The Debate about Zionism and Antisemitism

The Debate about Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

On January 3, 2020 the New Haven Register printed MECC Executive Director Stanley Heller's opinion piece on Anti-Zionism. It got a huge response. Some 11 letters were printed attacking it, and 2 or 3 printed supporting it and another 5 or 6 supporting it were printed online. It's really worthy of discussion so we're going to print and link to the piece and the letters and Heller will comment on them.

Here's the original opinion article by Heller.

In defending President Trump’s Executive Order that will in effect crack down on criticism of Israel by college students or professors, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, declared in a New York Times op-ed that “Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.” He could not be more wrong. Zionism is a political movement just like the temperance movement or the pro-choice movement. It’s a group of ideas with a goal. It calls for a country run strictly for the benefit of Jews. One can oppose that idea without being a racist hater of Jews. Indeed, Zionism has only had a mass following among Jews since the last years of the 1800s. It wasn’t until the Holocaust that it had any real following among Orthodox Jews.

Famous Jewish anti-Zionists included New York Times publisher Adolph Simon Ochs, violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Reform rabbi Elmer Berger, Auschwitz survivor Hago Meyer, and the anti-Nazi intelligence agent Leopold Trepper. Prominent today are Israeli lawyer Lea Tzemel, the American writer Ben Ehrenreich and Daniel Boyarin, Professor of Talmudic Culture at UC Berkeley. Groups of anti-Zionists included the tens of thousands in Europe in the pre-WWII Bund movement, the Israeli Jews in the Matzpen movement, the American Council for Judaism. Anti-Zionist Jewish groups today include 20,000 Ultra-Orthodox Satmar Jews, the Neturei Karta and the U.S. group Jewish Voice for Peace with its half-million Facebook followers .

There are many valid reasons to oppose Zionism. Among them are Israel’s savage mistreatment of Palestinians, its regard of Jews outside Israel as inferiors and Zionist leaders’ long treacherous history of deals with anti-Semites, ultra-rightists and in some cases killers of Jews.

Necessary work against real anti-Semitism is being politically exploited and undermined by the the Kushners, Trumps, and Boris Johnsons of the world and from right-wing forces within Israel. They hobnob with “illiberals” who glorify and cover up the record of nationalists who collaborated with German Nazis during World War II. They defend the modern-day authoritarians saying, “They can’t be anti-Semitic because they’re pro-Israel.” It is grotesque that Jared Kushner has the gall to pontificate about anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. He serves in the administration of Donald Trump, which has opened the floodgates of hate, whose “Great” America has seen the worst massacre of Jews in American history, and who often uses anti-Jewish slurs.

It is grotesque that this false equivocation is made and given serious consideration at a time when we should be focusing instead on what the Israeli government is doing, tearing down Palestinian homes, dividing Palestinian land with wall after wall, locking Palestinians up without charges or trials, excusing virtually all police or army killings of Palestinians, and launching a massacre in Gaza every few years.

Letters Attacking Heller's opinion piece on anti-Zionism that printed in the New Haven Register.
His responding comments about them are in italics.

"One-Sided Criticism"
(The writer, Elaine Braffman, says I’m one-sided. "Heller never turns his attention to any wrongdoing elsewhere" I'm so saddened he hasn't seen my opninion pieces against the Saudi regime and the Syrian tyrant that have also been printed in the Register)

Heller’s anti-Zionism take correct technically, but not in practice
(Alan Stein, who has criticized everything I've ever written about Israel stuns me by saying I'm "technically correct". He says there should be a single standard for judging states and I agree. Apartheid Israel should be changed the way Apartheid South Africa was and give equal rights to all)

Anti-Zionism is just Recycled Anti-Semitism
(Richard Sherman, says Zionism is "rooted" in the Old Testament. There certainly is mention of the Land of Milk and Honey belonging to Jews in the Old Testament. However, with the end of the Jewish priesthood and the rise of the rabbis two thousand years ago, Jewish Orthodoxy said Jews were expelled from the land because of their sins and wouldn't get it back until God gave it to them. For almost all rabbis the idea of a major emigration to the land of Palestine [let alone its conquest] was considered heresy. This was the position of almost all rabbis until a hundred or so years ago.) Jews were massacred and the Temple destroyed in 70 AD [or C.E. if you will], but modern historian don't think they weren't "ethnically cleansed" from the area. If they were all thrown out of Palestine who took part the Bar Kochba revolt? Sherman's letter goes on to make disgusting claims. He lies and says Students for Justice in Palestine was created by Hamas and is interested in genocide. He even recirculates the old chestnut that Martin Luther King, Jr. claimed criticism of Zionism was anti-Semitic. There's no evidence of it. King wasn't even in Harvard in 1968. )

Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism

(While Richard Sherman said the Jews were ethnically cleansed, Julia Lutch says Jews lived in the "land of Israel" for "millenia". Well, they dominated in the area under the Maccabee kingdoms for a 130 years stretcg and our religious texts say we Hebrews ruled the area under the Kingdoms of David and Solomon and so on from maybe 1030 BCE to around 600 BCE. So "millennia" (at least 2,000 years) is kind of a stretch. The number of Jews who lived in the area after the era of Christian and Muslim conversions was very, very small.

Heller Seems a Bit Hazy on History
(Carol Fineblum's argument is that because there were alway some Jews have always lived in Palestine the land belongs to the Jews forever. Not a very good argument. Lots of people with lots of religions lived on that land before and after it . After 135 A.D. Jews were a tiny, tiny minority for lets say 1700 years. That should mean something. She also engages in the fashionable Zionist argument that since Jews emigrated to British Palestine they are the real Palestinians. She says a word about the Arab Muslims and Christians who lived there for millenia. She also uses the "millennia" cliche. Perhaps she partakes of the "Time Immemorial" fraudulent argument that they all came to the area once the Zionists had made the "desert bloom".)

Heller Ignores Too Many Facts
(Toby Block admits that Zionism is a modern invention, but he says it's rooted in religion. He should read what I said about Lutch's letter above. He blames "Arab violence" for the lack of a Palestinian state. The Zionists never were willing to have a Palestinian state. They wanted all of Palestine. Even in 1948 they were unwilling to allow Palestinians self-rule in the land that was partitioned by U.N. recommendation. See the history of secret negotiations with King Abdullah of Jordan about having him include the Arab Palestinians into Jordan in 1948.)

Zionism is Religious, Not Political in Origin
(Two points Lawrence Shapiro 1. As I said earlier for most of the last two thousand years the idea that Jews should return to Israel/Palestine was considered a religious heresy. In 1898 the Chief Rabbi of the UK said Zionism was a heresy. 2. Jews were massacred and the Temple destroyed in 70 AD [or C.E. if you will], but they weren't "ethnically cleansed" from the area. If they were all thrown out of Judea who took part in the Bar Kochba revolt in 132 AD?]

On the Necessity of Israel's Existence
(Arthur Levy, Chairman, Israel Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council, New Haven Jewish Federation says "I am writing this from Jerusalem where I wander among an incredibly diverse population including Holocaust survivors, Jews fleeing persecution in the former Soviet Union, Vietnamese “boat people,” African Jews fleeing persecution in Ethiopia and African non-Jews fleeing persecution and violence in Sudan and Eritrea, among others." My god Arthur, have you no shame? The Eritrean and Sudanese refugees in Israel are treated wretchedly. Read David Sheen or Amnesty International.
Levy is the only writer who actually responds to my point that many distinguished Jews were anti-Zionists, but only to dismiss these people as recent immigrants worried about fitting in. Really? Adolph Ochs?, Yehudi Menuhin?)

On Israel and Zionism
Mark Fishman writes, "While Heller, in his alternative and hyperpartisan reality, imagine that Israel mistreats non-Jewish citizens, why doesn't Heller prove it by citing large numbers of non-Jews emigrating from Israel? Because there is no such emigration, although Christians have fled Palestinian Arab-controlled areas. Non-Jewish Israelis are happy and proud of their nation. In fact, even Muslim supporters of Israel identify themselves as Zionists." Palestinians fiercely want to stay in their homeland and are generally ashamed when circumstances [poverty, discrimination] force them to leave. Mr. Fishman then claims there are Muslim-Zionists. Really? I know there are Christian-Zionists who see Jews as tools to Christian redemption and Jewish oblivion, but pray tell what is the theology of the Muslim-Zionists. I know there are collaborators and villages inside of '48 Palestine of collaborators, but they collaborate for money or land. They don't pretend to have ideas.)

Unfair Criticism
(Arthur Seltzer doesn't strictly criticize me, but attacks Justine McCabe who had defended me. He claims Israel has "equal social and political rights" That's an absurd claim even for the Israel of its 1967 borders. Mr. Seltzer, tell us about the "unrecognized villages" there where there aren't even government paid-for schools where the Palestinian "citizens of Israel" have to fend for themselves. As for the West Bank and Gaza...)

This letter by Justine McCabe supports Heller's opinion article was printed in the Register.

These 10 letters defend Heller's position or comment on the question.

What the Critics Wouldn't (Couldn't?) Answer

Basically the critics of my article used the same time-warn time-rusted arguments: Jews have been there for "millennia"; Jews made the desert bloom; Arab/Palestinian violence is the only problem, etc.. Now remember the basic question is whether Anti-Zionism is essentially Anti-Semitism. One of my main arguments was that many Jews, sometimes people of great eminence were anti-Zionists. Only Arthur Levy deigned to reply to that. Another of my charges that no one touched was my accusation that Zionist leaders have a long treacherous record of working with far-right anti-Semites at the cost of general Jewish welfare [the topic of my latest book]. No one touched that. I brought that up twice, one reflecting on history, the other reflecting on Trump. Letter writers only commented on my blind "hatred" of Trump.

Several letter writers claimed that the creation of Israel is all wrapped up in the Jewish religion. I made some comments about that. Let me answer more clearly here. Ultra-Orthodox Jews til this day refuse to claim that the state of Israel is anything of religious signficance and that it is only a country among countries. It all has to do with the Talmud (Babylonian) which required three oaths on the world. The first two required Jews not to go to the Land of Israel "like a wall" which meant en masse. The second is not to "rebel against the nations". There's a quick introduction to the Three Oaths in Wikipedia. Until Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook's radical Zionist reinterpretation of Orthodoxy around 1903 (he was a contemporary of Theodore Herzl) Orthdoxy almost universally stuck with the Three Oaths and oppposed Zionism. There were always exceptions like Nachmanidies in the 13th century, but most of the Orthodox stood with the Maimonides (a 12th century philosopher) who wrote a letter to the (miserably mistreated) Jews of Yemen quoting King Solomon and warning them against uprisings or emigation to the Land of Israel. From what I understand Kook's view on Zionism was influential, but quite a minority opinion among Orthodox rabbis (Kook died in 1935). Of course, Hitler murdered most of the Orthodox Jews in the world in the next decade, and then Kook's justifications won over Orthdox rabbis (part of the difference between Modern Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox). I realize this last paragraph is of interest only to religious Jews and is no doubt bewildering to all others.

We set up this Jewish open letter to criticize Jared Kushner's lie that Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism. If your're Jewish (religious, ethnic, by birth, etc.) and would like to add your name to it, send an email to that effect to