How Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism Are Converging

In response to Mira Sucharov: How can the explicit denial of national rights only to Jews be anything but anti-Semitic?

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Protesters are silhouetted against an anti-Israel sign during a small demonstration outside the Art Gallery in downtown Vancouver, Canada. July 31, 2006.
Protesters are silhouetted against an anti-Israel sign during a small demonstration outside the Art Gallery in downtown Vancouver, Canada. July 31, 2006.Credit: Reuters

As I read Mira Sucharov’s recent op-ed in Haaretz (“Trudeau's Timeout on Uncritical Canadian Support for Israel”) on Canada-Israel relations, I was astonished that someone so passionate about Israel – a fellow Canadian who has been active in the Jewish community – could so badly misread the very real convergence of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

At one point, Sucharov charges: “Accusing BDS of being anti-Semitic is one of the last vestiges of a reactionary politics that seeks to conflate Jews with Israel’s founding ethos – Zionism.”

Sucharov must be referring to such reactionary figures as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who famously warned: “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.” Zionism has always been a national liberation movement, which is why leading progressives like King have long supported it.

A Zionist, as Sucharov self-identifies, could not possibly believe that Zionism can be neatly separated from the Jewish people. Nor can she seriously consider the singular denial of national self-determination for Jews to be something other than an anti-Semitic double standard. Though an anti-Zionist may not consider their views to be anti-Semitic in intent, to single out the Jewish state for dissolution while upholding the right of other nations to statehood – including the Palestinians – is unavoidably anti-Semitic in effect.

Two states for two peoples, the mutual recognition of Jewish and Palestinian national rights, has always formed the bedrock of peace efforts. Sucharov bizarrely fails to see that those who seek the demographic destruction of the Jewish state, whatever their motives, reject this principle. Sucharov contends that “one of the main demands of BDS – namely full refugee return – would threaten Israel’s aim of maintaining a Jewish majority. But while this poses a challenge to Zionist thinking to say that it is a form of Jew-hatred is hyperbolic and misleading.” Really, Mira?!

Leading BDS activist Omar Barghouti is far less obtuse about the implications of the BDS movement’s aims for Israel’s existence. In an interview with Electronic Intifada, Barghouti declared one “cannot reconcile the right of return for refugees with a two-state solution. That is the big white elephant in the room and people are ignoring it – a return for refugees would end Israel's existence as a Jewish state.” It’s ironic that Sucharov, a proponent of the two-state solution (as is my organization, the CIJA), labels as “hyperbolic and misleading” those who consider Barghouti’s position to be discriminatory against Jews. How can the explicit denial of national rights to Jews and only Jews be considered anything but anti-Semitic?

It seems that Sucharov is hard-pressed to identify any act or position as hostile to the fundamental rights of Jews, let alone anti-Semitic. Another recent op-ed, “Crying Wolf on Campus anti-Semitism: The Vassar College Talk Was No Blood Libel” argued that Rutgers University professor “Jasbir Puar's claim that Israel harvested Palestinian body parts was irresponsible and unsubstantiated – but it wasn't anti-Semitism.” What some would call a blood libel, Sucharov calls “irresponsible.”

One need not dig very deep to discover that anti-Israel conspiracy theories are routinely adapted from notorious anti-Semitic tropes to demonize the Jewish state in a manner that would be unacceptable if levelled against Jews. Even white supremacist groups increasingly use terms like “Zios” to describe Jews. A thin layer of obfuscation to dispel accusations of hate mongering does not negate underlying anti-Semitism.

Sucharov also argues that as “most criticism of Israel [on campus] is inappropriately being cast as anti-Semitic actual anti-Semitism is becoming more difficult to spot it when it does occur.” Such a charge would be denounced as victim-blaming were it issued against any other minority group, be it the LGBTQ community or African-Americans. Jewish students should be able to express their feelings regarding intimidation or anti-Semitism on campus without being scolded by academic authority figures or dismissed as an entitled, privileged subset of the ruling class.

Regardless, there is little evidence that most criticism of Israel is denounced as anti-Semitic, as Sucharov claims. CIJA has repeatedly and publicly stated that policy criticism of Israel is as legitimate as policy criticism directed against any other democracy. But Sucharov seems unwilling to accept the reality that “criticism” that manifests itself in modern-day blood libels is, sadly, anti-Semitism with an academic veneer.

I am personally puzzled by Sucharov’s comment on the “Canadian Jewish community’s right-leaning Israel advocacy wing,” which – based on suggestions she has made elsewhere – appears to be a reference to CIJA. Would a right-leaning organization be at the forefront of advocating for transgendered rights in Canada? Would a right-leaning organization press the federal government to expand funding for social housing? Would a right-leaning organization mobilize the Jewish community to stand in solidarity with Canada’s First Nations?

For that matter, would a right-leaning organization provide Sucharov a platform to express her opposition to the proposed Jewish State bill in a national webinar for the Canadian Jewish community, just as we provided others with similar opportunities to criticize or defend particular Israeli policy decisions – including settlements?

Debate and diversity of opinion make for a healthy community. At the same time, those who dismiss the clear convergence of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism – however well-intentioned – obscure the underlying obstacles to a lasting peace that Canadian Jewry desires and Israelis deserve.

Shimon Koffler Fogel is CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) – the advocacy agent of Canada’s Jewish Federations. Follow him on Twitter: @ShimonFogel

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