The excuse is given by the “woke Left” that “We are only against Zionism, not against Jews. It’s not antisemitism; it’s only anti-Zionism.”
The response to that claim often gets into stratospheres of theory and politics that completely miss the point. It certainly is possible to oppose policies of the State of Israel without being anti-Jewish. Indeed, even strong Zionists often oppose discrete Israeli government decisions, like the 2006 Gush Katif evacuation or the resistance to extend sovereignty over the regions of Judea and Samaria where 475,000 Jews now live permanently along with another 325,000 in east Jerusalem.
For decades, until then-finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu helped steer Israel toward free-market capitalism, many liberal Zionists opposed the country’s socialist economy. Others on the socialist side, who love Israel as deeply, oppose the economic shift toward encouraging outside venture capital and moving away from the kibbutz. It certainly is acceptable to love one’s family, one’s country, one’s people – and still to criticize them. In America likewise, we find advocates on all sides who stand by their country but criticize the mismanagement of immigration at the southern border or during the Afghanistan evacuation.
What makes “anti-Zionism” different is that it does not aim at policy difference nor even at animus against political personalities but at delegitimizing a core component of the Judaic paradigm: the Jewish connection with the land.
Zionism, simply put, in its simplest and most basic essence, is the belief that a Jew has a special connection with the Land of Israel. The mountain in Jerusalem where the Temple of King Solomon was built – and then was rebuilt upon the return of the Babylonian exiles – is known alternatively as Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount), Har HaMoriah (Mount Moriah) and Har Tzion (Mount Zion). Not unlike tens of millions of Bible-loving Christian Zionists, the decided majority of Jews throughout history have harbored a unique emotional connection to the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
Italian-Americans get that. That is why so many commercials to visit Rome and Florence and Milan tout Perillo Tours of Italy, not Lipshitz-Goldstein Tours. It is the reason that many Irish-Americans try to visit the “old sod.” For Jews everywhere in the world, Israel is like a “Seder” or a “Thanksgiving Day” country: you may not love everyone at the dinner table, but you would have it no other way because they all are family.
To define oneself as “anti-Zionist” is the same as self-identifying as “anti-kosher food.” Certainly, a person is welcome to eat all the ham, pork and bacon she likes. No one expects others to be kosher nor even to prefer soaked-and-salted meat. But to be “anti-kosher”? What would that be all about? All because you are not kosher, why be “anti” someone else living a more traditionally authentic Jewish life?
Ultimately, that is what “anti-Zionism” is. Instead of visiting or residing in Israel, one is welcome to prefer a vacation in Saudi Arabia – and please don’t forget to bring home some sand for the kids. No one has to like people who write from right to left, who have emergency medical vehicles with red Stars of David instead of red crescents or red crosses painted on the ambulances.
But to be “anti-Zionist?” That’s like being anti-kosher. Anti-matzo. Because, when it comes down to it, Zionism actually is a core part of the very definition of a Jew.
That is why “anti-Zionism” always is pure antisemitism. No one reasonable denies the Italian love for Venice, the French love for Paris, the British love for London, or the Spanish love for Barcelona. Even amid the COVID pandemic, expatriates’ hearts and minds remain fixed on lands of heritage.
To deny only Jews that simple human yearning shared by all others is to manifest something much deeper than a mere disagreement over where ice cream should be sold or fictional works should be translated. It is to be an antisemite.
The writer, a law professor and senior rabbinic fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, is a congregational rabbi and senior contributing editor at The American Spectator. His book, General Sharon’s War Against Time Magazine, explored the 1982 war in Lebanon and the libel trial that followed.