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Antisemitism, the highest stage of Zionism

The Biden 'antisemitism strategy' completely ignores the Jewish students and educators targeted because of their criticism of Israel
US President Joe Biden gives the opening remarks at the Jewish American Heritage Month celebration at the White House in Washington on 16 May 2023 (Reuters)

The Biden administration recently released the "first-ever US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism". Reviewing some of the more egregious examples of antisemitism in US history, it also emphasises cases of "Jewish students and educators" who "are targeted for derision and exclusion on college campuses, often because of their real or perceived views about the State of Israel."

It continues: "When Jews are targeted because of their beliefs or their identity, when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism. And that is unacceptable."

If true, this would be an important concern. However, the statement sidesteps two related matters: first is the real history and experience of Jewish students and educators who have been targeted for derision and exclusion on college campuses by supporters of Israel, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as "self-hating Jews" or as Jews who "are abetting the antisemites" because they have been critical of Israel or supportive of Palestinian rights.

The targeting of these Jewish students and educators has been ongoing for more than two decades on university campuses, a much longer period than the alleged targeting of ones who support Israel.

Second is the fact that Israel is singled out by its American supporters precisely because of its Jewishness, wherein its wars, policies, and military achievements are identified as "Jewish", an identification that would hardly escape the legitimate charge of antisemitism were opponents of Israel to use it.

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The Biden "strategy" completely ignores the Jewish students and educators targeted because of their criticism of Israel. It is only concerned for those who "feel they pay a social cost if they support the existence of Israel as a Jewish state" and never the Jewish students "who feel they pay a social cost" for opposing or criticising the existence of Israel.

The 'self-hating' smear

Supporters of Israel have relentlessly attacked Jewish professors (let alone non-Jewish ones) who criticise Israel as "self-hating". Some are appalled that there is "an even larger quantity of self-hating Jews" among those whom they accuse of antisemitism because they support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.  

Equating Jewish criticism of Israel to a form of 'Jewish self-hatred' has been a strategy employed by the Israeli government for at least half a century

Zionist rabbis critical of Israeli policies have also been labelled “self-hating”, as have top White House aides who are big supporters of Israel but whom Israel’s own prime minister described as “self-hating” for calling on Israel to "freeze" building settlements in the occupied territories.

Equating Jewish criticism of Israel to a form of "Jewish self-hatred" is not new but has in fact been a strategy employed by the Israeli government itself for at least half a century.

At a 1972 conference of the American Jewish Congress held in Israel, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban explained the strategy: "The distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism is not a distinction at all. Anti-Zionism is merely the new antisemitism."

If non-Jewish critics of Israel were castigated as antisemites then two US Jewish critics - the academic Noam Chomsky and journalist IF Stone - suffered from a complex of "guilt about Jewish survival". According to Eban, their values and ideology - meaning their anti-colonialism and anti-racism - "are in conflict and collision with our own world of Jewish values".

Eban's equation of Israeli colonial and racist policies with Jewish tradition would be correctly condemned as antisemitic had it been done by a non-Israeli official, as it implicates all Jews in Israel's actions and ideals, for which the Israeli state should solely be held accountable. Eban's insidious campaign to equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism has now become a standard line. The current head of the US Anti-Defamation League, Jason Greenblatt, reiterates it regularly.

Antisemitic generalisations

But the allegation that all American Jews support Israel, or that their support of it is intrinsic to their Jewish identity, is difficult to separate from antisemitic generalisations. Jewish identity, like all others, is multifaceted both religiously and ethnically, let alone geographically, culturally, and economically.
To claim Jewish identity as a synonym of Zionist ideology is something American Jews have fought against since the birth of Zionism, and more emphatically since the establishment of the Israeli settler colony.

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If in 1949, American Jewish writer Alfred Lilienthal published his article in Reader's Digest titled, "Israel’s Flag is Not Mine", in 1950 the president of the American Jewish Committee, Jacob Blaustein, signed an agreement with David Ben-Gurion to clarify matters that antisemitic supporters of Israel miss. In the agreement, Ben-Gurion declared that American Jews were full citizens of the US and must only be loyal to it: "They owe no political allegiance to Israel."

Simultaneously, Blaustein declared that the US was not "exile", but rather a "Diaspora", and clarified that the State of Israel did not formally represent Diaspora Jews to the rest of the world. Blaustein importantly added that Israel could never be a refuge for American Jews.

Even if the US were to cease to be democratic, and American Jews were to "live in a world in which it would be possible to be driven by persecution from America", such a world, Blaustein insisted, "would not be a safe world for Israel either".

Instead of defending the right of Jewish students and educators to differ with Israel, to oppose its self-arrogated claim to speak for all Jews, and to criticise its colonial and racist policies, Biden’s strategy contradicts the historical record and accuses them and other critics of Israeli colonialism and racism of harassing supporters of Israel instead.

'Singling out Israel'

There are many cases where Israel is singled out by its supporters because of its Jewishness, while Palestinian victims and their supporters are accused of resisting Israel on account of its Jewishness, and not its colonial and racist policies.

For example, the Canadian-American billionaire publisher Mortimer Zuckerman has alleged that Israel cannot make peace with the Palestinians because they harbour "a virulent jihadist hatred of Jews and the Jewish state". This matter, too, is ignored by the Biden strategy.

Supporters of Israel, like American academic Daniel J Elazar, argue that Israel "was founded to rest upon Jewish values", a claim that controversially equates the colonial principles of the Israeli state with Judaism and Jewish identity. But he is not alone. Others like American Rabbi Irving Greenberg, who later served as the director of the President's Commission on the Holocaust, believed that God Himself supported Israel in war because of his love for the Jewish people and to make up for why He failed to defend the Jews against Hitler.

After Israel's victory in the 1967 war, Greenberg tied the fate of world Jewry, including American Jews, to that of Israel. He asserted: "In Europe [God] had failed to do His task....the failure to come through in June [1967] would have been an even more decisive destruction of the covenant."

The American Jewish writer Elie Wiesel so identified with Israeli colonialism that he declared in 1967 those who resist Israel and fight against it to restore their rights as enemies of the Jewish people in its entirety: "American Jews now understand that Nasser's war is not directed solely against the Jewish state, but against the Jewish people."

During the 1973 war, when Egypt and Syria invaded their own territories, occupied by Israel, to liberate them, Wiesel wrote of being for the first time in his adult life "afraid that the nightmare may start all over again". For Jews, he said, "the world has remained unchanged ... indifferent to our fate."

Other American supporters of Israel, like Jewish literary critic Irving Howe, insisted that those who do not support Israel hate Jews: Israel’s international isolation, he declared, was "sour apothegm: in the warmest of hearts there’s a cold spot for the Jews".

Praising Israeli atrocities and wars as 'Jewish' achievements is no different from condemning them as 'Jewish' crimes. Both are abhorrently anti-Semitic

The recognition of Israel's policies as "Jewish" or ones enacted in defence of the Jewish people extends beyond its American Jewish supporters. Many American Christian fundamentalists also support Israel precisely because it is Jewish.

The Zionist conquest of the land of the Palestinians was described by the recently deceased pro-Israel Christian fundamentalist leader Pat Robertson as "a miracle of God". He asserted: "The remarkable victories of Jewish armies against overwhelming odds in successive battles in 1948, and 1967, and 1973 are clearly miracles of God".

Robertson identified not only Israeli military incursions as part of God's plan for the Jewish people, but he also depicted Israeli achievements as Jewish achievements: "The technological marvels of Israeli industry, the military prowess, the bounty of Israeli agriculture, the fruits and flowers and abundance of the land are a testimony to God's watchful care over this new nation and the genius of this people."

The Biden strategy seems oblivious to the fact that praising Israeli atrocities and wars as "Jewish" achievements is no different from condemning them as "Jewish" crimes. Both claims are abhorrently antisemitic.

'Evangelical Christian commitments'

Another plan outlined in the new Biden "strategy" is the US government’s effort to "continue to combat antisemitism abroad and in international fora - including efforts to delegitimise the State of Israel." This includes "an unshakeable commitment to the State of Israel’s right to exist, its legitimacy, and its security. In addition, we recognise and celebrate the deep historical, religious, cultural, and other ties many American Jews and other Americans have to Israel."

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Statements like these again generalise about all American Jews by ignoring those who lack “deep” or even shallow ties to Israel - or whose ties to Israel compel them not to support its claims about Jews or its policies towards Palestinians. Rather than combating antisemitism, such a coupling of American Jews with Israel reiterates Zionist Jewish and US Christian and Evangelical views of Jews, to which many American Jews object.

Gallup polls show that the majority of American Protestants who support Israel do so because Israel is "Jewish". This applies as much to the average citizen as to evangelical and fundamentalist Christian US presidents. In 1977, Jimmy Carter, contrary to Blaustein's 1950 agreement with Ben-Gurion, insisted that "our Jewish citizens" – without adding any qualification - "have this deep commitment to Israel", which partly justified Carter’s shocking statement that "I would rather commit suicide than hurt Israel."

Former President Bill Clinton, in turn, declared: "The truth is that the only time my wife and I ever came to Israel before today was 13 years ago with my pastor on a religious mission." Clinton added: "We visited the holy sites. I relived the history of the Bible, of your Scriptures and mine. And I formed a bond with my pastor."

Later, when the pastor became very ill, he told Clinton: "If you abandon Israel, God will never forgive you," and that "it is God's will that Israel, the biblical home of the people of Israel, continue forever and ever". These evangelical Christian commitments to Israel may satisfy many Zionists but not necessarily all American Jews.

That Biden's strategy implies that Israel's Jewish supremacy is part of Jewish identity exposes this part of his plan as a declaration of war on American Jews who criticise Israel

Declaring his undying love for Israel, Barack Obama understood that Israel did not represent the Israeli people - Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians - but that it represented, contrary to Blaustein’s agreement with Ben-Gurion, the "Jewish people" worldwide. Obama emphasised that "I am secure and confident about how deeply I care about Israel and the Jewish people."

When German-American Jewish academic Hannah Arendt, a critical supporter of Israel, was accused of not "loving" the Jewish people, unlike Obama, she declared that she did not love any people as "I love only my friends".

Biden, too, would not be outdone when he declared that "If I were a Jew, I would be a Zionist", implying that those American Jews who are not Zionists are at fault. He added: "My father pointed out to me that I did not have to be a Jew to be a Zionist."

Ironically, it is those Jews and non-Jews who insist that Israeli colonialism and dispossession of natives has no relationship to Jewishness, that stealing someone else's land is not an inherent Jewish trait, who are immediately branded as "self-hating" and "antisemitic" by those who insist on the Jewishness of Israel and on the Jewishness of all its policies and actions.

Today, an increasing number of American Jews seek to separate themselves from Israel, its Jewish supremacist regime, and its colonial crimes. As they are targeted for their political positions by pro-Israel lobbies and smeared as "self-hating", it seems an inopportune moment for the Biden administration to defend American Jewish supporters of Israel at the expense of American Jewish critics.

In his strategy, Biden, like Clinton, Carter, and Obama - not to mention the Bush dynasty - wants to champion American Jewish supporters of Israel while repressing its American Jewish critics - sending a deplorable and hateful message.

The overwhelming condemnation of Israel as an apartheid state by the West’s own human rights industry should have given Biden pause.

That Biden's new strategy to combat antisemitism seems to imply that Israel's Jewish supremacy is part of Jewish identity, or the more egregious imputation that Israeli colonialism and dispossession of native populations are part of Jewishness, exposes this part of his plan as nothing short of a declaration of war on American Jews who criticise Israel, let alone those non-Jews who do so.

Zionism’s Jewish critics have attacked it for more than a century as an antisemitic ideology, demonstrating time and again that antisemitism is the highest stage of Zionism. Biden’s strategy only proves this dictum once again.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Joseph Massad is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, New York. He is the author of many books and academic and journalistic articles. His books include Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan; Desiring Arabs; The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, and most recently Islam in Liberalism. His books and articles have been translated into a dozen languages.
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