The Issues

Any attempt at even a discussion of the relationship between anti-semitism and anti-zionism is normally calculated to cause apoplexy on the Left. This is no reason to censor the discussion, it is a reason for clarity and several points need to be clarified:

(1) It would be patently absurd to regard all socialist writings antagonistic to zionism as being based on anti-semitism. The present book is not about zionism—but it is certainly hostile to it. Nathan Weinstock's book, Zionism the False Messiah, is a brilliant communist work. There are others. Anti-semitism is a relative not an absolute phenomenon on the Left.

(2) It is not only absurd but reactionary to make a direct equation between anti-zionism and anti-semitism, on a theoretical level. The two are obviously not identical. Indeed it is grossly insulting to define the struggle of the Palestinians for liberation as being in any way intrinsically anti-semitic. It is similarly insulting to condemn as anti-semitic any solidarity with that struggle. It is a tragedy there is not more solidarity—there cannot be enough.

(3) It is equally tragic that much of what passes for 'anti-zionism' on the Left is profoundly anti-semitic. It is a debatable point as to whether or not this is the dominant view on the Left. All that matters is that anti-semitism is now an important and legitimate tendency within the Left. It is the existence of this tendency which allows the zionist leadership to condemn all Left critiques of zionism as being anti-Jewish. It feeds the anti-communism of this reactionary leadership. The Left claims it makes a rigorous distinction between anti-zionism and anti-semitism yet it is manifestly not rigorous in practice. In practice, any condemnation by Jewish people of anti-semitism is somehow seen as an attempt to justify zionism.

(4) It is insufficient and unserious merely to assert that some, but not other, 'anti-zionist' politics are anti-semitic without distinguishing between a principled anti-zionism and anti-semitism. Without a scientific definition of anti-semitism the whole debate becomes useless and painful. In fact, anti-semitism in this context, as in every other context is rooted in a variant of the world Jewish conspiracy. This has two linked aspects in relation to notions of 'zionism': (a) the concept of zionism is expanded to equate it with world domination; (b) the entire Jewish experience is reduced to 'zionism'—and likewise all Jews are held to be responsible for zionism. This is the concept of collective guilt which is intrinsic to theories of the world conspiracy. It is the presence of these ideas which distinguishes anti-semitism from genuine anti-zionism.

(5) The distinction between anti-zionism and anti-semitism is absolute. Methodologically, there is no question of anti-zionism 'merging into' or 'becoming' anti-semitism. We are talking about two completely different phenomena. If an analysis is anti-semitic then it is anti-semitic in its origins and absolutely so—it does not become so. There is no such concept as anti-zionism 'tinged' with anti-semitism. To take an example, Fascist organisations in this country are consistently anti-Israel. Issue number 15 of Nationalism Today (a National Front magazine) had an article attacking Israel and concluding with the exhortation—"Anti-zionists of the world unite and fight!" The September, 1982 issue of Spearhead (the private magazine of John Tyndall) had a three page supplement on "The Jewish rape of Lebanon". The National Front even tried to infiltrate the first anniversary commemoration demonstration for the Sabra-Chatilla massacres. They had 'anti-zionist' leaflets. It would be grotesque to characterise groups like the National Front as 'anti-zionist'. They are anti-semitic plain and simple.

The starting point for genuine anti-zionism is full support for the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation. This inevitably involves some analysis of the penetration of imperialism into the Middle East and the undoubted role of Israel in furthering this. It also has to involve a recognition of the fact that zionism is itself an attempt by Jews to escape the scourge of anti-semitism, in a world where no other escape routes have become apparent. Conversely, the starting point for anti-semitism is the blaming of everything on Jews collectively and internationally—especially whatever happens in the Middle East. This is also its finishing point. The examples given below are not about solidarity with the Palestinians, but are about Jews—Jews everywhere. The attempt to expropriate the language of anti-zionism does not disguise the deep anti-semitism. These examples concern themselves not with zionism, but with Jews.

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© 1984 Steve Cohen, edited and produced by Libby Lawson and Erica Bunnan.
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