An Open Letter to Jews Who Are Anti-Israel or Apathetic About Zionism
Now more than ever, we need you. The Jewish world needs you. And, as we fight another war against our unfriendly Arab neighbors, Israel needs you.
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Many Jews across the world, including some in Israel, are far less emotionally attached to Zionism and Israel.
As of 2020, less than half of Jewish adults under age 30 described themselves as very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel, compared with two-thirds of Jews ages 65 and older.1 And one-quarter said it’s not important to what being Jewish means to them.
In another survey of Jews, taken after the 2021 Israel-Gaza conflict, a quarter of them thought that Israel is an “apartheid state” and 22-percent believe “Israel is committing genocide.”2
Even as more Jews continue to distance themselves from Israel and Zionism, the problem is not that Israel will give up on them. Instead, the problem is that other countries will give up on them, for they already are.
College campuses are becoming uncomfortable and unsafe for Jewish and Israeli students, and more and more Jewish places of gathering are becoming targets for hate crimes. I’m not just talking about synagogues and Jewish schools, but also Jewish delicatessens, cemeteries, and old-age homes.
I have no doubt that police and the intelligence establishments will do their best to protect Jews and Jewish communities in these countries, but all we have to do is look at the situation in England to realize where things are headed elsewhere: Critics say cops aren’t enforcing the law fairly. Cops say they are scared to.3
To Jews who are anti-Israel or apathetic about Zionism, I say this: The antisemitism you’re seeing now has nothing to do with Israel. The Israel-Hamas war is just another “convenient” and more “socially acceptable” time to unleash it.
Virulent antisemitism and with it, the age-old antisemitic tropes we see from “anti-Zionists” today, have existed for centuries (see: pogroms, expulsions, the Holocaust), well before the State of Israel’s founding in 1948.
Heck, Palestinian terror against Jews goes back to the mid-1800s, nearly a century before the Zionists’ declaration of independence, which tells us all we need to know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being a microcosm of a much bigger Jewish-Arab problem.
Hence why, in many cases, anti-Israel Jews who root for the Palestinians, at the expense of a strong Jewish state, would be like Jews rooting for Nazis in the 1930s.
In the West, antisemites learned to become mindful of the prohibition on blatant antisemitic expressions resulting from post-Holocaust “guilt.” Instead, they turned their position to anti-Zionism, just as the Soviets once did too.
Anti-Zionism is a philosophy of negating Jewish self-determination in our indigenous homeland. Anti-Zionists deny us this right, the same right they advocate for Palestinians or other peoples. If you believe that Zionism is the only form of self-determination that’s wrong, this is discrimination against Jewish people. This is antisemitism.
Antisemites (disguised as anti-Zionists) want you, Jews who are anti-Israel or apathetic to Zionism, to think that Jewish self-determination and Palestinian self-determination are mutually exclusive. They are not, which is why Israelis have agreed to 10 — 10!! — different two-state proposals dating back to the 1930s.
Anti-Zionists don’t like to acknowledge these proposals because doing so would mean a Palestinian acquiescence to live peacefully side-by-side with a Jewish state. Instead, Palestinians and their supporters continue to make completely unrealistic demands, such as:
Entire control of the West Bank (Israel has been willing to give them 90-percent control, for security reasons.)
East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital (Many East Jerusalem citizens, who are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, actually oppose this demand.)
The “right of return” for Palestinians in Israel proper (Many Palestinians fled what is today Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war because their Arab “partners” encouraged them to flee as they attacked Israel.)
The irony is that these demands only push the Palestinians further away from self-determination. On the other hand, Palestinian leadership has continuously refused to shoulder any responsibility for their historical mistakes and missteps, choosing instead to incessantly blame the Jews for their so-called plight. There’s a word for blaming the Jews about problems that have nothing to do with them. It’s called antisemitism.
One Arab Israeli even told me, as we were talking about global antisemitism, that if Israel didn’t declare its independence in 1948, there would be no antisemitism. Appalled by this statement, I asked him: So how do you explain the Holocaust?
Unfortunately, this trick is nothing new to antisemites: a feeble attempt to rewrite Jewish history, or ignore it altogether. Whereas right-wing, Hitler-style antisemitism is “in your face” and impossible to neglect, left-wing antisemitism takes this history-erasing form of gaslighting — psychological manipulation in which the abuser attempts to sow self-doubt and confusion in their victim’s mind, by distorting reality.
In pre-war Europe, for instance, Jews were never blond enough or blue-eyed enough or tall enough (the Aryan type). They were too dark. Now, anti-Zionists claim we’re too white. In pre-war Europe, graffiti told Jews to go back to Palestine. Now, graffiti in Europe tells us to get out of Palestine.
Hence why left-wing antisemitism is far more dangerous than right-wing antisemitism, especially in a post-Holocaust world. We know what to do with right-wing antisemites: name and shame, report them to the authorities, and stay way from certain communities.
But these strategies don’t work against left-wing antisemitism, because it’s far more discreet and nuanced, it’s dressed up in academia, and it’s well-integrated into mainstream society. All this makes left-wing antisemitism difficult for even highly educated people to recognize, or at least recognize its poisonous omnipresence.
“The single most important thing about Israel that most people do not understand is that the Jewish state was founded on a reasonable and historically justified skepticism about the ability of the liberal order to protect Jews,” according to Walter Russell Mead, a professor of foreign affairs and humanities at Yale University (who’s not Jewish).
Certainly, not all left-wing critics of Israel or Zionism are antisemites, even though these days all antisemites, including the right-wing, old-fashioned, and racist antisemites, are “anti-Zionists.” More specifically, left-wing antisemites believe:
Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state.
Israeli Jewish nationalism (i.e. Zionism) is a form of racism.
Israel alone is responsible for the conflict with the Arabs and Arab states.
Palestinians have a “right of return” to Israel proper.
Israelis forced 700,000 Palestinians to leave their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. (How, then, do you explain the 150,000 who stayed and became Israeli citizens?)
This “forced” migration of 700,000 Palestinians was a unique evil. (In 1945, 12-to-14 million Germans were driven out of Eastern Europe. Only fringe German nationalists now propose to reverse that forced population movement and to drive out the Poles, Czechs, Russians, et cetera who live where Germans once lived.)
There are good peoples (e.g. the Palestinians) entitled to all rights, and bad peoples (e.g. the Israelis) entitled to none.
Israel is a racist or apartheid state like the racialist South Africa, and thus Israel must be destroyed like apartheid South Africa was.
Jews are not an oppressed group, but are instead oppressors due to their role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel’s actions should be inflated beyond all proportion.
Make no mistake: It’s not that Israel should be void of criticism for certain positions or policies. Every country should be. Rather, it’s a double standard when, for example, the United Nations, its organizations, or the European Union repeatedly targets actions of the Jewish state, while ignoring similar or even greater offenses committed by other countries.
Then there’s the “BDS movement” which denies the Jewish state’s fundamental right to exist. They demand solutions that would necessarily lead to Israel’s disappearance. Not to mention, BDS’s connection with Islamic organizations that incite or endorse terrorism shows its violent backdrop, revealing it as an undemocratic movement.
“The most acutely antisemitic movements today express the same sense of frustration that Germany did in the 1920s and 1930s, when it was reduced to humiliation following the Treaty of Versailles after World War I,” according to Fiamma Nirenstein, a Fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “Nazism went on to use antisemitism within its ideological framework for its war of conquest. Today, it rises from ideologies that have been defeated in the West and from a terrorist war on the eastern front. Europe in crisis is increasingly becoming anti-Israel.”4
As Nirenstein accurately pointed out, this is (at least in part) because both world wars and the Holocaust crushed every appearance and claim of human rectitude. The legitimacy of self-defense as a corollary to the commandment “Thou shall not kill” collapsed, while the goal of “peace” became an intimate, overwhelming dogmatic standard for the Western individual, the democratic citizen.
The peace campaigns of those years, invented in the 1950s by Soviets during the Cold War, dispatched people with banners of all stripes who marched for peace against America and the atomic threat, as well as in defense of the Cuban revolution, pro-Soviet African revolutions, and then the Palestinians.
At the outset, Jews were considered allies among the Communist sympathizers, given what they had suffered during World War II from the Right, the Nazis, and the Fascists. Some Jews, for their part, sought a relationship with the Left to feel “at home” in Europe, North and South America, South Africa, Australia, and elsewhere.
The Communist persecutions and Siberian confinement were set aside. Becoming Left-wing for many Jews was a matter of identity and memory. And the semantic value of the word “peace” soon incorporated all values of human and civil rights, only that it was seized by an illiberal political party.
In 1968, British philosopher Bertrand Russell penned a famous open letter to the Polish prime minister against a new wave of antisemitism just one year after the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, writing:
“By some twisted logic, all Jews are now Zionists, Zionists are Fascists, Fascists are Nazis, and Jews, therefore, are to be identified with the very criminals who only recently sought to eliminate Polish Jewry.”
Peace in the Middle East became a giant playground of rhetoric and lies for the global Left, with the bad “colonialists” and warmongers on one side (i.e. Americans and Israelis) versus the good Palestinians and Arabs on the other side (allies of the Soviet Union after having been allies of Nazi Germany) — in a monstrous revision of the history and the entire Israel-Arab narrative.
So, why was the Soviet Union so successful? Because the Europeans, and later their main institution, the European Union, undertook to cancel the memory of the European travesties of war, Nazism, Fascism, nationalism, and borders.
In their place, a creed devoted to exaggerated human rights was established. It made acceptable, as a matter of fact, every illiberal aspiration connected to the Soviet’s camp (the “peace camp”) that wanted to help “oppressed people” wherever they were politically useful to them, portraying dictators and terrorists as desperate fighters for a better life against colonialism.
Today, international organizations — first and foremost those of the United Nations, then the European Union, and now “progressives” — blindly condemn Israel and present a new kind of antisemitism in which “human rights” are used as masks to hide double standards and discrimination against Israel and the Jews.
The word “Zionism” has been turned upside down to the point of mockery and horror, synonymous with all Jewish perversions invented by antisemitism: lying, blood libel, conspiracy, racism, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing.
But many anti-Israel Jews, or those who are apathetic about Zionism, don’t know how to differentiate between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. They realize that their anti-Israel or apathetic positions will not shelter them from their Jewishness, no matter how religious or observant they are. Throughout our 4,000-year history, the Jews’ enemies have been abundantly clear: A Jew is a Jew is a Jew.
In this vein, I’ll defer to a post I recently saw on Instagram, which said:
When they came for the conservative Jews, I said, “I’m not a conservative!”
When they came for the religious Jews, I said, “I’m not religious!”
When they came for the Israeli Jews, I said, “I’m not Israeli!”
When they came for the Zionist Jews, I said, “I’m not a Zionist!”
When they came for the liberal Jews, I said, “I’m not really a liberal!”
When they came for the progressive Jews, I asked, “Why? I stayed in every lane you told me to.”
“Thank you,” they said. “But you’re still a Jew.”
The Middle Eastern and Sephardic Jews were the first to realize this. Once upon a time, they had relatively respectable and enjoyable lives in Middle Eastern and North African countries — much like today’s Jews in Europe, North and South America, South Africa, and Australia.
More recently, French Jews had a rude awakening in Paris and other parts of France, hence their mass emigration, and the British Jews are now at the very start of this process. It’s only a matter of time before other Jews — Canadian Jews, American Jews, Latin American Jews, South American Jews, Australian Jews, and South African Jews — will experience this rude awakening as well.
Naturally, many Jews will shrug this off, feeling untouchable in their middle-to-upperclass lifestyles, where they are part of mainstream society and well-assimilated. In liberal democracies, some Jews who are Ashkenazi (of European origin) or simply “white-looking” have tried to blend in as “white people,” with the privileges that so-called white people enjoy.
By doing so, these Jews have made it exponentially harder to examine historical antisemitism or the ways in which antisemitism still plays out. Without this examination, there is a shroud of ignorance and invisibility around antisemitism.
If Jews and non-Jews do not understand or recognize this phenomenon, not only is the possibility great of it reoccurring and worsening, but Jewish anxiety and vulnerability will be perpetuated.
Hence the rise of political Zionism in the 1800s and the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, both of which arose out of a very literal response to thousands of years of Jewish anxiety and vulnerability, culminating in the Holocaust. Hence the belief that Jews have a moral right and historic need for self-determination in our indigenous homeland.
We can debate whether we are a religion, an ethnicity, a people, or a collective, but this debate is a distraction. The Jewish world changed in 1948 — and that is a matter of fact.
We can imagine going back in time and sitting in a 19th-century European coffee shop, debating whether or not we should immigrate to our indigenous homeland to help build a modern-day Jewish state. We can also imagine living in a world where we exclusively traveled from one continent to another by ship, but I have no desire to do either.
Does the Jews’ right of self-determination clash with the Palestinians’ same right? No, it doesn’t. Has the Jewish state taken steps that have deteriorated the hopes of a two state-solution? Absolutely. Israel is a deeply imperfect country, just as all countries are.
But if you would deny your own people the same right that you would fight for on behalf of others, well, that’s an act of self-sabotage that is more of a you problem than an Israel problem.
In psychology, there’s a concept known as “fight or flight” — referring to an automatic physiological reaction to events that are perceived as stressful or frightening, thus activating the sympathetic nervous system and triggering an acute stress response which prepares the body to either weather the storm, or escape and flee.
There are those who would say that criticisms of Israel are signs of disloyalty. I disagree. Of course, there are questions of tact, intellectual honesty, and looking at the entire of Israeli history (since the mid-1800s).
But, like your activism for civil rights or for underprivileged communities, so too should follow your activism for Israel and Zionism. If hundreds of thousands of Israelis can protest its government week after week, so can you.
So, will you flee and sit on the sidelines, or are you going to engage with Israel and Zionism to help effectuate the type of Jewish state you want to see?
Your voice is important to the Zionist conversation, and don’t be discouraged by those of us who don’t always agree with you.
Now more than ever, we need you. The Jewish world needs you. And, as we fight another war against our unfriendly Arab neighbors, Israel needs you.
“Jewish Americans in 2020.” Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2021/05/11/jewish-americans-in-2020.
“Genocide, apartheid? A poll Israel cannot allow itself to ignore.” The Times of Israel. https://www.timesofisrael.com/genocide-apartheid-a-poll-israel-cannot-allow-itself-to-ignore.
“British Police ‘Are Giving in to the Mob.’” The Free Press. Substack.
“Anti-Semitism in Europe Today Comes Mostly from the Left.” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. https://jcpa.org/mission-impossible-repairing-the-ties-between-europe-and-israel/anti-semitism-in-europe-today-comes-mostly-from-the-left.