Who’s an anti-Zionist?

Carolina Landsmann
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Satmar Hasidic Jews, who are known for their anti-Zionist views, protest on the sidelines of the march in New York, June 2, 2019. Credit: Danielle Ziri
Carolina Landsmann

The admor, the anti-Zionist leader of the Satmar Hasidic community who visited Israel last month, is the clearest proof that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. Of course this did not prevent U.S. President Donald Trump from signing an executive order last Wednesday that accepts the definition that considers anti-Zionism an expression of anti-Semitism – a step that puts his administration in line with those who consider the boycott of Israel as modern anti-Semitism, and one that could enable the administration to stop funding institutions which host BDS activities.

Nevertheless, the “chief commander” of the battle against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, did not send his forces to arrest the admor. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not consider blocking his entry into Israel and the Shin Bet security service didn’t lead him to a side room at Ben-Gurion International Airport to interrogate him. Not even after the rebbe stood on a stage in Jerusalem and told thousands of his followers, “There is no greater desecration of God’s name than Haredi Jews collaborating with those who are provoking the nations of the world [the Israeli state] and placing all the Haredi Jews in the world in danger.”

Even though Satmar Hasidim oppose Israel and Zionism, no one can accuse them of anti-Semitism or even of auto-anti-Semitism – the accusation regularly hurled at the anti-Zionist secular left, and even at the Zionist left that criticizes the occupation and the settlements. How is this possible? If anti-Zionism is nothing but disguised anti-Semitism, and if there’s a subcategory that allows for accusing Zionism critics and opponents of anti-Semitism even when they are Jews (auto-anti-Semitism), then how can an extreme form of anti-Zionism be immune from the anti-Semitic implications by definition?

The explanation is that the Jewishness of the ultra-Orthodox is unassailable. Only those who are insecure in their identity were happy when Trump declared that “Judaism is a nationality.” An ultra-Orthodox Jew doesn’t need an executive order to define him. Equating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism through a definition is actually necessary because in Netanyahu’s Israel, the distinction between Jew and Israeli has been shattered. If it had been preserved, it would have been possible to easily distinguish between criticism of Israel, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Netanyahu’s refusal to recognize Palestinian nationalism and their right to self-determination has been dressed up as a requirement that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The irony of fate is that when Israel directed the same requirement to itself, and asked to define itself as a Jewish state through legislating the so-called nation-state law, it collapsed into the definition: It became recursive, like a mirror facing another mirror.

Israel’s bad luck is that while Netanyahu was playing with the minds of the Jewish people, the settlers, with their own feet, erased the Green Line – the one that distinguished between the sovereign State of Israel of the Declaration of Independence, and the borderless Land of Israel of the nation-state law. The religious Zionist movement destabilized the Zionist left, too, and convinced them that as far as the Palestinians are concerned, there is no difference between sovereign Israel and the occupied territories, so sympathizing with the struggle to liberate the territories is the same as identifying with the demand to eradicate the entire Zionist entity.

The religious Zionist movement has also prepared the ground for eliminating the distinction between Israel and the territories in the struggle against the occupation. That’s why the BDS movement, in its stubborn insistence on the struggle that ignores the Green Line, is the best thing that could have happened to the religious Zionist movement and the settlement enterprise.

Netanyahu was the architect of the new Zionist matrix. To be freed from it and all its agents, we must find the real Israelis who remember the distinction between an Israeli and a Jew, who respect the Green Line and whose identity card is the Declaration of Independence.