British Labour Party Scandal Illustrates Zionism's Main Problem

The government's attempt to confuse anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism ignores the fact that Zionism can no longer fulfill the heart’s desire of the citizens of the state it founded.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn joins a doctors and teachers protest in central London on April 26, 2016
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn joins a doctors and teachers protest in central London on April 26, 2016Credit: AFP, Ben Stansall
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone has had it with Jews and with Israel. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, also doesn’t have much love for either Jews or Israel. Both have recently, and not for the first time, made nauseating, wrong and venomous statements against Israel’s policy in the territories, and as a corollary, against Jews as well.

But Corbyn’s pledge to uproot any expression of anti-Semitism and racism from his party and to take action against party activists who use language that even hints at anti-Semitism – inter alia by ousting them from the party or having them tried by a party tribunal for damaging the party’s image – is an appropriate response. Even Israel’s ruling party could learn a lesson from it.

What’s truly worrying about this whole story is actually the Israeli response. When Israeli leaders say one shouldn’t make any distinction between anti-Semitism and opposition to Israeli policies, whether in the territories or toward its Arab citizens, they’re shooting opponents of anti-Semitism in the foot. In their view, support for Israeli policy, even if said policy is unacceptable, constitutes true support for Zionism, and support for Zionism cannot be anti-Semitism. And the converse is also true: Opposition to Israeli policy is equivalent to opposition to Zionism, and that’s anti-Semitism.

It’s not Benjamin Netanyahu, but the former prime minister and foreign minister of Britain, Lord Arthur James Balfour, who wrote in a 1919 memorandum, “Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

Zionism’s view of itself as right even when it’s wrong hasn’t changed since then. The problem is that successive Israeli governments have worked to blur the boundary between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, between hating Jews and loathing their state. The fulfillment of a divine promise and the “return” of the Jews to the Promised Land are portrayed as justifications for the state’s existence. Jews aren’t occupying land that belongs to another people; they’re redeeming it, liberating it and returning to their borders.

Opposition to the Palestinians’ desire for independence and statehood are admittedly wrapped in security justifications, but the heart of this opposition is a messianic ideology. The very thought of establishing two states thus contradicts the essence of modern Zionism, which no longer distinguishes between religious and secular Zionism.

Not only can secular Zionism no longer justify its existence without adopting the idea of “the Jewish state,” but it’s also realizing the dream of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who saw secular Zionism as nothing more than a tool for the fulfillment of God’s will. In a letter sent to his friend, Bible scholar Dr. Moshe Seidel, in 1918, Kook wrote, “Subjectively, secular Zionists think they are rebelling against the world of religion – but objectively, that isn’t really the case. The subjective act which seeks to serve one goal is effectively serving a completely different goal; for it isn’t man who is directing and moving these historic events,” but God.

From this, it follows that there’s no point in debating whether Zionism is right or wrong – it’s always right, by virtue of being Jewish. And therefore, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that anyone who attacks Zionism is attacking its Jewish roots, which means he’s tainted with anti-Semitism.

Zionism’s problem is neither Corbyn nor Livingstone. On the contrary, anti-Semitism helped and is still helping to strengthen the doctrine of the “Jewish refuge state” that Israel has adopted for itself.

Zionism’s problem is that it can no longer fulfill the heart’s desire of the citizens of the state it founded. It threatens their security, because its essence has been distorted. It’s led by fools and magicians who injected hallucinatory drugs into its veins. This is a Zionism that now endangers not only citizens of Israel, but also Diaspora Jewry.