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Is it anti-Semitic to oppose Israel?

By Eric Ruder | May 10, 2002 | Page 7

"I DOUBT that most of the people involved would be hostile to someone merely because that person was Jewish, though some would, but they are almost all, wittingly or not, stoking the inferno of anti-Semitism." Those were the words of international press baron Conrad Black as he attacked the European media for criticizing Israel's violence against Palestinians.

Black is a Rupert Murdoch wannabe, and no radical should take his words to heart. But his argument--that criticism of Israel is the same as anti-Semitism--is widely accepted, even among people who are sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians, but who become defensive when it comes to speaking out against Israeli atrocities.

That's just what pro-Israel supporters like Black want--to deflect criticism from Israel's actions by attacking the critics.

There's no contradiction at all between opposing anti-Semitic bigotry against Jews and opposing the political project of Zionism--the construction and defense of a Jewish state on hijacked land in Palestine.

For one thing, a significant number of Jews--including some Israeli citizens--have criticized Israel's war on Palestinians. Obviously, the hundreds of Israeli reservists who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories aren't anti-Semites.

But it's no more correct to suspect anti-Semitism when Palestinians oppose Israel. "There is no basis for the assertion that Palestinian outrage at, or even hatred of, the Israelis is a manifestation of traditional 'anti-Semitism,' rather than the consequence of the Zionist dispossession of the Palestinians and over 50 years of Israeli injustice and repression," wrote Jerome Slater last year in the Jewish magazine Tikkun.

This isn't to say that there's no anti-Semitism in the Arab world. There is--just as there is bigotry toward Jews elsewhere in the world, including among racists who nevertheless support Israel because they hate Arabs even more.

The controversy about anti-Semitism explains why some people reacted with suspicion to a chant raised by marchers at the April 20 antiwar march in Washington, D.C.: "Sharon and Hitler are the same, the only difference is the name."

Sharon and Hitler aren't exactly the same. They are products of very different historical circumstances. But this shouldn't overshadow the similarities that marchers were referring to.

Sharon's government relies on the support of far-right Israeli politicians who routinely refer to Palestinians as "vermin" and "animals"--just as the Nazis regarded Jews as subhuman. And from the 1948 war to found the Israeli state to the proposal to settle the whole of the Occupied Territories, Israel has always been associated with the policy of expelling Palestinians--frighteningly similar to the Nazi idea of clearing Jews from Europe to provide "Lebensraum" for the German people.

There is a tragic irony in the fact that Israel is today carrying out the same kind of racist persecution that European Jews fled from in the 1930s and 1940s. But given the historical legacy of Zionism, this isn't a surprise.

The Zionist movement has always believed that anti-Semitism can't be overcome--and therefore Jews need their own ethnically pure homeland. The founders of Zionism considered the rise of Nazism an opportunity--to fulfill their dream of organizing a mass Jewish exodus to Palestine.

But in so doing, Zionism "transformed Jews from a persecuted minority into an oppressing majority," according to an article published in the 1970s by the now-defunct Israeli Socialist Organization. "Zionism merely succeeded in creating its own version of the world from which the Jews were rejected."

No supporter of justice for Palestinians should be defensive in the least about speaking out against Zionism and the state of Israel.

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