The Most Heinous Crime in Israel Is anti-Zionism

There is a boundary to freedom of expression in Israel – and that boundary is Zionism.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Ariel Hirschfeld.
Ariel Hirschfeld.Credit: Daniel Bar-On
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Somewhere between pedophilia and murder, worse than theft and possibly even rape, we find the national crime – emphasis on the definite article – anti-Zionism. It is a crime of moral turpitude, one for which there is no pardon, no amnesty, no remission of punishment. The offense is not listed in Israel’s penal code – no one knows exactly who an “anti-Zionist” is, or what “anti-Zionism” is – but the fate of anyone suspected of it is sealed. For example, a member of an Israel Prize jury who is suspected of this egregious offense is disqualified from serving.

The tune’s a familiar one. It is exactly the way suspected anti-communists were treated in communist regimes, and how suspected communists were treated in the United States during one of that country’s darkest times. It is about being outlawed for one’s outlook, excluded for expression, banned for beliefs and opinions that society or the state find intolerable.

The justifications for the lack of tolerance repeat themselves: Because these minority opinions undermine the foundations of the regime, they are prohibited, in communism or in Zionism.

The measures taken against them are also similar: Denunciation, ostracism, isolation, slander and, at a certain stage (that Israel hasn’t yet reached), the hospitalization or incarceration of anyone who thinks differently. There is a boundary to freedom of expression in Israel, and that boundary is Zionism. Anyone who crosses it loses their legitimacy – with the exception of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who can claim extenuating circumstances for their crimes.

In today’s Israel, in which “leftist” is among the worst things to call someone, “non-Zionist” is entirely beyond the pale. Not that anyone knows what Zionism is today, but to say non-Zionist is to say treason. A land-stealing, field-burning settler is a Zionist, no question; one of the best. Even if he commits one of the most serious sins and calls for draft-dodging, he is still a Zionist.

Knesset member Haneen Zoabi (Balad) is a traitor, because she does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. (The rightists who don’t recognize Israel as a democratic state are, of course, Zionist and therefore legitimate.) Israelis who are not willing to be part of that Zionism and are courageous enough to call themselves anti-Zionists are considered heretics, with everything that implies. They have horns. It as if saying no to that Zionism – to think that it constitutes ultranationalism and even racism; that it plunders, conquers and is hurtling toward apartheid – is an immoral, intolerable position to take.

The brainwashing has reached the point that anyone with the disease is thought not only to oppose the very existence of the state, but even to be calling for its destruction.

Destruction is in our blood, and anyone who criticizes the state is always thought to be using that option as a threat – as if half the world is completely obsessed with Israel’s destruction. Thus, a non-Zionist is thought to aspire to sending all the Jews to the gas chambers or into the sea – or, at the very least, back to their countries of origin.

But the regime is not the state, and one can be anti-Zionist without the crematories. The State of Israel is an established fact, whose continued existence is doubted by very few in the world – fewer, certainly, than its paranoid propaganda tries to argue. The battle is over the state’s character and, above all, how it is ruled. Outside of Israel, Zionists are thought to be warmongering fans of the occupation, automatic supporters of the government and its propagandists. As such, it is very easy – in fact, almost mandatory for anyone with a conscience – to be anti-Zionist. In Israel, the picture is less clear: A Zionist is a settler or checkpoint-guarding soldier, but also a volunteer in a soup kitchen.

We must leave these definitions behind. Even someone who despairs of the two-state solution and believes that Zionist Israel (!) has done everything possible to prevent it, and who now thinks we should focus on the character of the single state, can no longer be measured against the standard of Zionism.

Zionism must be relegated to the history books. There is a state here. It will remain here. Now we must fight over its justness, not its Zionism.

Gideon Levy tweets at

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