By Philip Weiss
The news has rarely been so bad for anti-Zionism as it is today. Jeremy Corbyn’s resounding defeat in Britain is being broadcast by Israel’s friends as a sign that any politician who espouses Palestinian solidarity is endangered. Michael Oren writes on twitter:
May Corbyn’s defeat send a message to anti-Semites everywhere. Your hatred comes back to haunt you.
And then there’s Trump’s executive order defining anti-Zionism on campus as antisemitism, and a form of discrimination barred under the civil rights act. The order treats Jews as a nationality and so denying “the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor” is a form of antisemitism. So is analogizing Israeli conduct to Nazis.
The executive order has been heralded by alarmist claims about the experiences of Zionists on campus. They are bullied and harassed and terrorized. The New York Times’ news coverage of the order says so right at the top:
In recent years, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — or B.D.S. — movement against Israel has roiled some campuses, leaving some Jewish students feeling unwelcome or attacked.
Jared Kushner echoes that assertion in an op-ed for the Times: Anti-Zionism is antisemitism, he declares.
Anti-Semites have grown increasingly brazen in claiming that attacks on Israel — and even on Jewish students who may or may not support Israel — are not anti-Semitic. It has become fashionable among Jew haters to characterize any discriminatory behavior — no matter how loathsome — not as criticism of Jews, but of Israel. This is a lie. Especially on college campuses, where discrimination, harassment and intimidation of Jewish students has become commonplace and is routinely, but wrongly, justified.
Bari Weiss of the New York Times described this supposed atmosphere in her recent book:
I meet such people in every Jewish community I speak to… They tend to wait until late in the evening, after the crowd has thinned out or after they’ve had a few glasses of wine, to make their confession. But the confession is always the same: I’m in the closet. It’s not their sexuality or gender expression they are closeting. It is their Jewishness and their Zionism.”
It seems to me that American solidarity activists’ job has never been more important. These propagandists for Israel are making an argument about the American discourse, and it shows that the fight against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions has gone to the highest level, the White House and the Congress and the New York Times. The battle is on because the Israel side is losing important segments of the discourse: the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, the left grassroots, college campuses. The creeping delegitimization of Israel is rightly terrifying to the pro-Israel establishment, so they are taking measures to fight it. Just this week the Democratic Party pushed legislation to affirm America’s lavish military aid to Israel, $3.8 billion a year, as “ironclad,” saying that opposition to that aid is a mere “splinter” of the party. And a few months ago the Democrats overwhelmingly passed a McCarthyite resolution saying that BDS is antisemitic, and the Dems were aided by liberal Zionist groups like J Street.
Let’s be clear about something. This is the fight we always wanted. In fact, this battle was inevitable, if you believe that: Ethnic cleansing is wrong and ethnocracy shouldn’t be supported. Or that the United States is the crucial support for the idea of a Jewish state. Or that the Israel lobby is crucial to that American support. Or that the two-state solution is over/a cruel charade.
If you thought these things it was always going to come to this, a battle for hearts and minds inside the U.S. establishment. A few years ago the esteemed scholar Norman Finkelstein said that Americans wouldn’t argue about Zionism because they didn’t know what it was, it might as well be a hairspray. I honor Norman, but he was dead wrong about this. Zionism is being propounded at the very highest levels of our society as the idea of a Jewish state faces delegitimization and as the two-state paradigm completely crumbles.
Israel is facing delegitimization for obvious reasons. What it is doing in the occupied territories is completely unsupportable even to liberal Zionists and there is no sign that that regime will ever end, and even inside the ’48 borders Israel’s official policies are Jim Crow, first and second class citizens based on racial distinctions. While Israel moves to a third election in a year in some measure because “racism cripples its democracy,” per Juan Cole.
My side argues that these conditions exist because of the animating ideology of Israel, Zionism. Here, for instance, is what Michael Koplow, a very smart liberal guy, says about rightwing Jewish Zionist belief:
people who deeply believe in Israel’s natural, historical, and in some cases, divine right to control the biblical Land of Israel [espouse a] perfectly legitimate and understandable position
That’s really what it comes down to, folks. Do you think that such beliefs are “perfectly legitimate” in the 21st century, in a land that is half non-Jewish?
I don’t think that such beliefs are perfectly legitimate. They are the cause of enormous suffering and ought to be questioned harshly and marginalized the way that communities marginalize other opinions that breed intolerance. So some people’s feelings get hurt on campus! This is an important struggle. Jared Kushner fired me 12 years ago for good reason.
I always say, I would have been a Zionist 100 years ago in Europe. I would have been caught up in the movement given my ethnocentrism, my sense of being an outsider and my compassion for people being persecuted. But Zionism has failed utterly and completely. It is subjugating non-Jews in Palestine and pushing them out of their homes. It has done so for decades and will do so again tomorrow.
The last thing the Zionists want is for you to look into what is actually happening in Gaza or the West Bank. They want you to notice what some one may have said to a Zionist student advocate on the way to Economics 101 class.
Our movement to keep the focus on conditions in Palestine, and demand action against those conditions, is broad and strong. That is why it is getting the attention that it has. Just today I received Ian Lustick’s new book saying the two state paradigm is kaput, the battle is now for equal rights in Palestine, Israelis themselves use the Nazi analogy in criticizing the country’s conduct; and P.S. the Israel lobby has a “hammerlock” on U.S. policy.
This is the struggle we always wanted. Are you ready for it or not?