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The manufactured controversy surrounding the new National Union of Students president Malia Bouattia has prompted the urgent need to reopen the discussion into the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
In the wake of Bouattia’s appointment, Daniel Clemens, the president of Birmingham University’s Jewish Society, stated that he believes:
…anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two and the same thing. Zionism is the belief that Jewish people should have a homeland to live in without threat of annihilation or war. This stems from a Jewish belief. So when someone attacks Zionism they’re indirectly attacking Judaism as a religion, because the two go hand in hand.
(De Lange, Nicholas, An Introduction to Judaism, Cambridge University Press (2000), p. 30. ISBN 0-521-46624-5)
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘Zionism’, a word coined by Austrian Nathan Birbaum in 1890, is defined as:
A movement among modern Jews having for its object the assured settlement of their race upon a national basis in Palestine; after 1948, concerned chiefly with the development of the State of Israel.
On the other hand, the definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ is:
Hostility and prejudice directed against Jewish people; (also) the theory, action, or practice resulting from this.
The concept of Zionism – a form of nationalism – was conceived as a reaction to the two thousand years of anti-Semitic persecution suffered by the Jewish people across Europe and the Middle East in particular. As the pioneer of Zionism and author of The Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, wrote in 1896:
Anti-Semitism increases day by day… among the nations…it is bound to increase… The Governments of all countries scourged by Anti-Semitism will be keenly interested in assisting us to obtain the sovereignty we want.
The sovereignty he spoke of was the creation of a Jewish state – and Israel was eventually born in 1948.
Israel’s borders have expanded vastly since its inception in clear contravention of international law, and it is supported by a disproportionately vast arsenal compared to the Palestinians who resist the expansionism. These are pressing injustices that offend many, many millions across the world. Yet agree or disagree, the freedom to criticize is sacrosanct.
So why is it, then, that condemnation of Israeli policy (which is underpinned by the tenets of Zionism) is met all too often with the false counter-allegation of anti-Semitism?
This is something that the left has for far too long failed to confront. And the answer, it seems, is that the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is a deliberate ideological tool which serves to deflect from some of the most insidious aspects of the state of Israel.
It is theoretically possible that Bouattia could have used both anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic language – her words may in fact have fallen into both categories. Yet a closer look at her comments reveal this to be untrue. For example, an article in The Guardian by Amy Weisfeld complains that Bouattia has made reference in the past to ‘mainstream Zionist-led media outlets’. However, numerous academic studies, such as those carried out by Glasgow University Media Group in both 2004 and 2011, have found conclusive evidence that bias towards Israel is implicit across a range of media outlets in the UK.
(Philo, Greg, Bad News from Israel, Pluto Press (2004), ISBN: 0745320619)
If more clarification were needed, Bouattia’s rebuttal on Twitter of the accusations made against her was unequivocal.
— Malia Bouattia (@MaliaBouattia) April 14, 2016
Alex Chalmers, the former co-chairman on the Oxford University Labour Club who resigned in protest against anti-Semitic incidents within the OULC, wrote in the New Statesman in March that:
Sentiments of this kind are common amongst self-proclaimed “anti-Zionists”, who… seem to use the label to lend a veneer of academic credibility to what often manifests itself as blind hatred.
Anti-Semitism, detected in whatever guise, is sickening, and should be forthrightly and unambiguously challenged. I believe Chalmers when he says that he experienced these ugly attitudes in the OULC.
Yet to both reject anti-Semitism and advocate anti-Zionism are not mutually exclusive positions.
To paint them as such is not only completely and utterly false, but it damages the cause of both Palestinians and Israelis alike.