By Yoav Litvin
With the 2020 presidential elections fast approaching, the progressive campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is gaining traction. Several interest groups have grown increasingly anxious of Sanders’ Democratic Socialist agenda, including ruling class Republicans, corporate Democrats and their joint ally – Zionists, both Christian and Jewish.
Sanders and BDS
The smear has included at its core an attack on his backers Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (MN), Rashida Tlaib (MI) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) as well as activist Linda Sarsour.
The fact these are all women of color, two of them Palestinian, is far from coincidental; Zionism is a white supremacist, settler colonialist project, which is threatened by intersectional alliances disrupting Israel’s divide and rule tactics.
In response to the escalating smear, Sanders penned an editorial outlining his stance on anti-Semitism, Israel and Judaism, which predictably failed to deter the smearers. However, his liberal Zionism and endorsement of the immoral and politically unfeasible apartheid two-state “solution” render him susceptible to ongoing assaults as he repeats Zionist propaganda talking points.
Yet these attacks on Sanders and his followers conceal a campaign in the making for some time; a Zionist strategy devoted to targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as explicitly stated more than 10 years ago at the ‘Global Forum for combating Antisemitism’ and subsequently by ‘The Reut Institute’.
Thus, Sanders is targeted relentlessly by Zionist propaganda.
Zionist propaganda fallacies
Also known as ‘hasbara’, Zionist propaganda relies on several fallacies.
First and foremost, a conflation of Zionism with Judaism serves to deflect criticism of Zionist expansionist apartheid policies by means of repeated cycles of aggression and trauma and the agency of imperial enablers, whilst obfuscating the Nakba and Palestinian demands for equality and justice for those living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, within Israel’s 1948 borders, and refugees in the diaspora, who are guaranteed full right of return under international law.
This anti-Semitic conflation is reactionary, promoting right wing politics within the left.
The deliberately concocted manifest destiny connection between Zionism and Judaism thwarts resistance by deeming critique of Zionism and Israeli policies towards Palestinians as an attack on all Jews, ie anti-Semitic. Further, it fragments anti-colonial resistance by reframing a political struggle over land and resources between an occupying force and an occupied people as a “conflict” between two relatively equal parties.
This conflation promotes further tactical, Zionist appropriation and exceptionalization of Jewish victimhood and suffering. Israeli hasbara frames the Nazi Holocaust as a particularly savage genocide in history, which entitles its primary targets – Jews – with a special status among victims. In line with this facade, as exceptional victims, Jews deserve privileges, discounts and allowances. As the constructed “Jewish state”, Israel has been and continues to be the beneficiary of these favors and special relationships, which regularly come at the expense of Indigenous Palestinians. Notably, Zionist revisionism often ignores and diminishes Nazi crimes against other oppressed groups, such as communists and socialists, Roma, disabled people, LGBTQI, and African-Germans.
Zionist hasbara attempts to tarnish anti-colonial anti-Zionism by duplicitously merging it with modern white supremacist anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish religious bigotry, recasting principled leftist resistance to Zionist criminality as part of an ancient and exceptional form of human racism, which supposedly afflicts both left and right political spheres. This essentially anti-Semitic maneuver serves to whitewash Israeli criminality and ongoing collaborations with far-right governments worldwide and attack those who call them out, such as Representative Ilhan Omar and Senator Bernie Sanders.
Moreover, Zionist historical revisionism facilitates an erroneous presentation of Israel as a ‘normal’ democracy facilitating a left-to-right political milieu, instead of accurately acknowledging the entirety of the Zionist movement, including its “liberal” variety, as inherently reactionary, settler colonialist and genocidal.
Settler colonial projects generally rely on presentation of the desired territory as ’empty land’, along with dehumanization of existing inhabitants as barbarians undeserving of their land, who can thus be dispossessed without qualms in favor of a ‘villa in the jungle’. There is nothing ‘exceptional’ about Israel’s posture which has been marketed by other western settler colonial endeavors to sanitize their own land grabs, slaughter and denial of rights to Indigenous peoples as well as rejection of non-white refugees.
The Liberal flank of Zionism functions to absolve the reactionary essence of the movement and obscure its motivations – expansionism and apartheid. Dishonestly, it presents Zionism as compatible with democratic and progressive values and human rights, fictitiously possessing a true desire for peace, justice and complete integration into the Middle East.
All roads lead to Trump
The manufactured ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign waged against Sanders’ progressive camp began with liberal Zionist instigators in American media and was enthusiastically picked up by corporate Democrats and far-right wingers in Israel and the US, including Donald Trump himself (see here from recent campaign rally).
Significantly, the smear of Rep. Omar and parts of the left as ‘anti-Semitic’ is facilitated by the approval of the flawed and controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which adopts Zionist talking points regarding Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ and which was presaged again as strategic ‘lawfare’ in the Global Policy Forum in 2009.
The scapegoating of Omar by some in the mainstream media and prominent members of her own party provided a convenient backdrop for Trump to sign an unconstitutional Executive Order following his vicious anti-Semitic tirade at the Israeli-American Council National Summit.
This ongoing campaign against Omar, involving a host of dubious sources and social media accounts, has been adopted by key representatives of the Israeli government, such as UN ambassador Danny Danon. Notably, the Zionist portrayal of Omar as an anti-Semite shields real anti-Semites from accountability.
Israel’s racist policies complement Trump’s own xenophobic ambitions, as expressed by his senior policy adviser arch-Zionist Islamophobe Stephen Miller. Consistently, Congresswoman Omar has vocally opposed Stephen Miller’s white supremacy, fomenting further duplicitous accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’.
Defeating the smear
The fallacious ‘anti-Semitism’ accusations lobbed at those criticizing Zionist policies can be attacked successfully by avoiding Zionist propaganda traps and embracing the Palestinian, anti-racist call for BDS, a call which melds co-resistance and anti-colonialism, rejecting political Zionism.
To achieve justice, the focus on Zionist criminality and Israel’s shared settler colonial values and racist behaviors with other western settler colonial projects must persist. And the only relevant choice remains – are you a Zionist or an anti-Zionist? As veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote: “If you remain a Zionist, you can no longer be of the left; if you’re of the left, you can no longer be a Zionist.”
All those who claim to care about Palestinians, including liberal Jews and associated media outlets and organizations who avoid implicating Zionism or directly supporting BDS cannot continue to claim left-wing universalist values while simultaneously serving as the “liberal propaganda wing of the apartheid Zionist regime.
Recognizing Zionism as inherently reactionary is not a “purity test” aimed at excluding activists as recently claimed by Ran Greenstein in a piece for the liberal Zionist 972 Magazine. Rather, it is a necessary first step in attacking duplicitous ‘anti-Semitism’ smears by identifying their tactical origins and impact, rejecting rightwing sabotage of a principled struggle for rights and justice.
The onus of change and accountability is on the oppressor, not for the oppressed to endure. On the road to liberation, only a consistent and unapologetic anti-Zionist framework is effective and congruent with leftist, anti-racist values.