Overcoming the Colonial nature of anti-Semitism

The original purpose for the creation of a Jewish state were in the Zionist movements founding years very different to what Jews both in Israel and the Diaspora see its existence serving the Jewish people today.

For the most part modern Zionism emerged from two main schools of thought. In Western and central Europe where the Jews were more assimilated and integrated into their host societies, emerged first the founding branch of the Zionist movement, Herzlian Zionism. The Herzlian school of thought saw Zionism as the answer to the problem of anti-Semitism and Herzl’s followers, such as Nordau were mostly assimilated Jews, who turned to Zionism as a result of failed emancipation.

They were mostly well educated Jews, who were not so familiar with Jewish tradition or the Jewish people. As Max Nordau remarked that “we are a religious community composed of Atheists.” Herzl before witnessing the Dreyfus affair, believed that all Jews should convert to Christianity, the desire of Herzl and his followers was for a state that would truly embody the values of the European enlightenment, a liberal and democratic state for the Jews. Stemming from this stream of Zionism is the idea that the state will grant the Jews freedom, not only to be a Jew, but also from being a Jew. It is a collective attempt at assimilation, if the Jew could not assimilate as an individual, perhaps they can be assimilated as a collective.

In the East, Zionist sentiment was found amongst those who resided in the Shtetls, in the Pale of Settlement, in the region of Eastern Europe, Russia and Poland. These Zionists were different from those from Western Europe; they had not experienced European emancipation, had lived in Ghettos and had turned to Zionism and Socialism in rebellion and response to their religious upbringings.

The Playwright, David Memet in his book The Wicked Son, Anti-Semitism, Self Hatred and the Jews discusses the four sons from the Haggada on Passover and addresses the role that the Wicked son plays in perpetuating anti-Semitism.

“The wicked Jewish child removes himself from his tradition, and sets up as a rationalist and judge of those who would study, learn, and belong.”1
(Memet, D. 2006)

The Zionist movement was one of the few enlightenment responses to the Jewish question that internalized the prevalent anti-Semitic image and stereotypes of the Jews. In its early years, Zionists was perhaps the naïve Jew who thought that the anti-Semites were not fanatics, the wicked sons who asked the question “what have we done to make them hate us?” Or “perhaps they are right.”

Particularly Socialist Zionists, who believed that it was caused by the fact that the Jew was landless, and held positions in the middle classes, acting as the hated middle man, reaping the capital from the labourers, acceptance of such ideas were found amongst the prominent left wing Zionist ideologists, including Nahman Syrkin and Ber Borechov. Borechov explains in Our Platform that:

“Anti-Semitism flourishes because of the national competition between the Jewish and non-Jewish petty bourgeoisie and between the Jewish and non-Jewish proletarized and unemployed masses.”2

(Borechov, B 1906:361)

Herzl too believed that the Diaspora itself was the cause of Anti-Semitism and that it would disappear if the Jews had their own state.

The Revisionist Zionists too were not immune to internalizing the anti-Semitic view of the Jew. The Zionists took on board the anti-Semites views of the Jews leading to the Zionist vision of creating the ‘New Jew.’

The ‘Old Jew’ ‘New Jew’ mission looked to deny all of Jewish history in the Diaspora, as being an embarrassment and worthless. It would end the relationship between this new people (the Israelis) and the Jewish people.

Some may look at the history of the state of Israel as part of the continuation of Jewish history whereas for others it was intended to be a break away from the Jews and the birth of a new people. The new Jew was to be everything that the Jews of the Diaspora were allegedly not. It is summed up best by Jabotinsky’s description:

“Our starting point is to take the typical Yid of today and to imagine his diametrical opposite… because the Yid is ugly, sickly, and lacks decorum, we shall endow the ideal image of the Hebrew with masculine beauty. The Yid is trodden upon and easily frightened and, therefore, the Hebrew ought to be proud and independent. The Yid is despised by all and, therefore, the Hebrew ought to charm all. The Yid has accepted submission and therefore, the Hebrew ought to learn how to command. The Yid wants to conceal his identity from strangers and, therefore, the Hebrew should look the world straight in the eye and declare: “I am a Hebrew!””3

(Jabotinsky, Z 1949:97-100)

Of course most of us today have long since learned that fulfilling the Zionist dream of the rebirth of a nation, and Israeli independence has not eliminated anti-Semitism. Most Zionists learned their lesson that they could not escape anti-Semitism by any kind of rebranding or changing the position or condition of the Jews, whether powerful or powerless.

But the mentality of accepting the anti-Semites reasons for being against the Jews, persisted. Rather than accepting that the existence of Israel has not changed the anti-Semites view of the Jews, or the anti-Zionists view of the Israelis, they have either therefore rendered the entire Zionist project and the establishment of Israel as void of all legitimacy or a mistake that needs to be corrected.

Many Zionists accepted the reasons that the anti-Semites gave for their Jew hatred in the 1900’s and, branching off from this logic we see the same approach drawn today, asking why do they hate us? Today we are hated because we have a state, but rather than realizing that the problem is the anti-Semite, they see the root of the problem as the Jew or the Jewish state.

Here in lies the root of the problem behind Israeli anti-Zionism, which in some cases resonates in Post Zionist thought. And is the continuation of the desire to assimilate and be accepted by the non-Jewish world. The desire to be ‘normal,’ to the Post-Zionist is by and large the adoption of the calling for a one state solution, so that Israel will follow suit with many of its western allies in the democratic world, and become a ‘state for all its citizens.’
Where this becomes confusing is the new internalizing of the new anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist branding of Israel, as a racist, colonialist state, whose existence was founded on the ruins and displacement of the Palestinian people and owes its legitimacy to the catastrophe of the Holocaust.

Whilst I have always recognized that the conflict with the Palestinians needs to be addressed and that Israel has implemented polices which have made conditions for resolving the conflict even harder, it does not and has not reached the extent of advocating eliminating Israel’s identity as a Jewish state altogether.

The feeling of guilt on the part of many Israelis for Israel’s role in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem has contributed to the perpetuation of anti-Israel feeling. The conflict with the Arabs and particularly the Palestinians I do not believe the root cause of the problem to be that of irrational anti-Semitism of the modern European variety. It does exist and has been spread by various Arab leaders. The adoption of the pro Palestinian narrative at the expense of Israel’s narrative has also been geared towards promoting a political agenda. Whilst it claims to be rewriting Israeli history without the ‘Zionist narrative’ it is no more objective than the ‘Zionist narrative’, it is as politically loaded and is told in a way, which too has a political and ideological agenda.

Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Elhanan Yakira discusses this phenomenon in his book Post-Zionism, Post-Holocaust: Three Essays on Denial, Forgetting, and the Delegitimation of Israel4.  Singling out a few Post-Zionist historians in Israel, including professor of Philosophy at Tel Aviv University, Adi Ophir. He forges a link to mostly what is a group of Revisionist historians in France, who are considered to be Holocaust deniers, associated with the ultra-left wing bookstore in Paris, La Vieille Taupe, founded by the political activist, Pierre Guillaume and scholars such as Robert Faurisson, Serge Thion, Paul Rassiner and others. Much of the thinking behind this school of thought is left wing, pacifists, who have no inklings towards Nazism.

Yakira discusses the link between the Revisionist historians in Europe and various Post Zionist historians in Israel and abroad, such as Noam Chomsky, who wrote what would become used as the Introduction to one of Robert Faurisson’s works defending everyone’s right to free speech amidst the illegality of Holocaust denial in many European countries.

This is not at all surprising if we look at the origins of Socialist Zionism, which saw Zionism as a stage in bringing the Jews back to the rank of the Proletariat and then integrating itself with the global Communist movement. Zionism was a mask, a cover leading the Jews through a false sense of security thinking that it aimed for their national revival and self determination in their homeland as an end in itself, only to find that it was just a means to something bigger and greater than nationalism, the Jewish state was just seen as a temporary stage.

It is not so different to the attitudes that many held towards the Reform movement in its early years, offering to the Jews of the Ghetto the chance to be accepted by the non-Jewish world and to remain a Jew and be consistent with modernity. For some, as with many left wing Zionists that was genuinely what was sought through joining these movements, whereas for others, they saw both Reform and Zionism as being paths to assimilation. Both of these movements aroused scepticism amongst the Jews of the Ghettos and the Orthodox world.

Today both these movements, Reform Judaism and Zionism have changed, and have reverted back towards more traditional Jewish identity and have as a result brought most of the mainstream of the Jewish people closer to them. Yes it has been in part to do with the Holocaust, but also the changes in practice and belief that these two movements made, the Zionist left became less inclined to exchanging Judaism for Socialism, with such rebellious practices which shocked many Jews, such as the serving of Pork in the Chadrei Ochel (Dining rooms) of some Kibbutzim, and the Reform movement no longer keep Shabbat on a Sunday for example.

Answers to the Jewish question whether it be Reform, Communism or Zionism all have strands within them aimed at attracting the Jews to their movement through making use of appealing to the masses that they are not only the answer to their problem both in terms of the correct path for the continuation of Jewish identity and the answer to anti-Semitism, but also there are those who see them all as potential paths to assimilation.

What has become known as the ‘New anti-Semitism’, which accuses anti-Semites as hiding behind anti-Zionism and that opposition to Israel is just a new form of singling out the Jews, that there are good Jews and bad Jews. The bad ones are those who associate with Israel, which is the vast majority of today’s Jews, and good Jews who denounce Israel.

It wouldn’t matter if the outcome of history had turned out differently. If hypothetically, there was no Second world War and there was no Holocaust, and Zionism failed to win the support of the masses of Jews, and they did not move to Palestine in great numbers, and that the Territorialists, the Jewish Bund movement succeeded in winning over the masses of European and Russian Jews, I believe that rather than seeing the distinction made of Jews being good or bad based on their views on Israel, it would be as has been the case during the Cold war an inflation of the suspicion of Jews in countries like the United States as being evil Communist spies, or in what became the Soviet Union as being the opposite.

No matter which corner the Jews turn a conspiracy is constructed for them. The Jews try to rule the world through their influence within the Communist movement, or that the Rothschilds and the Jewish bourgeoisie is controlling the worlds money, and if none of this is enough even the Zionists are involved in this too somehow, that Israel is somehow controlling the decisions of foreign powers, through Jewish influence in the Diaspora.

This division of the good Jews from the bad Jews is nothing new. Before Israel was established the Bolshevik Jews were viewed not that differently to how the Zionists are regarded today. The former British Prime minister and proud supporter of the Zionist movement, Winston Churchill, wrote an article titled Zionism and Bolshevism. A struggle for the soul of the Jewish people, on who were the good Jews and who were the bad Jews, in his opinion the good Jews were the Liberal, Diaspora Jews in western countries and the Zionists, and the Communists and Bolsheviks were the bad Jews, he wrote that:

“It would almost seem as if the gospel of Christ and the gospel of the Antichrist were destined to originate among the same people; and that this mystic and mysterious race had been chosen for the supreme manifestations, both divine and the diabolical…

Duty of Loyal Jews

It is particularly important in these circumstances that the National Jews in every country who are loyal to the land of their adoption should come foreword on every occasion, as many of them in England have already done, and take a prominent part in every measure for combating the Bolshevik conspiracy. In this way they will be able to vindicate the honour of the Jewish name and make it clear to the world that the Bolshevik movement is not a Jewish movement, but is repudiated vehemently by the great mass of the Jewish race.”5

It appears to be that the good Jew is the fringe movement of the Jewish people, Zionism at this time had not enlisted the amount of support of the Jewish people that it has today, and the left wing, radical Bolshevik Jews were considered to be the evil offshoot of the Jewish people. Today we see the opposite, Zionism is no longer a small fringe movement, it is one of the main movements influencing Jewish attitudes and concerns today, and it is Zionism which has become the movement that Jews are being asked to distance themselves from, to prove that Zionism is not a Jewish movement.

I am not sure I would call myself a staunch ideological Zionist anymore, but not because it is evil, or an unjust cause at all, but more because my definition of Zionism is probably much more than just supporting Israel’s right to exist, as I grew up in Zionist youth movements and have a more in-depth concept of what Zionism is. But I am a supporter of Israel’s right to exist nonetheless because it has become the first point of call when fighting anti-Semitism.

In the past the Zionists believed the anti-Semites reasons for anti-Semitism, took them seriously and gave them what they thought they wanted with the hope that it would disappear. Today Jews are told the complete opposite, that the cause is Israel. The split within the Zionist movement is an internal struggle between those who from the outset had no desire for Israel to remain a Jewish state forever and hoped and planned for the withering away of its Jewish character. Those who fail to see anti-Semitism as irrational and who genuinely believe that it will disappear provided that we do what the non-Jews say, in the case of demonizing Israel it is not that different from that of a Jew who converted to Christianity to be accepted, but it wasn’t enough until he became an anti-Semite.

The answer is not that we are today predisposed of having to be Zionists, but more that Jews shouldn’t have to feel like they are less of a person because of their political or religious views, who are the rest of the world to define what is good Jew and what is bad Jew?

Let the Jews be what they want to be, if they want to be Zionists they can, if they want to be communists or capitalists, reform or orthodox Jews they can be. Often such occurrences result in the call to unite behind Israel. I think it is more than uniting behind Israel, or showing that the Jews speak with one voice but that we as Jews need to be able to speak with multiple voices but to stop attempting to validate our voice by de-legitimizing another. Of course there are things that one group may do which another may disagree with. I may not agree with the ultra-Orthodox community on many things, and I am happy to mention what they are even amongst non-Jews, but what I will not tolerate is the attempt to make me into a good Jew, for being ‘normal’ and them into weird, backward, stubborn to change, bad Jews who they can mock as much as they like.

The same must be the case between Zionist Jews and non-Zionist Jews, I don’t like some of the things Israel does, but it has a right to exist. My support for the Palestinian cause stops when the de-legitimization of Israel begins.

We need to become united by the defence of many voices that the Jews have. This task is all the more complicated than calling on Jewish unity in the face of anti-Semitism, but we need to face the facts, we are not all the same, we are a people spread all over the world, we have various different religious streams of Judaism, different Jewish cultures, we reside in countries with very different political cultures to one another which can influence our views. But we must find a way to overcome the attempt to play us against one another. The strategy of unity through those who object to the communities’ position, remaining silent has not been successful, more and more Jewish groups are popping up speaking against Israel, as a result of the fact that there has been no real forum for them to voice their criticisms. The Jewish people, supporters of Israel and critics of Israel, reform and orthodox need a new approach to dealing with anti-Semitism in that the line of de-legitimizing Israel’s right to exist is at the border of anti-Semitism, and that demonizing comments and remarks or actions towards one group of Jews over another must be confronted too.

The words of Voltaire, “I despise what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Need to be applied to this approach. A touch of Libertarianism is needed, so long as we do not start undermining each other’s freedom or right to speak as Jews and do things in ones own way.

I have no doubt that anti-Semitism will continue to exist even when Israel makes peace with the Palestinians, its guise will just change. This strategy seems complicated to implement in practice, but today it is Zionism that is considered the bad Jew, we cannot resolve this problem by finding other Jews to demonize or allowing another group to be demonized by non-Jews, nor can we seek salvation from the world by condemning Zionism, we must be smarter than that, and unite in our diversity. Jews are Capitalists, Jews are Communists, Zionists, Religious and Secular, Orthodox and Non-Orthodox, Black, White, Western, Eastern and come in many other varieties, and no anti-Semites are going to make a distinction as to which are the good ones and which are the bad ones and if they do, we will not turn against each other but expose them for what they are. No other people has to deal with appeasing a hatred one may have of them, or even seek approval from anyone else because of what some of their people may be doing or not doing. I can’t recall Iranians living outside of Iran being under attack because of the regime that rules their country, I rarely hear of Turkish people in Britain suffering abuse for the policies of their government, or even for their diabolical behaviour regarding the Armenians, the Kurds or even the dispute over Cyprus, or the Chinese over their occupation of Tibet.

But when it comes to Israel and peoples opposition to her policies, I am more than happy to listen to why they don’t think Israel should have built the security barrier, or why they think Operation Cast Lead was wrong, why the blockade should be lifted or why checkpoints should be removed. These are difficult security matters, but what I have yet to hear from anyone I speak to who opposes these measures is an alternative that will both ease the hardships and inconveniences to the lives of the Palestinians and equally ensure that Israelis will not get blown up on buses or have rockets showered down on their villages and cities. Not one suggestion has been presented to me when discussing these matters that has ever addressed the human rights of Israelis too. We need not do much to test  ones motives on these issues, I advise Israel supporters not to waste their breath justifying Israel’s actions all the time when confronted with criticism, just ask them what they suggest Israel do instead, you will soon find that they either have a good suggestion that may be worth taking on board, or that they have not really thought it through, and one will discover whether or not the critic considers the safety and right to life as a right that Israelis have at all.

To summarize, the anti-Zionist sentiment in Israel amongst some Israeli Jews, is the continuation of the strand of Zionism that sought to assimilate, the same as has been the case with members of adherents to other movements, both religious or political aimed answering the Jewish question during the 19th century. The movement has followed in the trend that the general Left wing of the global political spectrum has taken, throughout and into the post Cold war era, which views the world in terms of ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s,’ winners and losers, it has in turn viewed the Palestinians as one of the oppressed peoples in the world and just another front of the war between the deserving, poor Third World being exploited, attempting to overcome, Neo-liberalism and Imperialism, and that all that is worth confronting is an international class struggle, Yakira highlights this in his essay, Holocaust denial and the Left:

“This tendency also makes it possible to remain indifferent to injustice that is apparently not accounted for by class conflict or any other all-encompassing explanatory principle, such as the struggle against colonialism. The proletariat has only one enemy, and that is the class to which Dreyfus belongs, the exploiting class. There is only one just struggle, the struggle against exploitation. Internal rivalries within this class do not interest the working masses, and their revolutionary energies should not be squandered or marginal, unimportant questions about injustices that may or may not have been committed against a member of the exploiting class. Both in Rassinier and his faithful followers on the radical French left one can find this syndrome: one must not allow the crime that was committed at Auschwitz, as it were, to blind us to the main thing, which is the suffering of the those who are truly exploited – the workers, people of the Third World, the Palestinians. What happened at Auschwitz was, in the last analysis, just another instance, among many, of the true source of all crimes: colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and Zionism. Since the ceaseless concern with Auschwitz distracts us from all these things, we have to get rid of it. Thus, one cannot avoid the conclusion that nothing unique happened at Auschwitz. Its uniqueness can be negated by the claim that there was no systematic, planned extermination, real or symbolic, is what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians.”6

(Yakira, E 2010: 21)

It is this school of thought that has caused what is often perceived to be a double standard on Israel or a disregard for the injustices caused by Palestinian terrorists targeting Israeli civilians and the subsequent attempt to constantly justify such atrocities. The very fact that there are Jews both inside and outside of Israel who endorse this worldview has allowed anti-Semites to claim immunity from anti-Semitism by demonizing Zionism, Israel and her supporters and associating them with all their other perceived evils, i.e. colonialism, imperialism and capitalism.

The American historian, Walter Laqueur has too made this point in his book; The changing face of Anti-Semitism, from ancient times to the present day:

“Over the last few decades, there has been an ideological reorientation of what used to be the left. With the progressive disillusionment with Communism and the later breakdown of the Soviet empire, the sympathies of the left were transferred to the third world, the under-developed countries of Asia and Africa. If earlier on the (unofficial) slogan had been “no enemies on the left,” the new guiding line became “no enemies in the third world.” But Israel was not a third world country. The left, with only a few exceptions had never been in favour of a Jewish homeland, which they considered a step in the wrong direction. And as the problems generated by the creation of the Jewish state multiplied, the erstwhile antagonism reappeared with additional vigour.”7

(Laqueur, W 2006:15)

Once again as Churchill did in the 1920’s called on Liberal Jews in the Diaspora and Zionist Jews to condemn and distance themselves from the Bolsheviks, today the smaller number of Communist Jews and the small pockets of anti-Zionist religiously observant Jews are branded as the ‘good Jews’ and the Jews are being asked to distance themselves from Zionism and Israel.

Jews should not have to apologize for what Israel does or doesn’t do, or for what Jews like Bernie Madof did, just because he is a Jew. Nor should Jews get concerned about whether they will be accused of dual loyalties if a Jew becomes president or prime minister. It has not stopped Obama from adopting more pro-Muslim policies than his predecessor for example. The hostility towards Israel, is the world simply having problems accepting that the Jews are standing up for their rights, and is not at the mercy of the good will of any host nation. The criticism of that people have of Israel’s actions are legitimate and cannot always be regarded as anti-Semitism so long as they can suggest a viable alternative that is not one sided, and particularly when it is criticism of military tactics and security issues. I am constantly critical of settlement building and other Israeli policies, as I am also of the far right on the Palestinian side.

The difference between the contemporary anti-Semitism in the Arab world is that it fails to differentiate between, Israelis, Zionists or Jews no matter where they are, Jews are all one entity, in the West, in Europe and America, what is referred to as “New anti-Semitism” masquerading behind “anti-Zionism” is that it attempts to divide Jews into good ones and bad ones, to colonize them. During the mandate period, the British divided the labour Zionists under the leadership of Ben Gurion from the right wing under the leadership of Menachem Begin, where Jews betrayed other Jews, including the handing over of Irgun members to the British to be executed, until they eventually saw eye to eye and united to drive the British out of Palestine. Today, we are being divided into Zionists and non-Zionists. We must unite by refusing to be divided into good and bad Jews.


1 Memet, D (2006) The Wicked Son, Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred, and the Jews, Shocken books: United States

2 Borechov, B (1906) Our Platform, taken from the Zionist idea by Hertzberg, A (1997) The Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia

3 Jabotinsky, Z (1949) Ktavim Tzionim Rishonim, Early Zionist Writings, Jerusalem

4 Yakira, E (2010) Post-Zionism, Post-Holocaust: Three Essays on Denial, Forgetting, and the Delegitimation of Israel, Cambridge University Press: New York

5 Churchill, W (08.02.1920) Zionism and Bolshevism. A struggle for the soul of the Jewish people, Illustrated Sunday Herald.

6 Yakira, E (2010) Post-Zionism, Post-Holocaust: Three Essays on Denial, Forgetting, and the Delegitimation of Israel, Cambridge University Press: New York

7 Laqueur, W (2006) The changing face of Anti-Semitism, from ancient times to the present day, Oxford University Press: New York

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