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  • On Three Anti-Zionisms
  • Shany Mor (bio)

We start the discussion with these two frequently heard sentences.

"Anti-Zionism is not the same as antisemitism."

"It is not antisemitic to criticize Israel or its policies."

Both these sentences are true, and both are uttered often with less than honest intent. They are shields deployed in a rancorous conversation where all are agreed that antisemitism is a bad thing. Anti-Zionism is something we can disagree about, because Zionism is something we can disagree about. (We can't disagree about "Semitism" because there is no such thing.)

But what are we actually disagreeing about? In this essay, I will not expound on antisemitism, as others have done more adequately. Nor do I offer a taxonomy of Zionism, an equally interesting topic. I look specifically at the ideology of anti-Zionism, or in reality, anti-Zionisms, as it is best to think of three independent ideological clusters that all bear the label anti-Zionism, but in reality deserve to be assessed individually.

To call something a cluster isn't to imply any kind of unity of purpose or method. Each cluster is expansively diverse. To talk about conservatism as an ideology isn't to imply it means the same things to all people at all times or that disagreements among conservatives haven't been deep. It is only to suggest that within that diversity, a few amorphous ideas (tradition, hierarchy, etc.) have been central.

The same is true for each of the three anti-Zionisms, but what is confusing is that the three claim the same name, sometimes for instrumental purposes.

I call the first cluster alpha anti-Zionism. The fundamental tenet of which is that whatever it was that ailed the Jewish people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Jewish political sovereignty could not be the cure. This is not one ideology, but the meeting point of several mature bodies of thought that often have very little else in common.

Anti-Zionism wasn't necessarily the first commitment of its proponents in Jewish political debates of the period. It was more often than [End Page 206] not epiphenomenal, emerging from a deeper commitment to liberalism or socialism or Marxism or Orthodox Judaism or nationalism. Zionism was apostasy as far as the Agudists in Poland were concerned. It was a rare point of consensus between hasidim and misnagdim. Although many Zionists were socialists, the hard core of Jewish communists cast their lot with the Soviet promise of global socialism. Liberal anti-Zionists wanted to see the promise of emancipation fulfilled and Jews' place in society ensured through equality. Ultra-nationalist Jews spurned Zionism as an affront to their French or German (and occasionally other) identity. Other Jews rejected Zionism in favor of emigration, especially to the United States. Any list of Jewish anti-Zionism would be incomplete without reference to the formidable Bund, the Jewish socialist party founded in 1897, the very same year as the First Zionist Congress in Basel.

What all the various strains of alpha Anti-Zionism have in common was their mostly Jewish origins and mostly Jewish concerns. Each projected a vision of the world onto its ideology, and projected its ideology back onto the question of Jewish self-determination and emigration to Palestine. All, with varying admixtures of realism and fatalism and wishful thinking, were keen to find a solution to the very real dilemma facing the Jewish people in a rapidly modernizing Europe.

They share something else. The verdict of history has been harsh to all the alternatives to Zionism, with the exception of mass emigration to America. It didn't have to be this way, of course. Nothing was inevitable about the bitter fate of European Jewry. Nevertheless, ultimately, the Jews who found their way to Palestine became part of a great project of national liberation, while those left behind in Europe found the way to socialist utopia stopped first in Nazi genocide or, if they were comparatively lucky, Soviet tyranny.

Alpha anti-Zionism opposed the establishment of a Jewish state before one existed, and it did so out of a concern for Jewish lives and livelihood that was as strongly felt and...