Members of the anti-Zionist subset of the U.S. ultra-Orthodox Jewish community counterprotest during the March for Israel on Nov. 14, 2023, in Washington. (RNS photo/Jack Jenkins)
(RNS) — The Muslim and Jewish communities in the West have a decadeslong history of standing together in solidarity against Islamophobia and antisemitism and supporting one another in times of pain. We have faced a similar bigotry and an uptick of hate-fueled attacks on our communities in recent years. We have been familiar faces to one another at the endless press conferences in the aftermath of so many of those incidents.
But these relationships cannot be confined to empathy at home. When that same hatred is overseas, it has to be just as near to our hearts. And at a time in which Palestinian civilians — two-thirds of whom are women and children — are being killed at a rate of 280 per day, we must affirm that anti-Palestinian racism and bigotry are also extensions of Islamophobia. We must also be crystal clear as to what anti-Zionism is and is not.
Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism.
It is a travesty that we are forced to state and defend what should be an undeniable fact. It is a strategic conflation made by the Zionist lobby, engineered to suppress a shift in narrative and public opinion that increasingly humanizes Palestinians and rejects the Israeli occupation. Over the past two months, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment and ground invasion has resulted in more than 16,000 Palestinians killed and at least 40,000 more injured. And with that, a global audience otherwise ignorant of the Palestinian catastrophe has been granted firsthand access to the crimes of the Israeli occupation.
House Resolution 894, a resolution that strongly condemns and denounces the “drastic rise of antisemitism in the United States and around the world,” also states “that anti-Zionism is antisemitism.” This is an ignorant at best — malicious at worst — attempt to amalgamate two disparate concepts. Antisemitism is a discriminatory and bigoted view of the Jewish people, a people with a millennialong history, while anti-Zionism opposes a political ideology introduced in the late 19th century that sought the establishment of an ethnostate on Palestinian territory.
On December 5, the resolution passed despite last-ditch efforts by three Jewish Democrats, who urged their colleagues to avoid what they termed an “attempt by Republicans to weaponize Jewish pain.” They described the resolution as “just the latest unserious attempt by Republicans to weaponize Jewish pain and the serious problem of antisemitism to score cheap political points.” While 92 Democrats voted merely “present,” a majority voted in favor, marking a dramatic disconnect between Democrats in Congress and their constituents — at a time when Gallup data shows “Democrats’ sympathies in the Middle East now lie more with the Palestinians than the Israelis.”
And the impact of AIPAC lobbying cannot be overstated. As M.J. Rosenberg wrote for the Huffington Post in 2017, “(Democrats) are in the grip of a foreign policy lobby as powerful as the NRA, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.” Rosenberg alluded to Democrats’ decadeslong frustration with the National Rifle Association’s lobbying efforts against gun control measures. “Sorry, Democrats: your NRA is spelled AIPAC,” he titled the piece.
House Republicans, and the GOP at large, began this deliberate mischaracterization of anti-Zionism years ago. In his remarks at the 2019 AIPAC Policy Conference, then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo catered to the crowd. “Let me go on the record,” he said. “Anti-Zionism is antisemitism.” He defined anti-Zionism as denying “the very legitimacy of the Israeli state and of the Jewish people.”
And that is exactly the conflation AIPAC hopes to embed and establish in the public discourse, the idea that the Israeli occupation and the Jewish people are inseparable. But as Dave Zirin of The Nation puts it, this is the greatest disservice to the Jewish people. “Anyone who attempts to fasten a 5,000-year-old religion to a 150-year-old colonial project is guilty of antisemitism. They are pushing the idea that my family, merely because of our religion, supports war crimes abroad and the crackdown on critics at home.” It also assumes American Jews are a homogenous group; a Pew Research Center survey found that most American Jewish adults take the position that God “did not literally give” the land of Israel to the Jewish people.
Anti-Zionists, including thousands of Jews across the globe, reject the notion of an ethno-state that expels the existing Palestinian population. Anti-Zionists oppose the Israeli occupation on the basis of the myriad human rights abuses that Israel has carried out since its founding. These include the displacement and ethnic cleansing of millions of Palestinians, the establishment of an apartheid system that systematically disenfranchises Palestinians, a sustained illegal occupation, the murder of tens of thousands of Palestinians over the past seven decades and the ongoing genocide in Gaza.
Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. It would be absurd to be forced to make the same clarifications regarding other distinctly independent concepts, and it is an indictment of the uninformed level of discourse Congress has succumbed to. Equating anti-Zionism and antisemitism is a strategic and calculated measure designed to stifle criticism of the Israeli occupation and instill fear in those who speak out, Jews and non-Jews alike.
After the resolution’s passage, I wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that, “according to the House of Representatives, the Muslim community that has stood in solidarity in front of synagogues and Jewish community centers against hate for years — yet also opposes Zionism — is to be considered antisemitic. And all of the brave members of the Jewish community standing in solidarity against occupation are also apparently antisemites. Make it make sense.”
Unfortunately, it will never make sense. To equate anti-Zionism and antisemitism is to conflate being Jewish with being Zionist, and, as Dave Zirin posited, “this is rank antisemitism: the assumption that to be Jewish is to support Israel’s crimes.” Ironically, despite the resolution’s stated attempts to condemn antisemitism, it — in fact — fans the flames of bigotry. This resolution seeks to weaponize Jewish pain by criminalizing criticism of the occupation, apartheid and systemic racism, all of which are part and parcel of the current Israeli fabric.