Antisemitism and anti-Zionism: a response to Mohammed Amin

Mohammed Amin tackles a thorny question in his latest blog post: ‘When does anti-Zionism become antisemitism’?  In attempting to offer an answer, he devises an anti-Zionist taxonomy and uses Venn diagrams to suggest what kind of overlap exists between antisemites and different types of anti-Zionist.   Even if one doesn’t agree with all Amin’s premises and conclusions, this still seemed like an interesting prompt for some further debate.  Apologies in advance for adding to the categories suggested in the original article, and thus making this post read a bit like the label on a multivitamin bottle.

In the original post the EUMC working definition and the stated goals of the first Zionist congress are used as starting points for definitions of antisemitism and Zionism respectively.

Amin suggests that there are three different types of anti-Zionism which he labels A, B and C. However I think the most important distinction is in fact the he one he draws between different types of Anti-ZionismB so I’ll turn to that category last.

Here is how anti-ZionismA is defined.

Belief that the Basle Program could not be accomplished without overriding the rights of the Palestinians who already lived in the land. (See my review of Herzl’s ‘The Jewish State’.) Acceptance that historical wrongs occurred, and were committed by both parties. Acceptance that the State of Israel exists today with a 75% Jewish majority and that this is a legal and historical fact that cannot be reversed without further injustice to many people. The borders of the State of Israel to be negotiated and agreed with the Palestinians, with the 1949 armistice line as the starting point of the negotiations.

My immediate response was that such a definition wasn’t a million miles away from what some might term ‘Liberal Zionism’.  Confusingly, it’s those who think Zionism is evil who are most likely to label ‘anti-ZionismA’ as unqualified Zionism.  By their criteria many who feel no ideological or emotional pull towards Israel, including many Palestinians, are Zionists.

Anti-ZionismC is at the opposite extreme:

Belief that the immigration of European Jews (and Jews from Arab countries) into Palestine was so wrong that it should be reversed, with the Jewish population expelled so that Palestine becomes an entirely non-Jewish state.

There’s no need to dwell on this as I don’t think many will argue with Amin’s conclusion:

I find it hard to believe that people who adhere to anti-ZionismC are not motivated by hatred of Jews.

Anti-ZionismB is the tricky one.

Belief that separation between Jews living in the West Bank and Palestinians is no longer possible, and that a single binational state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan is the only just solution, even if this results in an eventual Arab majority in the state due to demographic change.

Although I don’t share Mohammed Amin’s assumption that it is almost unfeasible for someone to be both Jewish and antisemitic, I do agree that people will adopt this view (support for a one state solution) for quite different motives.

Amin goes on to draw a distinction between:

those who simply genuinely believe a two state solution is no longer possible (and who would presumably be cautiously pleased if they were proved wrong).  Let’s call this Anti-ZionismB1.

and, on the other hand:

those who support a one state solution because they want the position of Jews to steadily worsen in the new state.  I’ll call this stance Anti-ZionismB2.

I agree with Amin that antisemitism is far more likely to be prevalent in the second group than the first. Indeed, in that respect, it seems little different from Anti-ZionismC.

Even though the post concludes by noting that some may think all this mere casuistry, I felt a further division or category was needed.  For me the taxonomy, although thought-provoking, seemed to exclude what I’d see as the classic or default anti-Zionist type, far more ideological than Anti-ZionismB1, but not racist in the Anti-ZionismB2 sense.  Here’s my own (cautiously phrased)* definition:

He or she supports a one state solution on ideological grounds and thinks Zionism is racist.  He or she deplores racism and so would not want to see any racial group disadvantaged in the new state.

I’ll call this anti-ZionismBχ.  I am sure there are starry-eyed idealists in this group who truly deplore antisemitism, and are convinced the one state solution is optimal even though most Israelis and some Palestinians don’t agree.  Whether or not such people are individually consciously or unconsciously antisemitic, they certainly seem to view the concerns of those living in the region with a chilly disregard (usually from afar) and also (to return to my opening point) distance themselves completely from followers of what Amin terms, in my view a little oddly, Anti-ZionismA.  Even Palestinians in the latter category are treated with contempt. Although anti-ZionismBχ types just love boycotts you’ll rarely see them express hope that boycott-anxiety will kickstart the peace process.

I’ll be interested to hear what other readers make of Mohammed Amin’s taxonomy.  After reading his post I can understand why he concludes:

I have never described myself as either a Zionist or an anti-Zionist.

The contested meaning of the words means that I am never likely to do so.

*Update.  I should perhaps gloss this further.  I am phrasing this cautiously in that I am framing this definition in terms those included in it would probably agree with.  However I am inclined to be sceptical about this group, and think, at their very least, their position is one with an antisemitic impact if not an antisemitic intent, and in some cases goes further than this.

6 Responses to “Antisemitism and anti-Zionism: a response to Mohammed Amin”

  1. Mira Vogel Says:

    I got a lot out of Mohammed Amin’s post. I’d need to sketch out the taxonomy and these additions to get my head round it and I do think it would be worthwhile to do just that. Meanwhile I think Sarah’s contribution adds something valuable which was absent from the original taxonomy, namely the possibility of antisemitism in effect rather than intent (and as it happens, today is the 15th anniversary of the McPherson report). Mohammed Amin’s piece emphasises the role of hatred overmuch I think. I’ve never thought of antisemitism as restricted to straightforward hatred of Jews and prefer a distinction between Jew-hatred and antisemitism analogous to that between misogyny (hatred of women) and sexism (discrimination or prejudice against, here, women which may or may not be a function of hatred). I think you can argue that Anti-Zionism B may or may not be antisemitic. Going on the region’s current very poor track record with minorities and the well-recognised historic animosities, a relatively small and newly ‘legally unassured’ Jewish minority would come out of the dissolution of Israel really badly because they were Jewish. To argue otherwise becomes problematic when it is from a position of willful ignorance typical of campaigning anti-Zionists. I find the unworked out, impulsive position both incomprehensible and irresponsible when lives are at stake – and when this point of view becomes strident it is far worse, and incredibly callous as you say Sarah. Putting the pieces together you have something quite determinedly against the interests of Jews in that ‘far-away country of which we know little’.

    Hope to comment further before too long – realise my point is slightly tangential to what Mohammed Amin was aiming to get to the bottom of, which was to distinguish the types of anti-Zionism.

  2. Noga Says:

    “Going on the region’s current very poor track record with minorities and the well-recognised historic animosities, a relatively small and newly ‘legally unassured’ Jewish minority would come out of the dissolution of Israel really badly because they were Jewish.”

    Edward Said in an interview with Avi Shavit:

    “[Q] In a binational state, the Jews will quickly become a minority, like the
    Lebanese Christians.

    “[A] … the Jews are a minority everywhere. They are a minority in America. They can
    certainly be a minority in Israel.”

    Knowing the region and given the history of the conflict, do you think such a
    Jewish minority would be treated fairly?

    “I worry about that. The history of minorities in the Middle East has not been
    as bad as in Europe, but I wonder what would happen. It worries me a great deal.
    The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for
    me. I really don’t know. It worries me.” [-]

    “[Q]So what you envision is a totally new situation in which a Jewish minority would
    live peacefully within an Arab context?

    “[A] Yes. I believe it is viable. A Jewish minority can survive the way other
    minorities in the Arab world survived. I hate to say it, but in a funny sort of
    way, it worked rather well under the Ottoman Empire, with its millet system.
    What they had then seems a lot more humane than what we have now.
    So as you see it, the Jews would eventually have a cultural autonomy within a
    pan-Arab structure? “[-]

    “[Q]So in a generation or two, what we will have is an Arab-Jewish minority
    community in an Arab world?

    “[A]Yes. Yes. I would have thought.”
    If you want a a preview of how Jews will fare under such “humane” conditions, all you need is take a look at what some BDSers fantasize about:

    “I was looking forward to the end of the world as it would have permitted me–even for a second–to witness the end of the Zionist entity over Palestine.”

    This is a perfect representation of the anti-Zionism of BDS. It is neither extreme nor rare within that movement. in its aims This is cultivated and well-defined hatred with a plan. True, that compared with this vision, Edward Said’s admiration for the Ottoman millet system begins to look quite attractive …

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      However, Noga, I fear that Said didn’t think it through, even allowing for his death in 2003, thus a near decade before the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. Either that, or he was a victim of unwarranted optimism and/or an attack of “Pollyannaism”. Even by the beginning of the 21st century, it was abundantly clear that there was a deep well of (to use the mildest term available) antagonism towards Israel from some of her neighbours and many of the more distant members of the (broadly defined) Middle East: e.g., Iran, Iraq (under Saddam Hussein), Libya, etc. There is clearly a deep well of wanting the Jewish State to not be there, and Said must have known of it. (I am trying in all of this not to have to refer too closely to Amin’s types of antisemitism.)

      It has long been clear that the only solution that allows Jews to stay in the region as equals with all others there is a two-state solution. Anything else (given the rhetoric of Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and, even, the PLO and its offshoots in the Palestinian Administration) means, ar best, another expulsion from Israel, at worst…

      This is not to deny the value of Amin’s thoughts as to just what antisemitism and anti-Zionism might be and how to regard the various manifestations of both. Just an effort to put his thoughts into the context of the concrete reality that is the Middle East.

      • Noga Says:

        I think Said was absolutely aware of the structural animosities you mention, Brian. Which is why he openly admits that “The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for” him. Of course he dares not think it through to its logical end or else he would have to accept that a Jewish state is the only way to ensure that nothing really bad happens to the Jews. And he can’t be seen to worry about the fate of Jews to the extent that their fate will be a factor in the implementation of Palestinian RoR. And that, in my opinion, is one quite visible juncture where he can be directly challenged on his moral literacy. Human rights have no meaning if the (let’s suppose) political rights of Palestinians trump Jewish right to life and security of person.

        The fact that he can, with a straight face, extol the virtues of the Millet system as an acceptable way for a Jewish minority to continue to exist tells you how committed he is, or was, to principles of democracy and equality. Christopher Hitchens once called him a vulgar thinker, You decide whether he was right.

        (Brian, by now you ought to be able when I’m being ironic in my comments :))

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          Yes, Noga, of course I do: the quotation from “the angry Arab” gives it away – and readers here should check out your blog to get that point. But, as always, it not just “us” who know each other’s style who (hopefully) read these pages, but all sorts who might like to know “our” (in a generalised sense) thoughts on these issues.

          One of the (minor) problems with irony is that it can whizz right by the reader who hasn’t spotted it, because it’s too subtle for someone not used to a particular and personal style of writing.

  3. Mark Says:

    Just to state the obvious, a single state can only come into being as the result of a military defeat of Israel i.e. the defeat in effect, of the Jews of the area by others – neighbours and near neighbours. Given the history of the region over around 80 years the likelihood that the defeated Jews would be persecuted by the victorious others (who would quickly become a majority) if they hung around seems overwhelming. If he single state’ers see that as “legitimate revenge” perhaps they should say so and stop the pretence that all would be sweetness and light.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: