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Clarifying Anti-Semitism And Anti-Zionism

Richard Kraus

Enemies of Israel often proclaim that they are not anti-semitic -- that is, bigoted against Jews -- but are only anti-Zionist. The truth or falseness of this claim depends on whether and how the long Arab-Israel conflict may be brought to a peaceful conclusion.

One possible test for this claim would be whether those who commit acts of violence against Jews in the name, supposedly, of anti-Zionism, also committed acts of violence against Jews before the rise of political Zionism. Another test is whether acts of violence or oppression against Jews are actually anti-Zionist in their effects. For example, since the Zionist movement began with the belief that Jews were not safe in the Diaspora, and therefore needed a place of refuge, acts of violence against Jews in the Diaspora that prompt them to flee to Israel are certainly anti-Jewish, but they are not anti-Zionist. If Israel’s enemies commit acts that are principally anti-Zionist and only incidentally anti-Jewish, it follows that they really are only enemies of Zionism. Conversely, if their attacks are principally anti-Jewish, and only incidentally, if at all, anti-Zionist, then it follows that they are motivated first and foremost by anti-Semitism.

In 1929, an Arab mob attacked the Jewish community of Hebron in what is today called the West Bank, killing 67 Jews and forcing the rest to flee, rendering Hebron, home to the second-holiest site in the Jewish religion, empty of Jews for the first time in centuries, as it would remain until after 1967. Significantly, this pogrom happened years before there were any Palestinian refugees or occupied territories, so it could not possibly have been motivated by those issues. Perhaps more significantly, the Hebron Jewish community was actually the heart of anti-Zionist sentiment and leadership among the Jews of the mandate. The Jews of Hebron were a centuries-old community whose most recent immigrants had come in 1811 from Gaza, fleeing a pogrom there; like many religious Jews at that time, they saw Zionism as threatening to traditional Judaism. The fact, then, that it was the Palestinians who destroyed Jewish anti-Zionism in the mandate, strengthening the Zionist movement, indicates that they were motivated principally by anti-Judaism, and only incidentally anti-Zionism.

Similar incidents occurred later on a grander scale. Following Israeli independence in 1948, almost a million Jews were forced to flee for their lives from their homes throughout the Arab world. A significant number of those from what had been French North Africa went to France, but the majority of the refugees went to Israel; they and their descendants today make up approximately half of Israeli Jewry. The lynchings, riots, synagogue fire-bombings, prison camps, and other forms of violence and oppression that forced these Jews to flee, agonizing as it was for them, proved vital for Israel and for Zionism. Indeed, it is doubtful that Israel could have survived without these new immigrants.

A similar phenomenon may be occurring again today. The Jews of France, most of whom are of North African extraction, are now facing a wave of violence largely perpetrated by Arab immigrants in France. This wave of violence is prompting increasing numbers of French Jews to go to Israel; more still are seriously considering such a move. And while such an exodus, unprecedented from an established first-world democracy, would be painful for French Jews, and perhaps at least a minor disaster for France, it would benefit Israel and Zionism.

Israel’s enemies are in fact motivated, as this evidence shows, not merely by anti-Zionism, but by anti-Jewish bigotry. That means that those who would seek to foster peace between Israel and its enemies must address the sources of this bigotry. They must insist in particular that governments throughout the Middle East cease their constant incitement of anti-Jewish bigotry in their schools and media, and even in their religious institutions. Also, they must stop teaching their children the grotesque lie that there was no history of anti-Jewish bigotry and violence in the Middle East before the advent of Zionism. Only when there has been an honest reckoning with the past can there be genuine reconciliation.

Richard Kraus is a graduate student in the Department of Political Science.