An ever-lurking confusion that has been gaining ground in recent times is that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism. Nothing could be further from the truth. We understand that this confusion is three-folded: the first is deliberate and therefore criminal, as does the racist State of Israel and its organisations; the second is due to dishonesty or opportunism, and is generally linked to the first; the third is due to misunderstanding or ignorance, the result of ideologies which often permeate the mass media and are on the lips of politicians and other personalities. The purpose of this article is to explain the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, which is huge.
By: José Welmowicki and Soraya Misleh (PSTU-Brazil)
Anti-Semitism was present in the speeches of the Brazilian host of the Flow Podcast, Bruno Aiub (Monark), last February 7, and of house representative Kim Kataguiri (DEM-SP party) in the same show, which is totally condemnable. Our vehement repudiation of the absurd idea they propagated that Nazism should not be treated as a crime and that, as Aiub stated, “it’s fine to be anti-Jewish.” Defending racism, discrimination, and oppression is not fine. It is therefore not fine to be anti-Semitic. That means naturalising hatred for certain ethnicities or races.
Nazism, with its abominable record of atrocities committed during the Holocaust against Jews (6 million dead), and also against Romans, communists and anarchists, LGBTs, and the disabled, all those who would not be part of the “Aryan race,” in WWII, was a crime against humanity. Advocating the legalisation of a Nazi party is unacceptable. Unfortunately, Aiub and Kataguiri are not the only ones. São Paulo city councillor Fernando Holiday (Novo party), who said earlier that racism against black people in Brazil does not exist, is another one who, from the height of his boundless idiocy, defended the “decriminalisation of Nazism” under the distorted logic of “freedom of speech.”
The democratic right to freedom of speech does not mean the right to incite any kind of racism. It cannot be used as a crutch to freely propagate crimes against humanity and hate speech. The consequences and this is not today, are widely known.
At the same time, in his ridiculous apology, trying to justify the unjustifiable, Kim Kataguiri said on his social networks that he could not be anti-Semitic because “there is no one more pro-Israel within the Parliament than me,” to amend it by saying that he considers “even funny anti-Israel people calling me now an anti-Semite, a Nazi.”
This ideology is not for nothing. It fits the deliberate confusion made by the racist state of Israel, which equals different things that have nothing to do with one another – blackmail that also deserves vehement repudiation – to silence the critics of the Zionist colonial project. And this is not just today.
What is anti-Semitism and where did it come from?
Racism against Jews, or anti-Semitism, originated in the European Middle Ages. Kings, nobles, and priests exploited serfs in their fiefdoms in medieval Europe; in feudal society, commercial and financial transactions and activities such as usury were seen as sinful, forbidden to Christians. A non-Christian had to do them, in the service of the nobility and clergy, who were the ruling class. The Jews fulfilled this role as merchants, artisans, goldsmiths, etc., and also as moneylenders, a task forbidden to Christians. They did this under the control of the kings, the clergy, and the nobles, and when catastrophes such as famine and pestilence appeared, the ruling classes saw the need for a scapegoat. Because of their role in society, as merchants trading in goods and lenders of money and charging interest, the Jews were an easy target, hence the legends spread by the Christian Church, such as the myth that “the Jews killed Christ,” were used by the nobles to lay the blame for all the misfortunes of the population on the Jews.
The French Revolution, with its three mottos – liberty, equality and fraternity – posed the question of considering human beings equal before the law. But, as we know today, the new capitalist society was unable to fulfil true equality to women and to persecuted ethnicities and races. It was the 1917 Russian revolution that brought about the liberation of the peoples of the entire former Russian Empire, the end of discrimination to all ethnicities, including the Jews, from its territory.
And in its imperialist stage, capitalism sharpened exploitation and wars of colonisation of peoples. Racial persecution took an even more murderous form. It was under the imperialist stage that Fascism and Nazism emerged, with an ideology that justified genocide and the elimination of races as the only way forward for the German people. Anti-Semitism was transformed into a policy of mass genocide, for eliminating the Jews.
Emergence of Zionism
Zionism, which emerged in the late 19th century with Theodor Herzl, argued that the problem of discrimination against Jews would only be solved if Jews had their own exclusive state. Zionism thus accepted an assumption made by anti-Semitic racists: that it was impossible for different races and ethnicities, Jews and non-Jews, to live together without discrimination. Their very racial constitution would prevent this. Herzl and the World Zionist Organization (WZO) tried to seek out the leaders of the imperialist powers and ministers of the Tsarist Russian Empire to trade off their support for this project, reminding them, among other arguments, that they could get rid of the Jews from their territories. During the Great War (1914-1918), the WZO leader Chaim Weizmann got the Balfour Declaration, a statement issued by the British imperialist government in 1917, committing itself to allow the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. In other words, it was a commitment by the English colonial authority to allow Palestine to receive new Jewish settlers brought by the WZO. But this would only be possible by expelling the existing Palestinian population.
The “revisionist” Zionist leader Jabotinsky (from which the ultra-right organizations Irgun and Likud of Begin and Netanyahu, Israel prime minister for more than a decade, came from) would take this possibility to its ultimate consequences, preaching an “iron wall” between Jews and the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, and no “mixing of blood” between them, that is, Israel should be an openly racist state, exclusively for the Jews. This was the project that was implemented and that gave rise to the State of Israel, at the expense of the expulsion of the Palestinian population. As the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim reveals in his book The Iron Wall – Israel and the Arab World (Fissus Publishers, 2004), this was also the undeclared assumption of so-called Labour Zionism – and its leadership David Ben-Gurion – which, actually, carried out ethnic cleansing in 1948.
What is anti-Zionism?
Anti-Zionism is to oppose the Zionist colonial political project and all its developments. It is to be against ethnic cleansing, racism, apartheid – as recognised even by the Israeli Bet’Selem and international organisations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch-, crimes against humanity. The Palestinian cause, which synthesises the struggles against oppression and exploitation anywhere in the world, is the cause for national liberation from the yoke of the coloniser. What is racist about that? Nothing. On the contrary, to be anti-Zionist is to fight against this state of affairs.
The result of the Zionist colonial project founded at the end of the 19th century was the Nakba – a catastrophe with the formation of the racist State of Israel on 15 May 1948 through planned ethnic cleansing, as Israeli historians like Ilan Pappé recognise today. There were 800 thousand Palestinians violently expelled from their lands and around 500 villages destroyed in the “conquest of land and labour”, as the Zionist movement put it.
The Palestinian historian Nur Masalha points out in his book “Expulsion of Palestinians: the concept of ‘transfer’ in Zionist political thought, 1882-1948” that, from the very beginning of the movement, the Zionist leaders expressed in their diaries the idea that, for their intent – to create an ethnically homogeneous Jewish state – it would be necessary to “transfer” non-Jewish native Palestinian population out of their land and European Jews into Palestine, via immigration. This is what occurred. Israel formed itself in 78% of historic Palestine, on the wreck of Palestinian villages and on the bodies of its native inhabitants. On the tears of thousands who became refugees overnight.
In 1967, Israel occupied the rest of those lands (Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem). Another 350,000 refugees. Today there are 5 million in camps in Arab countries waiting to return. There are still thousands in the diaspora and 1.9 million from the remnants of occupied Palestine in 1948 (which today is called Israel), considered second or third class citizens, subject to some 60 racist laws. In this area, Israel refuses even to provide basic services to hundreds of Bedouin villages, where real estate speculation seeks to advance at the expense of demolishing houses. And Palestinians have no permanent residency order. The village of Al Araqib, for example, has been demolished more than 190 times, and the Palestinians, in an act of resistance, continue to rebuild it.
Gaza is a real open-air prison, where 2 million Palestinians face a dramatic humanitarian crisis under inhuman Zionist siege for 14 years – with 96% of drinking water contaminated and a daily power supply of only four hours – and frequent shelling. And in the West Bank and East Jerusalem colonisation continues apace, in which ethnic cleansing is an instrumental part. There are about 3 million Palestinians without any fundamental human right guaranteed, with all sorts of restrictions of movement – different documents, prohibition of free commutation (there are exclusive roads for Zionist settlers, for example), hundreds of checkpoints and an apartheid wall approximately 700km long that continues to be built, isolating families and annexing more fertile land. Israel does not even provide the minimum necessary water to Palestinians recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Boycott of apartheid vs. hypocrisy
But the Nakba continues: as Amnesty International now denounces, the regime is an apartheid one, in “a cruel system of domination and crime that Israel inflicts on the Palestinian people, whether they live in Israel or in the occupied territories or are displaced refugees in other countries.” A crime against humanity, in which Palestinians have for decades been treated, as Amnesty International also points out, as “an inferior racial group”. Bet’Selem describes apartheid as “a regime of Jewish supremacy” also throughout historic Palestine: “The entire area that Israel controls between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is governed by a single regime that works to advance and perpetuate the supremacy of one group over another. Through geographical, demographic and physical engineering of space, the regime allows Jews to live in a contiguous area with full rights, including self-determination, while Palestinians live in separate units and enjoy fewer rights. This qualifies as an apartheid regime, although Israel is commonly seen as a democracy that maintains a temporary occupation.“
In this situation, described in detail in the report by both Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Bet’Selem, Palestinians live on because they resist heroically. And today the central solidarity campaign is BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), based on the model of the boycott campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa in the 1990s, which brings the fundamental demands of the Palestinian people: an end to the occupation, equal civil rights and the return of refugees to their land. Zionists, including those who claim to be “leftist” – which is schizophrenia, since they defend a colonial project while using soft rhetoric, a discourse against oppressions – have turned against BDS. They also reject reports that show Palestinians are subjected to an apartheid regime. The organisations are branded as anti-Semitic by Israel, as are any and all those who stand up against this racist state.
On the Flow Podcast show, Zionist André Lajst, executive director of the Stand With Us organisation in Brazil, one day after the repugnant speeches by Bruno Aiub and Kim Kataguiri, said that anti-Semitism, “in this case Jewish-phobia, hatred of Jews – as there are other Semitic peoples – has been changing throughout history.” In his words, this changing process turns into “hatred of Jews because of their nation-state, which means exacerbated and disproportionate hatred of people for the State of Israel, being also a type of anti-Semitism. I’m not talking about the criticism of the state, I’m referring to the non-legitimacy of a country, of a Jewish national home or the fight against the Jewish national movement.” Thus in a twisted way, he associates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
A clear manoeuvre: Lajst equals what does not exist, whereby to advocate the end of the apartheid state of Israel would be to advocate the end of the Jews, their extermination. What about South Africa, or Rhodesia, ruled by the white segregationist minority? Would advocating the end of apartheid be the same as advocating the end of white South Africans? That is not what history shows. It is not what Palestinians say in the case of Israel. As a Palestinian refugee expelled from his land in 1948 told us, when he was a child “Jews, Muslims, Christians played together, without labels.” This separation never existed in historical Palestine, Zionism created it and continues to nurture it.
Opposing Lajst’s statement on the Flow Podcast, Zionist organisations have declared that the podcast should be boycotted, calling for and achieving the suspension of sponsorship. “Ideologies that aim to eliminate others must be banned. Racism and persecution of any identities is not freedom of speech,” stated the Zionist group Jews for Democracy on its Twitter feed.
The idea is correct. Apology for Nazism must be repulsed by all forces, by all means. Nevertheless, it causes outrage at the hypocrisy, since, for Zionism, BDS cannot be implemented, it is criminalised and disqualified. Apartheid cannot be denounced. Palestinian lives, for them, do not matter, even if they say otherwise.
The State of Israel, the materialisation of Zionism’s central idea, is founded on the elimination of the other – via ethnic cleansing, massacres, continuous dehumanisation. Ilan Pappé’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine leaves no doubt: “In fact, for many Zionists Palestine was not even an ‘occupied’ land when they first arrived there in 1882, but rather an ’empty’ one: the native Palestinians who lived there were largely invisible to them or, if not, were part of nature’s hardship and as such were to be conquered and removed.“
Left-wing Zionists, in defence of Israel’s existence, usually assert themselves against the occupation – which they differentiate from apartheid, although occupation implies segregation and discrimination. They defend the already dead and buried two-state solution, as recognised for years by intellectuals like Ilan Pappé and even by the former United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on human rights in occupied Palestine, Richard Falk. If this supposed solution were not unjust from the start, for presenting nothing more and nothing less than crumbs to the Palestinian people and not contemplating its totality, as the refugees or in the diaspora, it is completely invalidated by Zionist colonial expansion. Today there is already a single state over the Palestinian territory – Israel, an apartheid state.
There is no peace without justice. And justice will only come with the defeat of this colonial project and therefore the end of the apartheid state of Israel. In a Palestine free from the river to the sea, with the return of the millions of Palestinians to their lands. To be anti-Zionist and to speak this truth is to be coherent with the struggle against oppression and exploitation around the world, including the vehement rejection of anti-Semitism and apology to Nazism.
Check out the reports:
Amnesty International – https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde15/5141/2022/en/
Human Rights Watch – https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2021/04/israel_palestine0421_web_0.pdf
Bet’Selem – https://www.btselem.org/sites/default/files/publications/202101_this_is_apartheid_eng.pdf