18 October 2009

Anti-Zionism and antisemitism

Ad Orientem: Anti-Zionism & Anti-Semitism recommends a post that addresses (from a Catholic perspective) the often blurred lines between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism: Vivificat!: When Anti-Zionism Turns Into Anti-Semitism:
I start with a statement that many will find counterintuitive and is this: since Zionism is a non-religious political movement belonging to the sphere of politics according to its own founders, to oppose Zionism a priori does not make one a Judaeophobe and anti-Semite of necessity. Said in other words, in theory, it is possible to be an anti-Zionist without hating Jews as a people or as a believers of their particular religion and at the same time, there is no obstacle in principle impeding an otherwise tolerant state to oppose Zionism and to protect the civil liberties of the Jewish people in their midst.

Unfortunately Ad Orientem: Anti-Zionism & Anti-Semitism also says "Please leave your comments at Vivificat!", and that is something I find difficult to do, because an Orthodox perspective on the matter must differ from a Catholic perspective, and operates with different asumptions. I think the assumptions of the Vivificat! article are flawed, not merely because they are Catholic, but because they are approaching it from a different end.

In my experience (which is no doubt fairly limited) the link between Anti-Zionism and antisemitism has been made by apologists for the government of the state of Istrael, who denounce any criticism of any policy of the government of the state of Israel (such as the bombing of Lebanon in 2006) as "antisemitic".

And if that is what "antisemitism" has come to mean, then I have no hesitation is saying that I think "antisemitism" is a thoroughly good thing.

I don't believe, however, that that "antisemitism" has come to mean that, or that it ought to mean that. I believfe that those who make propaganda for the government of the state of Israel have been twisting the meanings of words.

But that is what all warmongers do. Criticism of the Israeli bombing of Lebanon in 2006 have been described as "antisemitic" (on the grounds that "anti-Zionism is anti semitism"), just as critics of the US bombing of Iraq in 2003 and of Yugoslavia in 1999 have been described as "anti-American".

The Israel apologists also accuse those who criticise any policy of the government of the state of Israel of denying Israel the right to exist, as if the right to commit mayhem is an essential part of the right to exist.

There's no arguing with such people, and I've given up trying. I do not believe that criticising the policies or actions of the government of a state means that one denies that state's right to exist, but then, I don't believe that the right to exist includes the right to commit mayhem.

We had the same kind of attitudes in South Africa back in the 1960s. People who criticised the apartheid policy of the South African government were denounced by the government and its appologists as "anti-South African". But they believed that it was not possible for South Africa to exist without apartheid. They confused the government of the state with the state itself.

So much for my experience.

But one needs to go deeper and examine the roots of Zionism, which was a form of nationalism that arose in central Europe, and partly grew out of the romnatic movement in Germany. In this sense Zionism is akin to Hellenism, the Greek nationalism that arose from much the same roots. And there were other Balkan nationalism too, and others in Eastern Europe. Zionism, Hellenism and the other Balkan nationalisms wanted to establish "homelands" in territory under the rule of multinational empires. In most cases this was the Ottoman Empire, and in some cases the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Prussian Empire, or the Russian Empire (e.g. Polish nationalism). One could even say that in South Africa Afrikaner nationalism has similar philosophical roots.

In some ways, Zionism is to Judaism as Hellenism is to Orthodoxy. Just as there are those who say "Antizionism is antisemitism", there are those who say that "Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism". And there are others who have tried to coopt religion for that kind of nationalism. The Roman Catholic Church is not exempt from this -- Croatian nationalism is not all that disssimilar from Zionism either.

I've written about this elsewhere, in an article on Nationalism, violence and reconciliation, though that link will no longer work after 26 October 2009, when Geocities closes.


Chris Hall said...

I can't remember seeing an article for a long while where the label of anti-semitism has been used to denigrate an anti-zionist stance. I think most people have rumbled that technique.

A good post there Steve, aren't you saving all of your stuff on geocities for posterity or hosting them elsewhere?

Teófilo de Jesús said...

Greetings Chris,

I will say this, with all due respect to you and to Father Deacon Methodios: I don't think either of you read the entire piece down to its conclusions. You and Father Deacon, as well as other critics from the opposite end who have accused me of being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, went no further than the middle part of the post. Otherwise, you would've engaged the conclusions constructively and may have even found some convergences. Sadly, none of you did so.

I also find troubling Fr. Deacon's reluctance to leave his comment on my site due to his apparent concern of somehow endorsing a Catholic viewpoint on this subject if he had chosen to reply in Vivificat. I have no such scruples as I leave this comment on his site.

Anyway, I blame myself for all this. The post was long and unwieldly. I should've broken it up and made it tighter. Alas, my fault.

I take umbrage under the oft-made statement that complex thought requires at times complex writing. I can't say I believe it myself but, despite my own preferences on the matter, it came out that way.

I want to finish by saying that, although taking fire from both ends of the spectrum does not necessarily mean that I wrote a balanced piece, in this case, I'll take it for that.

Yours in Christ,

Chris Hall said...

Hello Teófilo de Jesús, it's good of you to reply.

I'm sure there is a lot in which we may all converge in your post but unfortunately the core theme and conclusions don't, at least for me bring me to an agreement.

Some of the statements you make, such as regarding the inability to separate anti-zionism from anti-semeitism, not just in theory but in practice I would have to disagree on.

The zionism that underpins the state of Israel exists on many levels, secular and religious and this seems to be outworking in practice to things both good and bad.

For good we have a safe refuge and haven for European and world Jewry who have suffered much in times past and times not so long ago.

But we also have the issue of a nation based on race and religious identity that is causing much pain and suffering. The outworking of religious zionism manifest in the settler movement is causing much grief to many parties, not least those who dwell in lands designated as given to them in scripture.

The state of Israel has to be open to criticism and to attempt to deny valid debate with accusations of anti-semitism does not seem right to me.


Steve Hayes said...


It was not that I did not want to endorse a Catholic viewpoint, but the comparison of Zionism with Hellenism would have been irrelevant to your post, but not to Ad Orientem's post, since that is an Orthodox blog.

Yewtree said...

@ Chris H: I have seen people using the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism on mailing lists and in conversation, though.

@ Steve: yes, do save your Geocities stuff for posterity. There's a nice little app called WinHTTP which allows you to download an entire website.

Ploni Almoni said...

I think this is a bit of a red herring, like Chris H said, anti-Zionism is rarely labeled by honest people as outright antisemitism. However, that doesn't mean that there isn't such a thing as anti-Zionists who are also anti-semitic. I'm not sure also what you mean by "anti-Zionist", you seem to imply you accept the right of Israel to exist, but not to wage war excessively. That's an acceptable position, in fact, many Israelis feel (and occasionally vote) that way themselves. I'm not sure why you've chosen to label yourself as an anti-Zionist, perhaps you could elaborate.

Steve Hayes said...

Ploni Almoni,

Thnere must be quite a number of dishonest people around then, because some people keep telling me that "Anti-Zionism is Antisemitism".

I don't especially label myself as "Anti-Zionist", any more than I'm "Anti-Hellenist", but if I say that the Israeli bombing of Lebanon in 2006 was, to say the least, disproportionate, they refer me to, and sometimes send me copies of a piece by Martin Luther King, and tell me that I'm denying Israel's right to exist.

I agree with you that those people are being dishonest when they say such things, but there are quite a lot of them out there.

Ploni Almoni said...

OK, leaving aside whether or not you are antisemetic, or even anti-Zionist, and also this particular action in 2006 as I am not very comfortable myself with Israel's involvement in Lebanon, I don't understand this concept of "disproportionality", frequently used nowadays for all of Israel's involvements in self-defense, even ones like Gaza where they demonstrably avoided civilian targeting, as I didn't know a war had to be fought evenly, with referees from the UN's collection of "democracies" who are so concerned with Israel's behavior complaining if you win too much. If the US had fought against Japan in "proportional" ways for the attack on Pearl Harbor, they never would have won WWII.

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