Anti-Zionism as a Form of Racism

It has been a staple of public discourse for decades, that those who criticize Israel specifically because they love the country and believe in the more lofty and challenging and just of its ideals, are routinely pilloried for it, berated by rightists as self-haters and anti-Semites and destroyers of Zionism.

Now meet a refreshing new phenomenon - bashing and negation of those same critics of Israel, but this time, the attacks are coming from Palestinians, other Arabs and Muslims, and their allies on the European ultra-left.

The message is: We don't care what you think, we don't care what causes you care about and advance, we don't even care if you think just like we do - You're Israelis, and that's good enough for us - in fact, bad enough for us - reason enough, in short, to boycott you.

We've seen it in the serial boycott obsession of elements of the British intelligentsia, who essentially seek to penalize and punish Israeli colleagues for little more than the original sin of being Israeli. It matters not at all to the boycott-bent if many of their targets are on-site leaders in the struggle for Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation.

Yes, we've come a long way from UN resolution 3379, adopted in late 1975, the declaration which determined that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination."

Now we have Anti-Zionism as a form of racism.

Actually, the clue to understanding the phenomenon may lie in the wording of the resolution itself, which included an explicit endorsement of the "elimination" of Zionism alongside "recognition of the dignity of peoples and their right to self-determination."

The bottom line, of course, is that the very idea of a movement to found and foster a Jewish state is illegitimate, and, by very short extension, such a state in the Holy Land - or anywhere, for that matter - has by definition no right to exist.

Though the resolution died a formal death when it was revoked in 1991, some of its spirit lives on. The most obvious and most widespread form is the rise of Islamist ideology, which in its most radical forms explicitly views the Jewish people in the Holy Land - and even in places like Buenos Aires - as a cancerous presence and a preferred target.

In its more subtle forms, the resolution lives on in such phenomena as the recent response to a decision by the organizers of the Turin International Book Fair to declare Israel as its guest of honor.

In an initial salvo, The New York Times reported, a local pro-Palestinian group "stormed the book fair offices in Turin, demanding that the invitation to Israel be rescinded."

They distributed leaflets reading "We are appalled to see the world of culture take the side of those who methodically operate to annihilate Palestine and the Palestinians."

It mattered not at all that among the authors to be most prominently featured at the fair are David Grossman, Amos Oz, and A. B. Yehoshua, writers closely identified with the search for peace with the Palestinians and for an Israel more closely committed to equality, democracy and human rights.

In a further move to underscore the idea that the only good Israeli is an absent Israeli, Swiss Muslim academic and activist Tariq Ramadan and British-Pakistani author Tariq Ali, along with Italian ultra-leftists are calling for a boycott of the entire event, slated to coincide with May commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel.

Perhaps most remarkable in the Book Fair controversy - and the most direct recognition of the inherent racism on the part of the boycott proponents - has been the response of a group of more than 30 Italian intellectuals and artists. In an open letter, they called on Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to preside over the opening of the fair, and to speak out "against any discrimination and blind intolerance towards the citizens and culture of Israel."

Where does the line fall between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies on the one hand, and a racist anti-Zionism on the other? There is, in fact, such a line.

It is racist to suggest that all peoples have a right to self-determination in the land of their ancestors, with the exception of the Jews.

It is racist to maintain that Muslim historic and religious claims to Jerusalem and the Holy Land are absolute and date to antiquity, and at the same time to negate and dismiss Jewish historic and religious claims, to call Jews interlopers and usurpers and carpetbaggers in the land of their Bible, which is a sacred reference for Muslims as well.

It is racist to declare Zionism as an evil before which all other evils in the world pale, and to argue that any act of violence against non-combatants is justified in the service of defeating Zionism.

It is racist to take Israel and only Israel to task for its shortcomings in the areas of civil equality, sharing of resources, and the search for peace, while keeping silent or even taking pains to legitimize the same failures on the part of the countries and peoples one happens, as blindly as a pre-pubescent football fan, to support.

To seek to silence and boycott Israelis as Israelis is to violate human rights and acts, in the process, to undermine the cause of the Palestinians.

Fighting fire with fire is a tactic which, despite its dangers, often succeeds. Fighting racism with racism is a tactic which, despite its allure to the hothead, never does.


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