Al Jazeera journalist Mehdi Hasan has boasted in a recent Twitter post about having “won” a debate in London hosted by Intelligence Squared.
The debate was about whether or not “anti-Zionism is antisemitism.”
Journalist Melanie Phillips and politician Einat Wilf spoke for the proposition, while Hasan and historian Ilan Pappé spoke against it.
Since the birth of Israel in 1948, critics have claimed they don’t have a problem with Jews or Judaism, but with Zionism.
By isolating Zionism, they think they’re not being antisemitic and expect that this should automatically legitimize their opposition to the State of Israel.
Worse yet, a substantial minority of actual Jews and Israelis encourage this approach.
Hasan’s debate partner is a case in point. Ilan Pappé is a renowned anti-Zionist Jewish Israeli historian.
There are others. Avi Shlaim, Norman Finkelstein and Shlomo Sand would all share the same views.
Likewise, the unrepresentative minority Jewish movement the Neturei Karta is on a mission to convince the world that Zionism and Judaism are polar opposites, and that Israel doesn’t represent authentic Jewry.
The symbolism of Jews against Zionism leaves some confused, and others convinced that Zionism must be a perversion of Judaism.
This is a false distinction.
Hasan of all people would know that those who bear prejudice toward Muslims often point out their problem isn’t really with Muslims, but, rather, with Islam. By separating the people from the religion, they think they can say whatever they want. The likes of Hasan would declare those to be “Islamophobes” within a heartbeat.
Yet when it comes to Jews, all sorts of imaginary distinctions are put forward to justify antisemitic prejudices. This hypocrisy must end.
THE FACT is, there’s a difference between what antisemites think Zionism is, and what it actually is.
Zionism is simply a nationalist ideology that says Jews have a right to self-determination in their historic and ancestral home. This makes it no different from any other nationalist ideology. Zionism is nothing more, and nothing less, than that.
Everything else is either an exaggeration or an outright fabrication.
But, of course, if you ask antisemites, they’ll tell you Zionism is a colonial expansionist ideology that authorizes the removal of non-Jews to create a “racist” Jewish state.
This false interpretation has been the source of endless demonization of Jews and Israel for decades.
It has caused world leaders to neither recognize Israel’s legitimacy nor have diplomatic ties with it.
It has inspired thousands to be ready to kill and die, while trying to erase the only Jewish state off the world’s map.
It continues to motivate millions to call for global sanctions and boycott of Israeli products.
In 1975, even the United Nations fell for this pathological antisemitism, when it passed Resolution 3379 declaring that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”
Although it was revoked in 1991, the fact that this passed in the first place shows the scale of the problem.
No rabbi would disagree that if Zionism was what critics make it out to be, then it would be reasonable to allege that it doesn’t represent Judaism.
On the contrary, Jewish connection to the land is established in the book of Genesis 12:1. This predates modern Zionism by 3,000 years, making Judaism the world’s oldest form of nationalism. The rest of the world didn’t realize nationalism as a concept until after the Industrial Revolution.
Ancient Judaism required Jews to worship at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem through animal sacrifices and burnt offerings.
The Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 CE and expelled the Jews in 135 CE.
Ancient Judaism was left with no choice but to evolve, adapt, suspend many of its ancient practices, and find new ways to survive in foreign lands. So, the Jews wrote the Talmud, began building synagogues and following the lead of the rabbis. Hence, the term “Rabbinic Judaism.”
As Jews came to be scattered around the world, their yearning to return home never went away. In the Diaspora, the dominant view was that God would one day send a Messiah who would return the Jews home, restore the ancient Jewish kingdom and rebuild the Temple.
In the late 1800s, after centuries of antisemitism, a class of secular Jews emerged with the conclusion that a Jewish state could be achieved only through human effort, as opposed to divine intervention.
That was modern Zionism. Its key thinkers, Leon Pinsker and Theodor Herzl, began encouraging the persecuted Jews of Europe and Russia to start purchasing land and setting up farming communities in their ancestral home, then ruled by the Ottoman Empire.
It’s true, religious Jews didn’t support this at first. Yet over time, as the success of secular Zionism became apparent, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook gave a remarkable ruling. He concluded that since God seemed to be allowing a Jewish state to reemerge for the first time in over 2,000 years through a secular nationalist movement, this must be accepted as God’s will.
Kook’s ruling was a turning point. It glued secular Zionism together with the ancient mandate for Jewish connection to the land as laid out in Genesis.
The vast majority of world Jewry accepts this reality as it is. The unrepresentative Neturei Karta is the obvious exception.
To sum up, Zionism isn’t what Hasan thinks it is. It’s a perfectly reconcilable position with mainstream Judaism.
WITH THAT clarified, any opposition to Zionism means you don’t recognize Jewish claims to self-determination in any part of Israel. Therefore, anti-Zionism is antisemitism.
The sooner the world realizes this, the sooner it may end the global campaign to delegitimize Israel and start working toward real peace and coexistence.
Here’s an open invite to Hasan to publicly debate me on this topic.
The writer is policy chairman at the Liberal Party of Australia (WA Division). He holds a bachelor’s (philosophy), DipIS, master’s (politics and international studies), MHist and PhD. His thesis examined Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s revival of modern Hebrew and its impact on modern Israeli national identity. The views expressed in this article are his own.