of one tiny element of the BDS agenda.

If even one of these ever occurred, the Internet would detonate with shrieks of triumph that would pour in from San Francisco to Cambridge to Oxford to Riyadh.  Omar Barghouti himself would be Facebooking hourly from his Tel Aviv flat as the world’s most subtly named Twitterer, “@IsraelBombsBabies,” flooded the #BDS hashtag with demands that we all bow down before BDS’s historic triumph and unstoppable momentum.

Given the BDSers tendency to declare imminent victory over their Zionist foes whenever they can get a group of hapless student council members to do their bidding after an all night browbeating session (and following years and years of these same councils voting down previous motions), one would think that the genuinely staggering momentum of political condemnation of the entire BDS program might at least warrant a moment of self-reflection on their part.

But, as we all know, self-reflection is in non-existent supply on Planet BDS where the very entities (school administrators, government officials, etc.) the boycotters have been lobbying for years finally casting BDS votes – to condemn it – are being interpreted as yet another demonstration of BDS victory.  Why, after all, would the people they’ve been begging to join their cause instead come out swinging against it if they did not fear the boycotter’s phenomenal success?

One of the ironies growing out of the asymmetrical psychology vis-a-vis Israel’s opponents and detractors is that our side avoids shrieking in everyone’s face the moment we land a win (like the recent string of legislative sanctions votes targeting BDS) while also longing to give the BDSers a taste of their own medicine.

It’s hard to imagine our side raising Israeli flags, bursting into song and screaming that “The campus is ours!” whenever a student council vote goes our way (never mind Congressional action).  At the same time, I know that many (including me) enjoy a certain amount of glee when a situation unfolds that requires the boycotters to slink away in defeat or burst into impotent rage as a salve for political humiliation.

But might our tendency to approach these matters thoughtfully, rather treating our victories as emotional rushes, actually be an asset?

After all, getting people involved with civic institutions (from student councils and food coop members to governors and Presidents) to pay attention to you requires treating them civilly and honestly.

Boycotts are all but dead in the food-coop movement, after all, and this defeat can be attributed to the fact that – unlike the BDSholes – Israel’s friends do not treat members of those organizations as means to a political end.  Similarly, the reason local, state and national lawmakers are more inclined to listen to us vs. the boycotters is that we have a history of showing them respect, rather than showing up waving photos of bloody babies and insisting everyone has no choice other than to do what we say.

Even principled argumentation within our ranks can be a source of strength.  For example, there exist a number of critics (including me) who question the use of government power (either legislative or judicial) to settle political matters, such as those surrounding boycott and divestment debates.  But reasonable arguments against this position, especially ones addressing the anti-Semitism being introduced into campus life by groups like SJP, have helped our side sharpen our points and hone our positions, giving us better arguments going into the next debate.

The recent vote by the UC Regents provides a good case in point, given that they had to struggle with where to draw the line between legitimate criticism of Israel and its government and hatred directed against Jews (both inside and outside the Jewish state).  The phrase they came up with to square this circle: “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism,” while possibly emerging from compromise, actually creates a useful category when debating those who insist that no attack on Israel (no matter how virulent, hateful or dishonest) can ever be interpreted as anti-Semitic.

This might seem like a small point (not to mention a lot of words on my part used to celebrate just a handful of them created by the Regents).  But remember that the propaganda war being waged against the Jewish state is taking place on the landscape of language.  And like other phrases that put our opponents on the defensive (such as “The Regressive Left”) “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism” accurately describes concrete reality that cannot be ignored away or shouted down – no matter how much the boycotters are likely to be doing both in the months and years ahead.


10 Responses to Anti-Semitic Forms of Anti-Zionism

  1. Mike Harris March 27, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    As someone who is not only involved in advocacy, but directly affected as a California taxpayer and parent of a UC student, I have a vested interest in the Regents’ decision.
    The challenge at this point is defining “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism”– not for ourselves (because we know that anti-Zionism at its core is anti-Semitic), and certainly not for the BDS movement which tries hard not to notice the swastikas and hate speech that accompany BDS initiatives. Rather, we need to define it for those who will need to act on it– university administrators and student government leaders. But now we can– clearly and straightforwardly– accuse the other side’s expressions of delegitimization, demonization and double standards of being anti-Semitic. And this will put them on the defensive, trying to claim that they aren’t.

    At least it’s a small tilt of the playing field back to sanity.

  2. E benAbuya March 27, 2016 at 11:26 am #

    I am having some difficulty imagining a form of Anti-Zionism that is not antisemitism. The premise that Jews must live as a dispersed minority whose political, civil, religious, cultural rights (and even the right to life) is at the whim and on the sufferance of sundry majorities; is one I cannot construe any other way.

    While it is theoretically possible to make legitimate criticisms of a particular policy of the Israeli government, (for not conforming to international standards or the principles of the Jewish ethical tradition); if this criticism relies on a unique standard for the Jews or is advanced to claim that Zionism (and/or the Jewish State) is peculiarly illegitimate and therefore must be crushed, extirpated, overwhelmed etc.; that, too, devolves into antisemitism.

  3. Barbara Mazor March 27, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

    I actually see this as a defeat. BDS misuses words in ways that are intentionally damaging.

    Anti-Zionism is not the same as legitimate criticism of a policy or action of Israel. Anti-Zionism means opposing Zionism – the movement that says Jews are distinct people with a shared culture, who have a history of national sovereignty in a specific place. As an indigenous people they have a right to live in a portion of that homeland, and to secure and determine their destiny as a people. In other words, Jews have a right to self-determination.

    One can oppose Zionism, just as one can oppose marriage equality or oppose integration and equal opportunity. But all the arguments supporting the opposition to these are inherently discriminatory and bigoted.

    I admit, I have not yet read the final UC statement. (13 pages)

    But if it seems to me from the opening that by stating there are “anti-semitic forms of
    anti-Zionism” then there must also be “forms of anti-Zionism that are not anti-semitic.” Like Mike and E benAbuya, I am at a loss to know what they are.

    • DivestThis March 27, 2016 at 9:43 pm #

      Here is where we actually have something to learn from our opponents.

      On one level, you are absolutely correct that denial of the Jewish people (and only the Jewish people) a right to self-determination is a form of bigotry (called anti-Semitism). Based on that, one could read an official definition of anti-Zionism that leaves room for non-anti-Semitic anti-Zionism as a defeat.

      But in the context of an official proclamation by the very people the BDS “movement” has lobbied for years to support their agenda (school leaders) declaring instead that there is a bigotry problem on CA campuses and that this bigotry exists within the realm of anti-Israel politics represents a condemnation by the very people the BDSers have been begging to support them for decades.

      The reason I say we have something to learn from our opponents is that they would never declare a half-, three-quarters, or seven-eights empty glass anything but a triumph for them. Which is why we should do nothing less when not just the CA regents but leaders everywhere are handing us a glass nine-tenths full.

      • Barbara Mazor March 27, 2016 at 10:26 pm #

        Ok. On that point, I have to agree with you.

  4. E benAbuya March 28, 2016 at 1:31 am #

    I must quibble with the use of the term Anti-Semitism when what is meant is antisemitism. Antisemitism was coined by an avowed antisemite; as a more polite and palatable alternative to Judenhaas; the then current term. Anti-Semitism implies a hatred for all Semites (including Arabs). Whereas, antisemitism is directed specifically at Jews as Jews

    • fizziks March 28, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

      Nonsense. There is no such thing as a “Semite.” There is only a language family called Semitic, which includes Hebrew, Arabic, Maltese, and the highland Ethiopian languages. There is no common ethnicity or culture among these widely scattered people who happen to speak superficially similar languages.

      Arabs are not “Semites” and neither are Jews because there is no such ethnic or cultural classification. Antisemitism has a clear and established meaning as being prejudiced and hostile to the Jewish people.

      • E benAbuya March 29, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

        I think we agree. Antisemitism was coined as a euphemism for Jew Hatred; built on the bogus racist construct that there is a cultural or ethnic group called “Semites”

  5. Plotinus March 28, 2016 at 4:00 pm #

    As I’ve said before, there is no such thing as a “loss” in BDS world. Because anything that gets their message out is a “win” to them. In this sense, they always win and Israeli supporters at best can just keep the dam from bursting but never from leaking. Eventually, so they think, the Israeli supporters will drown. Just a matter of time. Perhaps. But BDS has been at it for 15 yrs and still is quite marginal even with the incredible tools of social media, an organizing and communications tool/advantage the anti-Apartheid movement never had. It took that movement about 10 years in the US to go from divestment to sanctions. But BDS has been hit with a bunch of college divestment losses this year and state governments are enacting legislation to sanction not Israel but companies who support BDS. I think in terms of the college front, the Israel side has done a good job pointing out the “singling out” issue and has forced BDS to choose between being a “human rights” movement (which it claims to be) or an anti-Israel movement (which it really is). If the latter, the resolutions will likely fail; if the former, the resolutions have to include divesting from most of the world’s other countries for their “human rights” abuses, which in effect render the resolutions meaningless.


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