Many people who consider themselves anti-racist are still supporting Israel, even as the Israeli army kills thousands of Palestinian civilians in what Israeli genocide scholar Raz Segal has described as “a textbook case of genocide”. This article is for them. Despite the exposed falsehoods, Israeli propaganda still manages to provide reassurance to those who are reluctant to abandon the myth of Israel’s perpetual victimhood. And central to that myth is the carefully nurtured belief that all criticism of Israel is antisemitic.
Instead, as I explain below, the uncritical support being given to Israel is itself antisemitic, and it stokes further antisemitism.
Israel claims that criticism of Zionism (or even of the Israeli government) is antisemitic – that is against Jews; but not all Jews are Zionists (let alone supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu). Jews are an ethnic group organised around an ancient religion – though individuals may lack both religious belief and practice. Zionism is a political movement that began in the Nineteenth Century. Zionist ideas have always been disputed by Jews, though many were persuaded by Zionism’s false promise of safety following the holocaust. To assume that every member of an ethnic group shares the same politics because of their membership of that group is racist essentialising. In the Jewish case, it is antisemitic.
Further, the special treatment of Israel by Western states – which is justified by post-holocaust guilt, and which means that normal criticism is suspended — has not only proved a catastrophe for the Palestinians. It has had devastating consequences for Israelis and for Jews in general.
The underlying tenets of the Zionist state — a state that prioritises one ethnicity — were intrinsically problematic from the beginning. The problems have been intensified by the growth of a new religious Zionism, whose adherents believe that they represent God’s chosen people with a God-given right to the land. Unlike religious Jews of the pre-Israeli past, they are not prepared to wait for the Messiah to reinstate Jewish control, and their increasingly influential movement has been strengthened by support from Christian Zionists.
The last thing that Israeli Jewish supremacy needs is vindication and international support – but that is just what Western powers have been giving. Their uncritical support has provided succour for the very worst elements. Western states are helping to generate an increasingly brutal society that lacks all empathy; and, at the same time,they are insisting that that society is synonymous with all Jews. The many Jews who criticise Israel are dismissed by these friends of Israel as “not real Jews”, but they will not be able to escape the inevitable backlash from the association of Jews as a whole with Israeli atrocities. Nor will they escape resentment at perceived Jewish privilege in international affairs. These so-called friends are creating the basis for future myths about Jewish control.
Meanwhile, the real string-pullers are not in Israel, but in Washington. The United States sees Israel as central to the achievement and maintenance of US world dominance: as Joe Biden has said more than once, “If there were not an Israel, we’d have to invent one.” The US government may not always like the way individual Israeli politicians behave, but they fund Israel’s war machine, and could stop doing so if they wanted to. Modern Israel is a product of US imperialism.
At the same time as the US exploits Israel’s geopolitics, other political forces exploit fears of antisemitism. Right-wing politicians have learnt how to use unfounded accusations of antisemitism to delegitimise their progressive opponents. This has been done most spectacularly to destroy the British Labour Party as any sort of progressive force, but it is also being attempted in other places. In this politics, too, Jews and Jewish fears are being exploited in the interests of others, and Jews as a group can be caught up in the resulting resentment at the outcome and the perception of Jewish political interference. (The fact that a disproportionate number of people dismissed from the Labour Party with accusations of “anti-Semitism” were themselves Jewish is only known to those who have examined the events in detail.)
It is possible to understand how the generation of Jews who survived the holocaust clung to the idea of a Jewish state as a safe haven where there would be no one who would oppress them, and failed to consider the implications of this for the existing population of Palestine and for the nature of the state they were creating. But 75 years on, the results of the creation of Israel are only too clear. One of those results is the growth of antisemitism among people for whom it was not previously significant, and the consequent threats to Jews everywhere. Israel has not made Jews safe. Failure to criticise Israel, and support for Israel’s false equating of anti-Zionism with antisemitism does not resist antisemitism, it helps it to grow.
Supporting Palestinian rights and resisting Israeli aggression is a fundamental antiracist position. Far from being antisemitic, as Israel’s backers would have us believe, it also helps counter the forces that are increasing antisemitism.