Distinguish anti-Zionism from antisemitism.


Simply put, there is no place for antisemitism in anti-racist work. Antisemitism is antithetical to collective liberation, and it is real. Yet, the accusation that the left is as inherently antisemitic as the right is false: antisemitism in the right, specifically in white supremacist groups, is deadly, systemically legitimized, and funded (JFREJ). While it is true that there has been a global rise in antisemitism (HRW), it is also notoriously challenging to quantify incidents, especially in the US (Jewish Currents).

Antisemitism is distinct from other forms of oppression in that it positions an oppressed people, the Jews, as themselves oppressors and therefore a target for other oppressed peoples’ rage (April Rosenblum). In the United States and Europe, antisemitism protects capitalism and its almost exclusively Christian elite ruling class by pushing blame onto Jews, labelled by modern antisemitism as an “inferior race” (JFREJ). On the right, the “great replacement” trope favored by the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter and several Republican representatives claims Jews orchestrate mass migration of non-white immigrants to majority-white countries (HeyAlma). On the left, Marxist analysis of the elite capitalist class of accumulators can be twisted into the conspiracy theory that Jews control the world’s wealth and media.

In the United States, antisemitism dates from colonial times, when Jews were defined as “filthy” by the Dutch, and continued in the lynching of Leo Frank (Dinnerstein), the refusal to accept Jewish refugees in WWII (USHMM), Ivy League restrictive quotas (Karabel), and consistent occurrence of hate crimes. Most recently, on May 18th, Iranian Jewish diners outside a West Hollywood restaurant were attacked by a group in a vehicle with a large Palestinian flag (Eater). Witnesses report the assailants shouted antisemitic slurs and asked which of the diners were Jewish before instigating the melee (NBC). The same day, a Los Angeles driver attempted to run down a Jewish person in the street. Two days later, two men attacked a pedestrian wearing a yarmulke in New York, yelling, “F**k Jews!” The latter attack came the same day as Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire that ended Israeli bombardment of the Palestinian territory of Gaza (CNN). There’s no room to split words: such acts of violence are baldly antisemitic and must be denounced and opposed.

The Anti-Racism Daily has previously written about the need for Americans to oppose U.S. support of states that brutalize those under their rule. The state of Israel, like the United States, would certainly qualify. According to Amnesty International, Israel engages in “institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians” and that “torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, including children, were committed with impunity” (Amnesty International). Attacking random Jewish people does nothing to remedy these injustices; the government of Israel is not run by people eating at West Hollywood sushi restaurants. To say that Jewish people are responsible for the actions of a Jewish state is as blatantly prejudicial as claiming all Chinese people are responsible for COVID-19.

Conflation of Jews and the modern State of Israel serves entrenched right-wing power. The project of colonialism needs a friendly state in the Middle East. Numerous Jewish movements in resistance to Zionism have existed and continue to exist, like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace (InTheseTimes), but they are ignored or sidelined in favor of an overwhelming narrative of Jewish support for Zionism. This ignores the fact that Zionism was itself rooted in antisemitism, as early Zionists internalized a sense of inferiority and proposed that the only solution to the “degeneration” of Jews was to create a modern nation-state (Project Gutenberg). The state of Israel, supported by the white supremacist projects of the United States and other settler-colonial nations, has limited not only the political imagination of Jews but of all progressives (Cornel WestLamont Hill). One way our political imaginations have become limited is a refusal to believe in a future for the region where Palestinians and Jews are both welcome to live peacefully and have a right of return (The Guardian).

White supremacy cannot operate without antisemitism. Similarly, we cannot understand and defeat white supremacy without understanding antisemitism. We must use our imaginations beyond the state of Israel and what we are told is the only way for Jewish safety: there are many possible worlds without antisemitism and without colonialism in the modern Israel/Palestine region.

Mordecai Martin (he/him/his) is a 5th generation New York Jew and writer, who conducts interviews for The Poetry Question and whose fiction work has appeared in X-Ray, Funicular, and Gone Lawn. He lives in a small but not tiny house with a cat named Pharaoh and a wife named Atenea. He tweets @mordecaipmartin and blogs at http://www.mordecaimartin.net.

Key Takeaways

  • The United States has a long history of antisemitism and antisemitic ideas can be found across the political spectrum, though it is especially well-funded and deadly on the right.

  • The identification of all Jewish people with the State of Israel is a right-wing, antisemitic idea. Jewish anti-Zionism has a long history.

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