Workers' Voice mailing list
November 27, 2018
RE: 35 prominent Israelis oppose equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism
by Joseph Green, Detroit Workers' Voice
Today the struggle of the Palestinian people is a major world issue. The present Israeli state is based on the dispossession of the Palestinian people. It is maintained by a bloody and savage occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, harsh discrimination against Palestinians living inside the Green Line, and the permanent exile of the Palestinian diaspora. This July, the Israeli Knesset passed a new "basic law", which enshrines many long-time Israeli practices into formal law. It was described by Jewish Voice for Peace as follows: "The Nation-State law establishes that racist and discriminatory practices against Palestinians and non-Jews are legal. The law states that in Israel only Jewish people have the right to self-determination, demotes Arabic from an official language to 'special status', places national value on the development of 'Jewish settlement' and confirms that the state 'will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.'" (https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/jvp-israels-jewish-nation-state-confirms-apartheid/)
But when Palestinians, progressive Jews, and other people around the world protest the apartheid practices of the Israeli government, its supporters claim that this is anti-Semitism. Any opposition to Zionism, any support for the Palestinian people, any mention of Israeli apartheid is being denounced as anti-Semitic; Israel has outlawed the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, and many bourgeois politicians around the world are trying to do the same. This is not only an attempt to prevent justice for the Palestinians, but it weakens the struggle against the resurgent anti-Semitism of the far right. For example, while Israeli outlaws BDS, Prime Minister Netanyahu has embraced far right forces such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who encourages all sorts of bigotry including anti-Semitism, with Netanyahu declaring on July 19th this year that Orban is a "true friend of Israel".
Last week 35 Israelis of conscience denounced the equation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. No doubt there are differences over orientation among the critics of the actions of the Israeli government. Some believe in a two-state solution. Some simply want an end to the occupation. In our view, the only satisfactory solution would be the replacement of the present Israeli state with a secular (non-theocratic), democratic state embracing both the present Israeli Jews and the Palestinians, with the "right to return" for the Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed. This is a time of ferment within the solidarity movement with the Palestinian people, and of widespread discussion among progressive people in Israel, too, about what to do. But progress isn't possible so long as the criticism of Zionism is declared to be anti-Semitism. I wouldn't agree with everything in the *Open Letter*, such as its praise of the EU for allegedly being a bastion of human rights and the fight against anti-Semitism; this is not the EU whose leaders' actions we read about every day in the news. The irony, though, is that the *Open Letter* is itself a protest against some of what the EU leaders are doing in the name of a conference against anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, by speaking up, and doing so in Israel, the *Open Letter* may help clarify some things to concerned people around the world. <>
On November 20, a major Israeli newspaper, Haaretz (The Land), carried an article "Israeli Academics and Artists Warn Against Equating anti-Zionism With anti-Semitism". It stated:
An open letter from 35 prominent Israelis, including Jewish-history scholars and Israel Prize laureates, was published Tuesday in the Austrian media calling for a distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel, “harsh as it may be,” and anti-Semitism.
The letter was released before an international gathering in Vienna on anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Europe.
The event this week, “Europe beyond anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism: Securing Jewish life in Europe,” is being held under the auspices of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. His Israeli counterpart, [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, had been due to take part but stayed in Israel to deal with the crisis in his coalition government.
“We fully embrace and support the [European Union’s] uncompromising fight against anti-Semitism. The rise of anti-Semitism worries us. As we know from history, it has often signaled future disasters to all mankind,” the letter states.
“However, the EU also stands for human rights and has to protect them as forcefully as it fights anti-Semitism. This fight against anti-Semitism should not be instrumentalized to suppress legitimate criticism of Israel’s occupation and severe violations of Palestinian human rights.”
The signatories accuse Netanyahu of suggesting an equivalence between anti-Israel criticism and anti-Semitism. The official declaration by the conference also notes that anti-Semitism is often expressed through disproportionate criticism of Israel, but the letter warns that such an approach could “afford Israel immunity against criticism for grave and widespread violations of human rights and international law.”
The signatories object to the declaration’s alleged “identifying” of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. “Zionism, like all other modern Jewish movements in the 20th century, was harshly opposed by many Jews, as well as by non-Jews who were not anti-Semitic,” they write. “Many victims of the Holocaust opposed Zionism. On the other hand, many anti-Semites supported Zionism. It is nonsensical and inappropriate to identify anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.”
Among the signatories are Moshe Zimmerman, an emeritus professor at Hebrew University and a former director of the university’s Koebner Center for German History; Zeev Sternhell, a Hebrew University emeritus professor in political science and a current Haaretz columnist; sculptor Dani Karavan; Miki Kratsman, a former chairman of the photography department at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design; Jose Brunner, an emeritus professor at Tel Aviv University and a former director of the Minerva Institute for German History; Alon Confino, a professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; and graphic designer David Tartakover.
20 November 2018, below is the full statement and list of signatories:
In the context of its EU Presidency, the Austrian government will hold a high-level conference on November 21st, titled “Europe Beyond Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism – Securing Jewish Life in Europe.”
We fully embrace and support the EU’s uncompromising fight against anti-Semitism. The rise of anti-Semitism worries us. As we know from history, it has often signaled future disasters to all mankind. The rise of anti-Semitism constitutes a real threat and should be a major concern in contemporary European politics.
However, the EU also stands for human rights and has to protect them as forcefully as it fights anti-Semitism. This fight against anti-Semitism should not be instrumentalized to suppress legitimate criticism of Israel’s occupation and severe violations of Palestinian human rights.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was to address the conference in Austria, until he cancelled to stabilize his government. He has worked hard to conflate criticism of the state of Israel with anti- Semitism.
To our great concern, we see this conflation also in the official announcement of the conference by the Austrian government. It says: “Very often, anti-Semitism is expressed through exaggerated and disproportionate criticism of the state of Israel.”
These words echo the anti-Semitism definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Several examples of contemporary anti-Semitism attached to this definition, relate to harsh critique of Israel. As a result, the definition can be dangerously instrumentalized to afford Israel immunity against criticism for grave and wide-spread violations of human rights and international law – criticism which is considered legitimate when directed at other countries. This has a chilling effect on any critique of Israel.
Moreover, the conference announcement identifies anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. However, Zionism, like all other modern Jewish movements in the 20th century, was harshly opposed by many Jews, as well as by non-Jews who were not anti-Semitic. Many victims of the Holocaust opposed Zionism. On the other hand, many anti-Semites supported Zionism. It is nonsensical and inappropriate to identify anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
We must also not forget that the state of Israel has been an occupying power for more than 50 years. Millions of Palestinians under occupation lack basic rights, freedom and dignity. As the Israeli occupation is now transforming into annexation, it is essential, more than ever, that Europe rejects efforts to restrict free speech and to silence criticism of Israel on the false ground of equating it with anti-Semitism.
Europe also needs to do so for the credibility and effectiveness of its fight against anti-Semitism. Extending this fight to protect the state of Israel from criticism feeds misconceptions that Jews equal Israel – and are thus responsible for what Israel does.
As Israeli scholars, most of whom research and teach Jewish history, we say to Europe:
Relentlessly fight anti-Semitism to protect Jewish life in Europe, and allow it to thrive. Do so while maintaining a clear distinction between criticism of the state of Israel, harsh as it may be, and anti-Semitism. Don’t mix anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. And preserve free speech for those who reject the Israeli occupation and insist that it ends.
Professor Gadi Algazi, Department of History, Tel Aviv University.
Dr. Yael Berda, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Professor Jose Brunner (emeritus), Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, and Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University. Former director of the Minerva Institute for German History and founding academic supervisor of Israel’s first legal clinic for the rights of Holocaust survivors, Tel Aviv University.
Professor Alon Confino, Pen Tishkach Chair of Holocaust Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Professor Arie M. Dubnov, Max Ticktin Chair of Israel Studies, Department of History, George Washington University.
Professor Rachel Elior, John and Golda Cohen Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Jewish Mystical Thought, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Professor David Enoch, Rodney Blackman Chair in the Philosophy of Law, Faculty of Law, Philosophy Department, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Dr. Yuval Eylon, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Ideas, Tel Aviv University, Department of History, Philosophy and Judaic Studies, Open University of Israel.
Professor Gideon Freudenthal (emeritus), Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science Studies and Ideas
Dr. Amos Goldberg, former Chair Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Professor David Harel, Weizmann Institute of Science; Vice-President of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities; Israel Prize recipient (2004); EMET Prize recipient (2010).
Professor Hannan Hever, Department of Comparative Literature and the Judaic Studies Program, Yale University.
Professor Eva Illouz, Department of Sociology, Hebrew University Jerusalem; former president of Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem.
Daniel Karavan, sculptor, creator of the Memorial to Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism in Berlin (2012) and the Way of Human Rights at Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg (1989-93); Israel Prize recipient (1977).
Professor Hannah Kasher (emerita), Department of Jewish Thought, Bar-Ilan University.
Professor Michael Keren (emeritus), Department of Economics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Professor Yehoshua Kolodny (emeritus), Institute of Earth Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Israel Prize recipient (2010).
Miki Kratsman, former Head of Photography Department at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design; EMET Prize recipient (2011).
Nitzan Lebovic, Associate Professor, Apter Chair of Holocaust Studies and Ethical Values, Lehigh University
Alex Levac, Israel Prize recipient (2005).
Dr. Anat Matar, Department of Philosophy, Tel Aviv University.
Professor Paul Mendes-Flohr (emeritus), Department of Jewish Thought, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Professor Jacob Metzer (emeritus), former president of the Open University Israel; Alexander Brody Professor of Economic History, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Michal Naaman, artist, Israel Prize recipient (2014).
Professor Yehuda Judd Ne’eman (emeritus), Faculty of Arts, Tel Aviv University; Israel Prize recipient (2009).
Professor Dalia Ofer (emerita), Max and Rita Haber Professor of Contemporary Jewry and Holocaust Studies, Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Professor Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Head Talmud and Late Antiquity section, Department of Jewish Philosophy, Tel Aviv University.
Professor David Shulman (emeritus), Department of Asian Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; EMET Prize recipient (2010); Israel Prize recipient (2016).
Dr. Dmitry Shumsky, Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry, former Director Bernard Cherrick Center for the Study of the Zionism, the Yishuv and the State of Israel, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Professor Zeev Sternhell (emeritus), Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Israel Prize recipient (2008).
Professor David Tartakover, Israel Prize recipient (2002).
Professor Idith Zertal, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Institute for Jewish Studies University of Basel; author of ‘Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood’.
Professor Moshe Zimmerman (emeritus), former Director Koebner Center for German History, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Professor Moshe Zuckermann (emeritus), Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University.
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The text of the Open Letter and list of signers is taken from https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/blog/israelis-warn-against-equating-anti-zionism-with-anti-semitism/. Jewish Voice for Labour was founded last year, and is opposed to the pro-Zionist stand of the Jewish Labor Movement, both JVL and JLM being associated with the British Labour Party. The "Statement of Principles" of the Jewish Voice for Labour says, in part,
"We take inspiration from the long history of Jewish involvement in the socialist and trade-union movements and in antiracist and antifascist struggles, including the anti-apartheid and civil-rights movements.
"We stand for rights and justice for Jewish people everywhere, and
against wrongs and injustice to Palestinians and other oppressed people
anywhere. We uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians
to engage in solidarity activities, such as Boycott, Divestment and
Sanctions. We oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism
beyond its meaning of hostility towards or discrimination against Jews
as Jews." .<>
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Posted on January 15, 2018
Some typos have been corrected.