As apartheid Israel wages its genocidal war against the Palestinian people it colonized and has brutally repressed since its founding, I have felt compelled to declare, with great pride, that I have been an openly anti-Zionist Jew since before my Bar Mitzvah. I never shrank from confronting anyone, including my Holocaust-survivor relatives, with my view, even when in exasperation they could no longer argue and simply pointed to the tattoos on their arms from the camps, as if their experience justified doing to others what the Nazis did to them.
This stance should not make me special. While I am now only a “cultural” Jew — the distinction being that I am an atheist, and no longer practice Judaism as the religion of my youth — it ought to be the stance of every Jew who believes in the fundamental tenet that undergirds Judaism as a body of thought: tikkun olam, meaning “repair of the world.” This tenet explains why Jews as a group were the first to join Blacks in large numbers in the Civil Rights movement. It was no accident that Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, two Jews, were there with James Chaney when the three were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi in 1964.
Zionism has nothing in common with Judaism. In fact, Zionism is the biggest sponsor of antisemitism in the world — by virtue of the Zionists’ cynical project to associate their ideology with a religion so they can accuse those who oppose it of that very antisemitism. Zionism has everything in common with Nazism, though, especially with its application of the genocidal concept of “collective guilt.”
Zionism and Israel’s Origins as a State
Zionism is a movement that goes back a long way, but its modern history begins in the 1890s, with Theodor Herzl. In response to antisemitism, Herzl and others aimed to create a “Jewish state” somewhere in the world. Britain offered part of its colony in Uganda, but the tribe in that region and too many lions made that untenable. Argentina was considered. There was talk of Palestine. Fast-forward to 1917 and the British government’s Balfour Declaration, which basically stated that the British would back Zionist efforts to colonize Palestine. The League of Nations followed suit, with a “mandate” to “secure the establishment of the Jewish home” while promising to “safeguard the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.” Of course, that last part was a lie.
The Zionists began to do everything they could to get Jews to move to Palestine. They also began to buy up land from feudal landlords, which meant that people living on that land were thrown off of it, often violently. Landlessness led to a lot of unrest.
It should be noted that the Zionists were not particularly religious, and did not include Orthodox or Hasidic Jews — the most religious in the Jewish faith (if religion is defined as adhering to “laws and traditions” set down over centuries). Rather, the Zionists were largely secular Jews and those among the newer “Reform” movement who were responding to the oppression they felt in Europe, not to any religious fervor for being in the so-called “Holy Land.”
Between the 1890s and the period during which the Zionist movement really began to focus its attention on establishing a homeland in Palestine at all costs, two things happened. One was the rise of Nazism, which posed a threat to Jews unlike anything ever before experienced (even the Spanish Inquisition didn’t seek to exterminate all Jews). Thus, the need for “escape” became greater. The other was that the Western imperialist powers that had backed the Balfour Declaration figured out that having a client state in Palestine served their interests in a lot of ways.
The Colonizing Project
There are basically two ways to colonize a place already inhabited: either send in troops and suppress the natives or overwhelm the natives with a combination of force and settlers, to alter the demographics. That’s what the Zionists have done, backed by the West. They established the kind of colony called a “colonial-settler state.” In human history, there have really been very few of these; most colonies are just places the colonizer sends in troops to suppress the natives and “keep the “peace” while the natural resources are stolen. The Belgian Congo is a good example; the natives were brutally slaughtered while Belgium harvested as much rubber as possible. There are three great examples of colonial-settler states: the United States, and even more acutely, South Africa and the Zionists’ Israel.
All through the Nazi era, the Zionists did everything they could to get Jews to come to Palestine, because they needed settlers for their colonizing project. That included condemning to death the Jews fleeing Hitler on the ship MS St. Louis, who were denied entry to a U.S. port. The Zionists lobbied the Roosevelt Administration to turn the ship away, hoping it would go to Palestine. Instead, it ultimately returned to Europe, and many of its passengers perished in Nazi death camps.
After World War II, the Zionists made their play for their colony in Palestine becoming an actual country, using the Holocaust and the mantra of “never again” as a cover. They won the backing of all the Western imperialist powers. The founding of Israel as a state was an act of genocidal brutality. Palestinians were forced from their homes in 1948 by terrorists — paramilitary Zionist terrorists. Gangs of them. They had names: Stern, Irgun, Etzel. They dragged people out of their homes and shot men in front of their wives and children. You can find a list of the terrorist attacks of the Irgun here, including the infamous Deir Yassin massacre. (You can also read Ralph Schoenman’s comprehensive work The Hidden History of Zionism here.)
The refugee camps in Gaza and throughout the West Bank trace their origins back to this Zionist terror — an abomination against tikkun olam all done in the name of Judaism. I have Palestinian friends who wear on necklaces the keys to their parents’ or grandparents’ homes that were stolen at gunpoint, or through bombings.
Prior to the establishment of Israel as a state, most Orthodox Jews, and all Chasidic Jews, denounced the Zionist project. They were the most religious Jews, and they pointed out that only the Messiah could return and establish a Jewish homeland. Today, the so-called ultra-Orthodox and religious Right in Israel — especially the settlers on land Israel continues to steal as it pushes its borders further and further beyond those of 1948 — are similarly an abomination against tikkun olam. They gun down children with sniper fire from their “religious” neighborhoods.
The Pretense of “Antisemitism”
The Zionists came up with one of the greatest pretenses in history, one that in the wake of what Jews had just suffered through in Europe would make it extraordinarily easy for the Zionists to counter rational challenges to their ideology with emotion. Specifically, they figured out that pretending that their ideological movement was actually based in the religion of a people who had just faced a genocide would give them the space to do whatever they wanted to secure their colonial-settler state. They “invented” a way to dismiss all criticism as antisemitism.
Consider, for example, how the Zionists respond to organizers of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement today: “You are antisemitic.” That is the response to any criticism of Israel, including documented war crimes. People like me, anti-Zionist Jews, are called “self-hating Jews.”
Even more cynical, though, is that wrapping a racist ideology in Judaism, and doing it for decades, leads to Palestinian children in refugee camps, Gaza, and in the apartheid West Bank growing up believing their oppressors to be Jews and Judaism — a religion, not an ideology. This feeds the demonic aims of the Zionist ideologues, who depend on those who attack Israel — whether in a debate on a college campus, or with rockets launched from Palestinian areas — to believe they are fighting Jews and their religion, not Zionists and their ideology. The Zionists revel in their success at weaving this lie into the fabric of the Middle East.
This is why I contend that the Zionists are the leading sponsors of antisemitism in the world today. And the Western imperialist powers go along with this because it serves their interests.
Western imperialism backed the formation of Israel, and continues to back the apartheid regime, for one reason: oil. Israel has no oil to speak of, but the Arab states that surround Israel, for a long time led largely by U.S.-backed dictators, sit on top of lots of oil. History has shown that dictatorships can be hard to maintain in less-developed countries with a lot of natural resource wealth. What better way to keep the Arab masses from going after their own governments than dropping a violent, racist, colonialist interloper into the middle of the region. For decades, pretty much until the Arab Spring of a decade ago, nearly every ounce of opposition to oppression in what is typically referred to as the “Arab street” was directed at Israel, not at the Arab masses’ own national misleaders. Brilliant!
Zionism and Judaism are inimical. Israel’s existence is a criminal act against humanity. To understand this takes only a simple analogy. Imagine someone shows up and pitches a tent in your yard. You go outside and ask them what they’re doing. They tell you they have come to live in peace, and ask if you mind if they sleep there overnight. You are a good person; you say okay. They stay and stay. Soon they’ve hooked up a hose to your outdoor water faucet and have diverted all of the water from your house to their tent. Then they’ve picked all the vegetables from your garden and put up a fence around it. Then one morning they kick down your door and, sticking guns in your face, order you out of the house. Maybe they kill some of your family members. They march you to a refugee camp. And this happens to all of your neighbors. Meanwhile, they declare to the world that your opposition to their having done this proves you are racist against the people who peacefully dwell in backyard tents. The world’s leading powers declare that the tent dwellers, now living in your house, are the “only democracy” in the region, a bulwark against the very terrorism they employed to take your house.
Israel is an apartheid state. It is no accident that during the entire time that South Africa was an international pariah because of apartheid (banned from the Olympics, banned from most international activities), there was only one country in the world that always invited it to everything: Israel. Birds of a feather — the two racist colonial-settler twins of the modern world — flock together.
All of this is why I am anti-Zionist. All Jews, cultural or religious, should be anti-Zionist. My revolutionary socialist beliefs were forged in the crucible of tikkun olam, and repairing the world wrought by Zionism has only one solution. It begins not with what “liberal Jews” and “peaceniks” call for — a return to the pre-1967 War borders — but the demand for a democratic, secular Palestine in all the historic territory, with the guaranteed right of return for all Palestinians and reparations for what was stolen from them. Or as I used to put on signs I carried at anti-Zionist demonstrations, “Free swimming lessons for all Zionists!”
The real healing, though, will come when the imperialist powers that prop up the racist Zionist regime are taken down by the world’s masses. That will be the time when another slogan from old signs will be realized: “Palestine must be free, from the river to the sea!”