Robbie Travers – Executive Director
I am inherently suspicious of anti-Zionism.
This is a seemingly odd sentiment to hold prima facie, but when a case is established for said scepticism, I feel it is both a logical and a sensible position to hold. Zionism has seemingly lost its meaning, being disfigured repetitively by its opponents as an extremist ideology of supremacy, and therefore it is essential we remain mindful of what the diverse Zionist movement’s uniting goal is. Zionism is the belief in the establishment and protection of a democratic state in the region of the Middle East that is a safe haven for the Jewish population to inhabit without mass societal or governmental persecution.
It is with a heavy heart that I regard my staunch ideological position as a Zionist to be a necessity. Jews of ethnic and religious backgrounds, in the 21st century, should have the ability to live in any state without facing horrific abuse and governmental persecution. Ideally, I would not have to promote the existence of a state that specifically promotes and protects the rights of the Jewish populace. All states should be able to ensure said protection of the rights of Jews and refrain from actively persecute the Jewish people. Yet, anti-Zionists and Zionists alike must face the tough reality that makes Zionism an essential part of my political beliefs: adherents of Judaism and ethnic Jews continue to face persecution across the Western world, and especially in European nations. Anti-Semitism is undeniably on the rise in the UK. This is obvious when the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the UK has increased by more than 50%.
I would argue that the promulgation of anti-Zionist views and the excusing of clear prejudice under the seemingly more palatable anti-Zionist agenda have helped feed this rise. Crime statistics indicate that 459 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded by the Metropolitan Police in London in 2014/15, up from 193 in 2013/14, that is an 137% increase. Anti-Semitism is on the rise outside London, and with Greater Manchester police reporting that anti-Semitic crimes have increased from 82 to 172, an increase of over 100%.
Crime statistics indicate that 459 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded by the Metropolitan Police in London in 2014/15, up from 193 in 2013/14, that is an 137% increase.
This anti-Semitism is undoubtedly fuelled by increasingly worrying political statements coming from the left, the political bloc that one would ordinarily associate with being integral to standing in solidarity with persecuted races and religious groups like the Jews. Conspiracy theories, slurs and allusions to Jewish supremacy have become far more common in our nation’s political dialogue: take the words of Gerald Kaufman MP, for example, who foolishly proposed that “Jewish Money” has influenced Conservative policy on Israel. Add to that George Galloway’s support for a third, and global, intifada, which will inherently mean violence against Jews globally, and hence cannot be dismissed as simply “anti-zionism.”
Across other European nations you can observe the rise of a plethora of proto-fascist and neo-fascist movements. Even more frightening is the likes of Golden Dawn in Greece gaining seats and political traction (a reminder that Golden Dawn is the party that sings, “Let’s not forget all the faggots and the Jews, the wankers who control the banks”). Poland has also worrying elected the Law and Justice party, whose new spokesperson on equality said “Polish Jews are represented by the Knesset, and not the Sejm(the Upper House of Polish Parliament)”. Moreover, Poland’s defence minister, Antoni Macierewicz, argued that there were elements of truth to the notorious anti-semitic text ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which promotes theories of Jewish schemes for global domination. France, too, unfortunately have Jean Marie le Pen, who despite no longer leader the Fronte Nationale, constantly spews anti-semitic hatred under the guise of challenging Zionism. Nor should we forget Jobbik, in Hungary, who wishes to establish a registry of the nation’s Jews for “protection” as he views Jews as a “national security risk.”
These may be extreme examples of anti-Semitism, but anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism is taking precedence as some form of moderate centre-ground between anti-semitism and zionism. Anti-Semitic outbursts and movements are feeding a climate in which anti-Zionists thrive because the appear moderate by comparison. Much of the above abuse is even ironically defended on the grounds that the comments are made directly against Israel, and that these comments are not directed at the Jewish community or Jews directly. This seemingly is meant to mean we should regard the prejudiced statements of those like Jobbik et al as more tolerable and less prejudiced. They are not.
Anti-Zionism could now be argued to be an established rite of passage for many on the left of the political spectrum, but also increasingly so on the right. What is so tremendously frightening is that these individuals on both sides of the political divide not only regularly pass off their hatred as simply a dislike of Zionism, but they promote anti-Semitic mythology under that guise. Many of these comments are hauntingly similar in tone to Neo-Nazis. Usually they argue that it forms a dislike of the “Zionist lobby.” Which I have found upon closer examination to be an often purposefully ill-defined group that is left deliberately vague so it can range from Jews in government to anyone who supports Israel. This vaguely defined “Zionist lobby” creates the perfect opponent for any anti-Zionist to use to bolster support – it presents an invisible and shadowy enemy – as they do not need to prove that it exists, yet it therefore appeals to the conspiracist and cynical perspective that many view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through. It is somewhat easier to blame a mysterious and eidolonic guiding hand that allegedly shapes every part of your life, than to find a tangible enemy, to which many may disagree upon disliking.
Creating such an opposition to the phantom “Zionist Lobby,” further adds fuel to the anti-Zionist myth that somehow Israel is a puppet of Western nations in the Middle East, usually named as the UK & US, and yet is puppeteering the rest of the world’s governments from the Middle East. This elaborate mythology which is straining under its own weight, tends to take its roots from the Masonic-Zionist conspiracy theory advanced by the far right in the late 19th century. This mythology is constantly evolving, but the complexity of the alleged counter-puppeteering means surely the strings must be tangled. It is obviously ludicrous to suggest that Jews, who are abused across the UK, would both rule the global order whilst seeking to be persecuted in such a brutal fashion.
For that reason anti-Semitism is becoming far more prominent, and I would argue that it does so underneath the guise of anti-Zionism, thereby preventing it from being scrutinised as prejudice. We should not accept anti-Zionism as a de facto non-prejudiced standpoint. Nor should we accept anti-Zionism as an inherently acceptable position to hold. Rather, we should rigorously examine it & challenge it as an often prejudiced ideology. Why? Because we should be mindful that coinciding with the rise of anti-Zionism, even in the more tolerant Western democracies, Jews increasingly feel unsafe from the threat of anti-Semitism. And this threatened feeling has not arisen from no factual basis.
Increasingly Jewish people find themselves under constant scrutiny and criticism for the State of Israel’s policies, which seems indeed odd since anti-Zionists vehemently feign to maintain that there is such a separation between Israel and Jews. Yet they themselves seem to blend this separation when they argue attacks on Jews are due to Israeli policy, which could be strongly argued is an attempt to argue that Jews should somehow seek to put pressure on Israel to change the policies of their government to prevent themselves receiving abuse, rather than tackling the abuse for being deplorable.
Ethnic Jews and religious Jews are recurrently berated for their perceived “privilege” and power given to them by the crudest of anti-semitic caricatures & conspiracist drivel. This is a blatant failure on the part of anti-Zionists to recognise that the majority of Jews are not white colonialist, but a collection of racial backgrounds that mostly originate from the Middle East itself and from the Levant region in particular. I consider it a damning failure that in the West we have failed to rigorously tackle the racist elements to this anti-Semitic mythology which denies Jewish people their ethnic identity, especially at the turn of the new millennium.
When anti-Zionist discourse grows in stature, popularity and commonality, so does anti-Semitism. It is therefore obvious to me that to claim anti-Semitism is somehow a historic bigotry that has faded is grossly incorrect, and whilst it may not be strongly felt or a commonly held view in the corridors of government, the persecution of Jews is not historic, it continues to exist. Whilst anti-semitic views remain widespread across European member states, this in itself provides a case for the need for a state to safeguard Jewish rights.
It also somewhat highlights the irony of the contradictory positions of anti-Zionists, many of whom are devout followers and preachers of the cult of identity politics, who often silence anyone who dares “talk over” minorities, but yet when it comes to the Jewish community, they are criticised, or dismissed as “white,” and they are not listened to. Immensely more troubling is the irony that often it is the same people who will not compromise on listening to “lived experiences,” demean those of Jews by insinuating that somehow anger at Israel means hatred against Jews is more understandable, hence giving it credibility, or dismissing that anti-Semitism is a problem. We can see this stance that denies empirical evidence is growing in stature as figures like Sandra White deny that there is a rising “antisemitic culture in the Scottish Parliament” despite parties like the Scottish Greens delisting Hamas, who are constitutionally mandated to exterminate Jews and obliterate the state of Israel, as a terror organisation and decreeing Zionism and protecting Israel as racist.
You will notice this as strikingly ironic when the same people who argue that we must listen only to women on abortion then try to argue that “anti-Semitism” is used to silence People of Colour. Even more blatantly hypocritical is that those who follow the doctrine of identity politics argue that Jews should not be the sole arbiter of what constitutes anti-semitic abuse against them, were I to argue that “trans” people should not be the sole arbiter of what constitutes transphobia, I would be lynched. Again, were I to even dare say cries of “racism” or “misogyny,” even “transphobia”, were used to silence people, I would be hounded, silenced and viciously attacked.
Question: Why is it acceptable to dismiss the very real persecution of Jews, when one would not do so for any other minority?
Conjecture: It should not be, but seemingly it is.
Not only is the repetitive dismissal of anti-Semitic discourse, thinly veiled by anti-Zionism, a reason to justify the existence of Israel since Jews face such discourse that demonises them, but so is the West’s failure as tolerant democracies to be able to promise Jews safety from anti-semitic attacks and assaults. However, these reasons further cement the position that Zionism is such a necessity as a political movement. If Western democracies with anti-discrimination laws cannot adequately protect Jews from anti-Semitism, it begs the question: who can? I feel that a state that is established to protect the civil liberties and security of Jews is not only a necessity, but it is a state that it is our duty to support, protect and argue vehemently for.
Many would argue that this belief somehow clashes with my belief that nationalism is a flawed an questionable ideology that should be countered at every turn.
I completely disagree. Zionism in itself does not promote that Jews are some form of supreme people or a superior race. Nor does it promote that Israel is a state solely for Jews, or Israelis. Only that Jewish people need protection from an increasingly hostile and violently anti-semitic region. Israel is an internationalist state also, with an outstanding humanitarian record across the world, responding to global humanitarian crises, like Earthquakes in Nepal and Peru. Not only this, but Israeli Arabs mainly hold favourable opinions of living in Israel: 77% of Israeli Arabs agree that “Israel was better than most other countries.” Even more interesting is that for an allegedly apartheid state, 62% of Israel’s Arabs would prefer to remain Israeli citizens rather than become citizens of a future Palestinian state. 68% of the Jews supported teaching Arabic in Jewish schools, is this the signature opinion of an apartheid state? It is a certainty that you will encounter unpleasant zionists who have views worthy of being eviscerated repeatedly, but is this not true of every nation? Every nation will undoubtably have their share of rabid nationalists, extreme orthodox groups and religious theocrats.
But I did not claim that we must not fight against anti-Muslim bigotry in the Middle East. Actually, we can use Zionism to promote the tackling of abuse through creating and promoting democracies which enshrine the rights of Islamic populaces. To deny anti-Islamic prejudice, and anti-Arabic sentiments, in Israel exist would be intellectually dishonest and undermine the very rights to non-discrimination and safe-haven from persecution that Israel was founded to protect in my view. But to argue that someone Zionism was founded on the basis of persecuting Islamic people or Arabs could not be further than the truth. To argue that Israel is constitutionally hostile and restricts the provision of representation to Arabs would also be false. I shall remind you that the Joint List, an Arab party, are one of the third largest coalition parties in the Israeli Knesset.
Does this mean that I think Israel should promote fervent religious nationalism through enforcing Judaism or granting Jews additional rights? The answer is an obvious no, as anyone with a sensible grasp of secular politics will grasp. Does this mean I think Israel should not be a secular state? No, I very much feel Israel should be a secular state that respects the rights of her diverse population to their religious beliefs, sexualities, gender identities and races. However, we should acknowledge that Israel is a rare phenomenon in the Middle East. Stunningly, is it a highly functioning democracy in a region blighted with theocracy, autocracy, instability and terrorism. Moreover, Israel also consistently seeks to protect the rights of women – this in a region where states flog women for being raped, executed for adultery and for even daring to show their face.
Israel enshrines the rights of the LGBTIQAA community with more anti-discrimination legislation than even some EU states, and hosts one of the largest world Pride festivals, which attracted 150,000 celebrants in 2014, and is rated the 24th largest LGBTIQAA festival ever. Do the region’s surrounding Islamic states welcome the free assembly of LGBTIQAA individuals as Israel does? True, there is not yet equal marriage, the LGBTIQAA community still face prejudices from Orthodox and Conservative segments of society and more progress is to be made. However, we should very much keep in mind that these pride events take place in a region where a large percentage of countries have criminalised homosexuality, which can often result in bodily mutilations and the death penalty.
Additionally, Israel attempts to protect religious and racial minorities: as argued previously Islamic populations and Arabs in Israel argue it is one of the best place to live in the Middle East. What about Jews in other nations? Not quite such a positive scenario as this essay will discuss later. It is important that there is a tolerant democracy in the Middle East that can not only promote these values, but protect its populace from the ravages of theocracy and prejudice.
Some will accuse me of ‘pinkwashing’ Israel to excuse the state’s alleged human rights violations, but I disagree. Israel is most certainly not a perfect state in regards to either the rights of the LGBTIQAA or the rights of all citizens as previously mentioned, with many flaws and needs for democratic and legislative reform. Israel also, in my view, needs a new non-Netanyahu led government: but even collectively these flaws do not somehow mean Israel should not exist. It is a somewhat vapid logical leap to argue that since individuals within a state’s forces commit a human rights abuses, the accused state should not exist or that it is an apartheid state. Or furthermore, that we don’t celebrate Israel as a liberal democracy due to alleged human rights violations. I do not think many states on earth would exist for such a protracted period of time if these standard were actually applied equally and fairly.
If the alleged breaches of the Geneva Convention, or Jus Cogens, are by troops, and not by the government, why call for a country’s disestablishment rather than an individual troops punishment? It is dishonest in the least to suggest that since an individual in the service of the state commits the crime, the state encourages these crimes to be committed or supports the crimes being committed. This logical leap is bizarre, especially since when Hamas commit said violations and crimes, the same rabid anti-Zionists argue we should not expect the same standards from them because they have been subjected to oppression. Hence the argument follows that we should somehow tolerate violence and breaches of law because of breaches of law against another. This is not only the racism of lower expectations, which holds oppressed people to lower standards which inherently patronises them, but also deprives them of the agency to control their actions. Two wrongs do not make a right, and certainly do not give people a legal right to break the law because they have been abused, nor to call for the disestablishment of a state due to human rights violations groups within their armed forces may have arguably committed.
To suggest that the Israeli government orders the mass slaughter of Palestinians is deeply dishonest. To suggest that the Israeli government supports the genocide of Palestinians is deeply dishonest, especially when Israel does not target people on their race, or their religious background. This allegation is something many anti-zionists cannot provide definite proof of, especially when asked to highlight how Israel somehow establishes military targets on race or religion. Simply because the majority of targets of Israeli operations are Islamic or the groups have roots in Islamic theocracy does not essentially mean they are prejudiced against Islam.
It seems that an underlying prejudice must lie behind said calls as it seems irrational to dissolve countries on singular disputes, abuses of their armed forces, or multiple policy disagreements, whilst excusing the crimes of other regimes of other nations. Many of the proponents of anti-Zionism argue that we have no right on which to judge Islamic theocracies because they are somehow oppressed by Western nations. We see this frequently as leftists side with the Iranian regime, rather than pro-democratic movements and Iranian resistance movements which are often persecuted in Iran. The criteria of supportability for groups seems to be whether they oppose the west, rather than whether they support democracy. This inability to consistently support democratic exposes a deadly weakness within the modern left, their proclivity to abandon the people who most need protection from systematic persecution because said persecution does not fit with their anti-Western narrative. This toxic hatred of the West blinds leftists from supporting Israeli left wing parties, or even green parties.
When the Scottish Green Party were asked why they could not support the Green Party of Israel, it was said that “We oppose Green Zionism, the ideology of Green parties in Israel, which is an attempt to fuse Green values with Zionism”, so the problem seems to be not standing in support of similar minded movements that promote environmentalism and dignity of Palestinians, but rather opposing the existence of parties that support the existence of Israel. Yet the Greens are happy to suggest the delisting of Hamas, who have little care for the environment, and furthermore attempted to attack and destroy an Israeli nuclear facility, which would have massive environmental consequences for the region. We can see through this the rise of the unthinking left, who now no longer examine their alliances and support for organisations on a stringent criteria, but on who they oppose.
Even more interestingly, if Anti-Zionists were to apply this incredibly strict criteria for existence, which they apply to Israel, to Palestine, Palestine would not be granted statehood. in fact, it would face even calls to disestablish the organisations forming the Palestinian Authority. Abbas, the PA president, praised Temple Mount rioters, arguing Jews have ‘no right to desecrate the mosque with their dirty feet.’ I will remind you that it was Abbas who said every “drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure” and that of a “shahid [martyr],” celebrating those who are killing Jews. This glorification of violence comes from the same PA that further spread anti-semitic conspiracy theories argue that Israel harvests organs from the bodies of killed Palestinians. I will remind you that Gaza has not had elections since 2006, and any consequent elections have been indefinitely delayed. This Hamas government, which has had power for ten years would be like Tony Blair claiming the mandate to be PM in the UK in 2015 on his 2005 result. I will remind you that Hamas has declared male homosexuality illegal in Gaza. Even last year, Hamas attacked the Dimona nuclear plant – which luckily failed, but if successful, would have destroyed much of Israel and Gaza. And probably unleashed radioactivity across the Levantine area.
Yet anti-Zionists will not call for Palestine to cease to exist, why Israel? It seems to be that anti-Zionist argue because anti-Zionists preach the mantra that Jews should have no-one state dedicated to their protection in the Middle East, and live alongside Muslims. I think we must consider how unrealistic and unrealistic this statement is.
It is increasingly clear to me that Israel is the nation in the community best placed to safeguard the civil liberty of not only Jews, but of all people in the region. If Israel not to exist, as the traditional anti-Zionist acolyte would argue, where would Jews exist in the Middle East exist. The answer would have to be in other nations, and hence It is best to examine where they could live.
Could it be Saudi Arabia? A state that prevents those with Israeli passports, Jewish heritage or even those who have entered Israel from entering the nation, and has banned Jewish religious worship. Egypt? A state in which the last Jewish wedding in Egypt took place in 1984, and where Jewish men are prohibited from marrying Arab women, and hence potentially creating more ethnic Jews. How can the “fervently anti-racist” Anti-Zionist movement suggest Jews live in a state that forbids their right to miscegenation? That is far more like the South African apartheid regime than Israel could ever dream to be. Could they suggest Pakistan? A state in which a large number of the populace believe that Jews played a large part in 9/11?
But the beauty of Zionism protecting homosexuality, transgender individuals and religious minorities is that you can expand this argument that Israel protects rights far beyond Jews. Again, Where do the LGBTIQAA go, when their existence is also similarly marginalised and they face systematic persecution? What about religious minorities?
It seems to me that Zionism is not simply about having a state that respects the fundamental human rights of Jews, but it is also about promoting and safeguarding the human rights of traditionally oppressed people throughout the region. But also, through promoting the rule of equality under the law, through promoting civil liberties, democracy and relatively free speech, Israel protects the rights and civil liberties of all. It is indeed true many Conservative Israelis will not agree that promoting the rights of minorities is a valid aim, but we all share one view, and that is that we believe Israel should exist.
I feel to dismiss Zionism as a racist movement with conspiratorial language, rather than realise it can be a movement to harness energy for progress change, is foolish. To judge the entirety of Zionism by its most prejudiced proponents is to judge pro-Palestinian campaigners by its most repulsive anti-Semites. Because an aim is supported by undesirable nationalists, theocrats and/or hardline Zionists does not automatically invalidate it. It would be like myself arguing Palestinian statehood, something I personally support as part of a two state solution, is wrong because George Galloway and an assortment of his bigoted cronies support it.
So we have one clear conclusion to which only the intellectually dishonest can challenge: the Middle East is increasingly unsafe for Jews without the state of Israel. We’ve already established much of the Western world is not safe either. So this begs the question, what state do anti-Zionists feel would best protect Jews if it is not a state within the Middle East or the West which cannot protect them?
It seems that the very same individuals who stand against Israeli existence would have argued Jews should have fled to the Middle East throughout the 2nd millennia. The irony for most of the anti-Zionist crowd is that a group always renowned as the other, the foreigners and the immigrants are now viewed by many anti-Zionists as white European colonialists. This of course misses the point that Judaism is a religion originated in the Middle East. As European powers chased Judaism out of Europe, it settled in the Ottoman Empire, where they were treated as second class citizens. Now that the power balance has shifted and Israel can not only defend itself, but also has established itself as an important power within the Middle East, we see anti-Zionists calling for Jews to be forcibly exiled from the Middle East to European nations, Ural nations and the US where they are most certainly unsafe.
Where are Jews to go in the opinion of Anti-Zionists then? Anti-Zionists seem to lack a definitive answer to this question, and this is perhaps in my mind because a significant proportion of them wish for Jews not to “go” anywhere, perhaps more conveniently, for Jews not to exist.
However, many of you will be asking me “Robbie, surely you do not believe anti-Zionists are so extreme, it itself is a wide movement?”
My retort is simple. Anti-Zionism has being redefined, and no longer do the majority of anti-Zionists actually stand against Zionism. Many a time, proponents of Zionism will encounter the self-declared anti-Zionists who “believe Israel should exist, but opposes the states policies.” It is my view that much of the perceived anti-Zionist movement are not traditional anti-Zionists. The movement has altered the perception of Zionism from simply supporting the existence of a Jewish state in the MENA region to opposing the current policies of Netanyahu’s governments.
Whilst I deplore this intellectually dishonest move, the success of the more extreme within the anti-Zionist cabal is to be admired from a logistical point of view. Having managed to redefine Zionism as an extremist nationalist movement which aims to promote Jewish supremacy, or even white supremacy, the movement has found that it now can assimilate all those who disagree with Israeli government policy. It has drawn crowds, and whilst those crowds may not be fully in sync with the views of George Galloway or Gerald Kaufman, it is harder to hide the views of bigots in a crowd, or dismiss them as a minority, when the movement is larger. Zionism lacks the ability to claim it has mass support in terms of marches, it seems to be a view held by governments, which instantly gives the anti-Zionist movement access to tap into the antiestablishment sentiment, whilst feeding off the rise of illiberalism and conspiracism.
So, with all this being said. There is a daunting task ahead of us Zionists. The tide of public opinion is often against us, but that doesn’t mean the battle is lost. We need a rallying cry and moment. We must challenge anti-Zionism, and try to formulate a more constructive debate, in which we can criticise and praise Israel to form a better Middle East. How do we change the public debate? I think we need to change it by changing people’s very perception of Zionism. I think it is important to challenge this by promoting the rise of progressive Zionism. We need visible voices of common sense, pragmatism, compassion and clarity, like those of my friends Tom Owolade, Tom Tyler, Jamie Palmer, David Hirsh, Julie Lenarz, Madeline Grant, James Snell, Nick Cohen and Kyle Orton, that support enlightenment values like free speech, universal human rights, the evisceration of prejudice through logical discourse and challenging Netanyahu’s government when it gets it wrong.
Zionism needs a renaissance, we just need to lead it.