I have an old friend who believes that Israel-Palestine should be one democratic state that does not discriminate on the basis of religion or race. My old friend, who is Jewish, is a self-declared anti-Zionist. I believe my old friend is not an anti-Semite.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitism is belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. The ADL defines anti-Zionism as a prejudice against the Jewish movement for self-determination and the right of the Jewish people to a homeland in the state of Israel.
Based on these definitions, is an anti-Zionist necessarily an anti-Semite? I don’t think so.
Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of anti-Zionists who are also anti-Semites. In fact, I would venture to guess that most anti-Semites are also anti-Zionists, although there are probably some anti- Semites who wish all Jews would leave their countries and move to Israel. I’m not sure that makes those people Zionists, however.
But is someone an anti- Semite just because he or she is an anti-Zionist?
The definition of anti- Semitism is pretty clear, but the definition of anti-Zionism has some ambiguities and maybe even some circularities, because Zionism itself has some ambiguities and circularities. What does it mean for the Jewish people to have a right to a homeland in the state of Israel?
Who are the Jewish people? Are they individuals having a common religion, race, ethnicity or nationality? And who decides?
What kind of right are we talking about? Legal? Ethical? Historical? Religious?
What does homeland mean? Is it exclusive or can/should/must it be shared with non-Jews?
Where and what is the state of Israel? Biblical Judea and Samaria? 1948-1967 boundaries? Post-1967 boundaries?
I consider myself to be a Zionist. I believe that the Jewish people do have a right to a homeland in the state of Israel.
As for the Jewish people, I believe that being Jewish is more about sharing a common nationality. Those who call themselves Jews are just too diverse to be considered as having a common religion, race or ethnicity.
As for the right of the Jewish people, as a devout atheist, I would have to discount the impact of any conversations Abraham said he had with the Creator of the Universe. I’d say the Jewish people’s right is more legal and historical than ethical.
I believe that the Jewish homeland should be shared as long as it does not jeopardize the safety of its Jewish residents.
As for boundaries, I believe in a three-state solution: Israel, West Bank and Gaza, with the West Bank and Gaza ruled by their respective Palestinian majorities.
But arguments can be made that the Jewish people’s right to a homeland in the state of Israel is no greater than the Palestinian people’s right to a homeland in the state of Israel, whether that right is legal, ethical, historical or religious.
There are plenty of reasons why someone might believe that the Jewish people do not have a right to a homeland in the state of Israel without that person being hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. One can even be hostile toward the state of Israel without being hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish.
My old (Jewish) friend believes in a one-state solution, where Israel-Palestine should be one democratic state that does not discriminate on the basis of religion or race. I would not argue that that is what “should be” in an ideal world. But we do not live in an ideal world.
We live in the real world where there are far too many real anti-Semites among the Palestinians to believe that Jews would be free to survive in such a “democratic” state. All you need to do is take a survey of the existing Arab countries to see how many of them respect and protect the rights of Jewish (and other non-Muslim) minorities.
But just because my old friend is a naive anti-Zionist, that does not make him an anti-Semite.
Anti-Semitism is not a term that should be bandied about loosely. It should be reserved only for clear cases of per se anti-Jewish bias and discrimination. Otherwise, the term will lose its import, and individuals will not be concerned about being labeled as anti-Semites. Lord knows there are enough people in this world who are proud to be called anti-Semites.
Before we designate all anti-Zionists as anti-Semites, or even one anti-Zionist as an anti-Semite, we better make sure that the epithet is appropriate.
Steve Mendelsohn is a Philadelphia-based patent attorney.