There has rarely been a more pointless dispute than the one over whether anti-Zionism is antisemitism. The answer is easy, and it has two parts: a) no, they are not the same, and b) it doesn’t matter.
What is anti-Zionism? The denial of the proposition that the Jewish people ought to have a state in their historic homeland, Eretz Yisrael. Right away, there is a problem: there has been a Jewish state since 1948, and its right to be there is guaranteed by international law. So it doesn’t make sense to argue this point today.
But that isn’t what they mean, they say. They maintain that what they are doing is criticism of Israel. They argue that Israel violates the human rights of Palestinian Arabs (even accusing her of genocide and apartheid), and provide remedies which usually imply the replacement of the state of the Jewish people by a state of its citizens, a “dezionized” entity of some kind, or simply an Arab state. But there’s no Jew-hatred involved, they insist.
Now as a matter of fact, very often the same people who “criticize Israel” in this way also believe that Jews control the world economy and media, profit from wars and plagues, and bleed little non-Jewish children to make matzot. In logical terms, the two classes are coextensive. But the “responsible” critics of Israel distance themselves from these people. Their position is entirely political. They hold no animus for individual Jews. Some of their best friends are Jews.
Let’s look closely at their “criticism,” and their proposed solutions. Both are very special. Natan Sharansky noted three characteristics of anti-Israel discourse, which he called the “three D’s”: Demonization, Delegitimization, and Double standard.
The demonization of Israel and the IDF needs no elaboration. Israel’s actions in self-defense are presented as aggression, atrocities are invented, false themes – the IDF “targets” children – are promoted, and no context is provided (e.g., news stories headlined “Israel strikes Gaza” to describe retaliation aimed at empty buildings following a Hamas rocket barrage against Israeli towns). There is the whole phenomenon of “Pallywood,” the comparisons to Nazi Germany, and over all the attribution of the most malign motives imaginable for every Israeli action.
Delegitimization is all-pervasive as well. Israel is excluded from UN bodies, sporting competitions, and artistic festivals. Israel is removed from maps, and its capital is not recognized. It is often argued falsely that the land of Israel was “stolen” from the Palestinian Arabs and that therefore the entire enterprise should be abolished.
Double standards, too, stand out. The behavior of the UN, which constantly issues resolutions condemning Israel for human rights violations while ignoring actual violators is well-known. Numerous cases of territory taken by force that are entirely unjustifiable (northern Cyprus, Crimea, Tibet) are ignored, while’s Israel’s legitimate possession of Judea and Samaria is a cause célèbre for the UN, the EU, and the international Left. Israel’s military actions are subject to a far higher standard of scrutiny than those of any other nation, including the most developed Western countries.
Sharansky argues that these characteristics mark discourse as antisemitic. Certainly it is often suffused with antisemitic themes, like the accusation that the IDF targets children. But the object of hatred is not the individual Jew, or even the Jewish people: it is the Jewish state. And this makes it something different than antisemitism or Jew-hatred, even though the “critic of Israel” often is an antisemite.
The discourse in question is irrational and extreme, just like Jew-hatred, or anti-black racism, or any of the countless forms of bigotry that divide people and lead to violence. Because it is closely tied to Jew-hatred, gains strength from it, and is contagious in a similar way, it can be conflated with it. But it is logically distinct.
I’ve given it a name. I call it misoziony (mis-OZ-yoni), defined as the extreme and irrational hatred of Israel. Sharansky’s criteria are useful, but they characterize misoziony, not antisemitism.
This is not a distinction without a difference. Jeremy Corbyn, Lara Freedman, Simone Zimmerman, Peter Beinart, and countless others will argue until the cows come home that they are not antisemites. Perhaps some of them have a case, and perhaps not, but it is much harder for them to establish that they are not misozionists.
Misoziony is not somehow less reprehensible than antisemitism. It is just as irrational, just as bigoted, just as hateful, and just as likely to bring about violence. It’s possible to look at misoziony as a mutated form of antisemitism, a meme that was more adapted to survive in the climate that followed the shock of the Holocaust. Classical antisemitism was paused in the West after the war, because responsible elements in Western society would not permit its public expression. Misoziony, masquerading as “criticism of Israel” had an easier time. Today, both Jew-hatred and misoziony flourish around the world, each giving strength and encouragement to the other.
The Western Left is prepared to denounce all forms of bigotry, including some that had never been heard of until recently. To some extent it is becoming ambivalent about antisemitism, because so many of its clients are antisemites; but in its more sophisticated circles, antisemitism is still taboo (although they only can see the antisemitism of the right). But it embraces misoziony with gusto.
Antisemitism, Jew-hatred, gave rise to pogroms wherever Jews were found from time immemorial, including the biggest pogrom of all, the Holocaust. Misoziony has so far failed in its grand ambition, because its target, the State of Israel, possesses the military power to prevent it. But just because it hasn’t (yet) proven its malignity in blood doesn’t mean that it is morally acceptable, any more than any other bigotry.