If I say “Zionist” not “Jew” then I can’t be antisemitic, can I? – Dave Rich – 15 September 2006

If I say Gilad Atzmon is well-known to readers of Engage. The man who called for Jews to admit they killed Jesus and said that it would be good if there were more Holocaust Deniers has finally joined the ranks of the politically correct and cleansed his writings of any hint of antisemitism. As Oliver Kamm revealed, where Atzmon had previously accused “the Jewish people” of trying to control the world, he has now adjusted his sights to mere “Zionists”. So this passage from “On Antisemitism“, dated 20 December 2003 and posted on Atzmon’s web site:

“we must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously…. American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elder of Zion’ are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy. So far they are doing pretty well for themselves at least.”


“we must begin to take the accusation that Zionists are trying to control the world very seriously…. American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elder of Zion’ are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews (in fact Zionists) do control the world. So far they are doing pretty well for themselves at least.”

Atzmon is far from the first to imagine that by swapping the word “Zionist” for the word “Jew”, he can extract all the antisemitic content from a sentence and leave it standing as a bigotry-free piece of political commentary. Consider this, for instance, from the late Paul Foot, after Tam Dalyell complained about the “Jewish cabal” around Tony Blair:

“obviously he is wrong to complain about Jewish pressure on Blair and Bush when he means Zionist pressure.”

For some though the two words are interchangeable, and by swapping them so freely it becomes obvious that, for them, they effectively hold the same meaning, and reflect the same prejudices. When Simon Johnston, a supporter of the National Front, was jailed for six years for desecrating a Jewish cemetery in Birmingham last year, one of his “racial comrades” on the Combat 18 website complained that his crime was “merely damaging a zionist graveyard”. This can, of course, get very confusing, and some people just give up trying. Mark Weber of the American Holocaust Denial organisation the Institute for Historical Review, tied himself in knots trying to explain who was really behind the Iraq war, as the IHR website reported:

“The crucial factor in the decision to go to war, said the IHR director, was Jewish-Zionist prodding and pressure. As he explained in some detail, pro-war Zionist “neoconservatives” in the Bush administration played a decisive role in pressing the US to attack. In fact, Weber said, Jewish plans to overthrow the Iraqi regime by force were already in place well before George W. Bush became president.”

“This war,” Weber stressed, “does not serve the best interests of America or humanity, but is instead a war to further the interests of Israel and organized Jewry. Around the world,” he continued, “the Zionist role in pushing for war, and the scope and harmful impact of Jewish-Zionist power, are ever more obvious.”

Jewish-Zionist, pro-war Zionist, organised Jewry, and just plain Jewish and Zionist – Weber can’t make his mind up; but then uncovering conspiracies this big can be a confusing business. All the more so when the process can work in the opposite direction: because Lorna Fitzimmons was in Labour Friends of Israel, and therefore a Zionist, she was automatically branded as Jewish by MPAC.

There have been attempts to clear this up, of course, with various definitions offered of the key terms. The far right journal Spearhead (October 2003) offered this definition of “Zionist” in its “Vocabulary for the Politically Aware”:

“One who regards the Jewish race as God’s ‘chosen people’, destined to prevail above all other racial and religious groups. He/she is always primarily the servant of Jewish interests whatever his/her role in the host society, but will naturally conceal this order of priorities as a matter of expediency.”

And how do these sneaky Zionists go about serving Jewish interests? Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, revealed all in a speech broadcast on Iranian radio on 24th December 1997:

“When we say “Zionists” we do not only mean the usurping Zionist government. That is only part of the Zionist entity. The Zionists form the major capitalists of some countries, including the United State (sic) of America, and dominate the politics of that country.

“Today, unfortunately, the United States, its Congress and its government, are under the spell of Zionism in different financial, economic, cultural, political and propaganda arenas. The bulk of the propaganda organs of the world mass media, furthermore, are controlled by the Zionists. Most of the famous news agencies which you know of are controlled by them. The few that do not belong to them, in fact move in harmony with them.”

Phew! No wonder they manage to control the world. The problem, of course, is that when most Jews think of Zionism they think of Israel, and the movement that created it; they think of giving money to the JNF and waving little Israeli flags on Israel’s Independence Day. When they hear people talking about “the Zionist entity”, they acknowledge the hostility and delegitimisation within the phrase, but still think it refers to Israel. Yet here is the most powerful and senior political and religious figure in Iran telling us that actually Israel is “only part of the Zionist entity”.

By this definition, Zionists and Zionism serve the same psychological purpose for many anti-Zionists as Jews and Judaism do for the antisemites: the invisible enemy, the answer to every question, the single cause of multiple, superficially separate problems. This is what Tunisian Islamist Rashid al-Ghannouchi had in mind when he wrote:

“the Zionist threat is endangering the Islamic nation and the world, and is a threat to values, family and religion. It aims to get rid of everything good about humanity.”

This is why many Jews instinctively recognise the antisemitism within this kind of anti-Zionism; and why it is very different from those people who recognise Zionism as it actually is, but just oppose it as a political movement.

Of course there are some moderate, progressive people, like Sheikh Qaradawi, who don’t bother with the euphemisms and just talk about Jews. But don’t worry, we have been assured that when he says Jews, he really, really means Zionists.

Dave Rich

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