Belief in the state of Israel is not the same as supporting its actions todayZachi Evenor

“I am anti-Israeli government policy”. “I am anti-Israel”.  “I am anti-Zionist”. “I am anti-Semitic”. Are these statements, so often confused and conflated, the slippery slope toward racism and hate crime?

Universities across the United Kingdom are awash with reports of an increase in ‘anti-Semitic behaviour,’ as a Daily Telegraph study suggests that over 35 per cent of Jewish students feel ‘unsafe’ at their universities. However, in what form does this anti-Semitic behaviour come? An unfortunate minority is in the form of unacceptable violence, comments about the Holocaust, and the perpetuation of stereotypes. However, the forms of anti-Semitism I have experienced at Cambridge (and there have been at least a couple) have presented themselves as what the aggressor terms ‘anti-Zionism’. When I have then questioned them on what it is they claim to be ‘anti’, they say it is the ‘aggressive actions of Israel’, and specifically those of their Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his government.

However, the aggressive actions of Israel should not be confused with Zionism. It is quite correct when commentators assert that we mustn’t conflate these often illegal acts of modern Israel with the desires or wishes of Jews. Comments like ‘the Jews are unleashing a Holocaust on the Palestinians’ are anti-Semitic and are hurtful to Jewish students. I have no tolerance for the actions of Netanyahu’s government, and my family in Israel are protesting and rallying in the name of peace against what he does.

Zionism is defined as the yearning for the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland or state in the Holy Land of Israel. To deny the Jews the right to national self-determination is as unjust as to deny the Palestinians the right to national self-determination. As such, to be an anti-Zionist is to deny the existence of the state of Israel, and to deny the Jewish national race their right to self-determination. Many people who label themselves as ‘anti-Zionist’ are probably far from it, and are unaware that what they are saying is perceived as anti-Semitic by Jews.

This was highlighted in a recent article published in Varsity. While I strongly agree with the author's views on NUS disaffiliation, and similarly do not condone the actions of the Israeli government, the piece implies that Zionism is ‘the policies of the Israeli state’, and therefore any criticism of these policies is ‘anti-Zionism’, or as it is put, ‘legitimate political debate’. This criticism is not anti-Zionism, but merely a criticism of the ‘aggressive actions of the Israeli government’. It is right that such acceptable criticism must be clearly delineated from damaging anti-Semitism, but in labelling this criticism as ‘anti-Zionism’, such an argument inadvertently makes an anti-Semitic remark.

‘OK,’, you might say, ‘I can’t use the word ‘anti-Zionist’ for fear of insulting Jews and implying my denial of their right to national self-determination… so what can I say to describe my political views?’ For some, the term ‘anti-Israel’ cuts it, or ‘pro-Palestine’. These two terms need not be dialectical, for I am both ‘pro-Israel’ and ‘pro-Palestine’. To conflate the two, I am pro-peace and pro-a-two-state-solution. However, to prevent falling into a debate over which –ism one should use to describe themselves, we should return to ‘anti-Israel’.

To some Jews, this may cause offence. To me, merely criticising the actions of politicians and government policy is a perfectly acceptable act. However, denying the existence of the state of Israel is, in my view and the view of many others, a racially discriminative standpoint. It is the seeming uptake of this stand-point under the umbrella term of ‘anti-Israel’ that, normally in a reactionary manner, has led to the increase in reports of anti-Semitic behaviour. Stereotypes and exaggerations, one of the primary barriers to peace in the region, are then exacerbated by protests such as the set-up on the Sidgwick site during ‘Israel Apartheid Week’. With protests like this, the false Palestinian notion that ‘all Israelis are aggressive militant soldiers’ will become just as dangerously embedded as the false Israeli notion that ‘all Palestinians are terrorists’. The perpetuation of these stereotypes will go no way toward achieving a peaceful resolution of the current conflict..

The newly elected NUS President Malia Bouattia has already faced a barrage of questions over her allegedly anti-Semitic statements, which include calling Birmingham University a ‘Zionist outpost’, and asserting that she was troubled by its large Jewish community. Here, she has unequivocally crossed the line into anti-Semitism, equating Zionism, the Jewish yearning for a national homeland, with the Israeli policy of aggression toward Palestinians. This is another example of the way in which these terms can be drastically misunderstood and subsequently misperceived.

This is not to say that anti-Semitism can be stopped or even lowered just by increasing awareness of the true definition of the emotive ‘Zionist’ label. There are many much more serious anti-Semitic behaviours that cannot be tackled by etymology alone. But I believe this to be an important starting point for anyone interested in having a healthy and racially acceptable debate on what is an extremely complex but important area of international politics. Zionism is the desire for Jewish national self-determination. It is a tragedy that both the Palestinian and the Jewish people want the same land, and I believe it to be unfair to favour one group’s claim over the other. Despite being anti-Israeli government, I am proud to be a Zionist.