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Anti-Zionism is a term which has been used to describe several very different political and religious points of view, both historically and in current debates. All these points of view have in common some form of opposition to Zionism, but their diversity of motivation and expression is so great that "anti-Zionism" cannot be seen as a single phenomenon. This article examines opposition to Zionism both historically and as it currently exists.

Zionism may be defined as "a political movement among Jews which holds that the Jews are a nation, and as such are entitled to a national homeland", and also as "a movement to support the development and defence of the State of Israel, and to encourage Jews to settle there." It follows that anti-Zionism is opposition to these objectives, and that any person, organisation or government that opposes these objectives can in some sense be described as anti-Zionist.

Table of contents
1 Defining anti-Zionism
2 Types of anti-Zionism
3 History of anti-Zionism
4 Related articles
5 External links

Defining anti-Zionism

The term anti-Zionism dates back at least to 1902, and was regularly used in the 1920s and 1930s in relation to events in Palestine and controversies among Jews about issues related to Zionism. It has regained wide currency in political debate since the 1970s, as part of the controversy over the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Before the Six-Day War of 1967, opposition to the existence of Israel was largely confined to the Arab world. (The Soviet Union and its satellites used anti-Zionist rhetoric, but never withdrew diplomatic recognition of Israel.) Since the 1970s, however, opposition to the continuing Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has led to mounting criticism of Israel. This in turn has led to the growth of anti-Zionism: the belief that creation of Israel was an error, an injustice, even a crime.

The defining characteristic of anti-Zionism is therefore opposition to the existence of the State of Israel, a state which was created as a result of the activities of the Zionism movement between 1897 and 1948. Opposition to the policies of the current Israeli government, or advocacy of an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, is not necessarily synomymous with anti-Zionism. Many Israelis also hold these views, as do many Jewish and other supporters of Israel outside Israel.

Many Jews argue that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism, hatred of Jews as Jews, or even that the two terms are synonymous. Since the support and defence of Israel has become a central focus of Jewish life in all countries since 1948, it is natural that Jews should see attacks on the existence of Israel as inherently anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, a simple identification between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is not possible, for two reasons:

Types of anti-Zionism

A distinction also needs to be drawn between the anti-Zionism of those who actively seek the physical destruction of Israel and the death or expulsion of its Jewish inhabitants, and the anti-Zionism of those who argue that Israel ought to be voluntarily transformed into a state in which Jews and Palestinians live together as equals. While committed Zionists may see little validity to this distinction, it is a real one.

The former category includes Palestinian and other Arab or Islamic militant groups. In the west it is confined to small groups on the far left, although violently anti-Israeli rhetoric in the west has certainly escalated over the past decade. Among the governments of the Arab and Islamic world, advocacy of the physical destruction of Israel is a minority position, which only Iran and Libya now openly take. Other Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Syria probably still desire the destruction of Israel but no longer say so openly. Egypt and Jordan have formally recognised Israel, and several other Arab states have tacitly done so. The Palestinian leadership formally recognised Israel as part of the 1995 Oslo Accords, although the that recognition has been rendered inoperative in practice since the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000.

Thus, although the governments of most Arab and Islamic countries have continued to proclaim their opposition to Zionism, most were willing in practice to accept the settlement of the Israel-Palestine dispute set out in the Oslo Accords, which proposed the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories and the mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine. Most, possibly all, governments would still accept such a settlement if one were again put forward. Public opinion in the Arab and Islamic world is another matter, but it is likely that a settlement involving the creation of a Palestinian state would lead to a decline in anti-Zionist rhetoric.

The second form of anti-Zionism, the advocacy of the replacement of Israel by a state in which both Jews and Palestinians live, is fundamentally different to the advocacy of the physical destruction of Israel. It is now a view widely held among liberals, radicals and socialists in many countries, including those Jews who identify themselves as anti-Zionists. These advocates maintain that such a settlement must be arrived at voluntarily and by peaceful means, and argue that it would be in the best interests of the Jewish inhabitants of Israel as well as the Palestinians for a non-Zionist state to be created. Such a position may be rejected, but it cannot be morally equated with the form of anti-Zionism which advocates the violent destruction of Israel.

History of anti-Zionism

It is obviously the case that the Zionist project has encountered opposition ever since it was first articulated in the 19th century. It is therefore possible to speak of a history of anti-Zionism reaching back for more than a century. That history, however, embraces several phenomena which have very little in common.

Jewish responses to Zionism

Before the 1930s the majority of the world's Jews who were in a position to express an opinion could loosely be considered anti-Zionist, in the sense that they did not actively support the Zionist project for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine or elsewhere. Nevertheless, the use of the expression "anti-Zionism" to describe their attitudes needs to be heavily qualified.

In the 19th century and early 20th century, for example, German Reform Jews used the word "Zionism" to refer to a political and social movement which encouraged them to emigrate to Palestine. Those Jews who did not want to emigrate are sometimes described as anti-Zionists. But Reform Jews did not reject the right of Jews to move to Palestine and reconstitute a Jewish nation within its borders. Rather, they rejected the view that they themselves had an obligation to do so.

Before the 1930s, the majority of Western European and American Jews, whether religious or secular, took the view that since Jews could live in conditions of safety and freedom in countries such as the United States, Britain, Germany, and France, there was no need for a Jewish state, and that for Jews to campaign for one would be harmful because it would create the impression that Jews were not loyal to the countries in which they lived. Many Jews also felt that the Jewish "mission" had evolved to become universalistic and identified themselves as citizens of their country who happened to practise the Jewish faith.

Many 19th century and early 20th century Orthodox Jews used the word "Zionism" to refer to secular and atheist attempts to build a secular and socialist Jewish state in Palestine. However, Orthodox Jews in this group did not reject the right of Jews to move to Palestine and reconstitute a Jewish nation within its borders. Rather, they rejected the demand that this nascent nation be secular and socialist. Instead, they hoped that if any such state were to be created, it would follow to some extent Jewish law and tradition, and that its leaders would be religious Jews.

Some 19th century Jews Orthodox Jews used the word "Zionism" to refer to any attempt to build a Jewish nation in Palestine without the arrival of the messiah. With the establishment of the State of Israel and the events of the Holocaust, this position has dwindled away and is now only held by a minority of ultra-Orthodox groups. Ultra-Orthodox Jews in this group do not reject the right of Jews to move to Palestine, rather they view attempts to reconstitute a Jewish nation as illegitimate without the arrival of the Messiah.

The many Jews, mainly in Europe, who supported socialist or communist political ideas, took the view that the defeat of anti-Semitism and the winning of civic equality for Jews required participation in the common struggle against capitalism and oppressive regimes, and that for Zionists to advocate emigration to Palestine was a means of perpetuating the segregation of the "ghetto" that they were fighting to overcome. (Some Jewish socialists rejected this view and became Socialist Zionists). The largest Jewish socialist organisation in Europe, the General Jewish Labor Union, known as the Bund, strongly opposed Zionism right up until the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

In the face of these varying forms of opposition, Zionism remained a minority view among Jews until the 1930s. It should be noted, however, that these tendencies of Jewish opinion, while generally classed as "anti-Zionist," have little relationship to current belief systems known as anti-Zionism. Efforts to use the existence of these beliefs to justify current forms of anti-Zionism do not take into account the great differences between these tendencies and modern anti-Zionism.

The rise to power of Adolf Hitler, and the systematic murder of six million European Jews by the Nazi regime in the Holocaust, persuaded the majority of the world's surviving Jews that a Jewish state was an urgent necessity. Ever since, the great majority of Jews, religious and secular, have supported the state of Israel. Small minority of Jews, however, continue to oppose Zionism on either political or religious grounds.

Among religious Jews, anti-Zionism is represented by ultra-Orthodox groups such as the Satmar group of Hasidic Jews. Satmar is the largest Hasidic group in the world, with over 100,000 followers. Other Hasidic groups are influenced by Satmar and revere the group's late leader, Rebbe Joel Teitelbaum, as an authority figure. Teitelbaum's book, VaYoel Moshe, is an important exposition of the ultra-Orthodox position on Zionism, based on a literal form of midrash (biblical interpretation).

According to Teitelbaum, God and the Jewish people exchanged three oaths at the time of the the Jews' exile from ancient Israel:

This was the position of most of the ultra-Orthodox world until the Holocaust. Even today, many ultra-Orthodox Jews, including the Agudat Israel party, which has participated in most of Israel's coalition governments, accept the validity of these oaths. They argue either that the Holocaust represented "excessive persecution," and therefore the Jews are released from the second oath, or, more commonly, that although they are opposed to Zionism, Israel exists as a state, and it would be better to cooperate with it than to actively oppose it.

Opposition to the existence of Israel among secular Jews is confined to a minority of socialist or other radical Jews in western countries. Most of these do not argue that the Jewish settlement of Palestine should be reversed or that Israel should be destroyed by force. Rather they argue that Israel as a specifically Jewish state should be replaced by a secular state in which Jews and Arabs live together.

Arab anti-Zionism

At the time when the Zionist settlement of Palestine began, the entire Arab world was under the control either of the Ottoman Empire or of one or other of the European colonial powers. There was thus no official or articulate voice for the Arab peoples.

When Jewish settlement in Palestine began, relations between Jews and Arabs were not completely hostile. Emir Faisal, the son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, who led the Arab nationalist revolt against the Ottomans, signed the following agreement with Chaim Weizmann at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference:

Mindful of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people, and realizing that the surest means of working out the consummation of their national aspirations through the closest possible collaboration in the development of the Arab states and Palestine.

Furthermore, the agreement called for the fulfillment of the Balfour Declaration and supported all necessary measures:

to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale, and as quickly as possible to settle Jewish immigrants upon the land through closer settlement and intensive cultivation of the soil.

Faisal had conditioned his acceptance of the Balfour Declaration on the fulfillment of British promises of independence to the Arab nations. These were not kept and as less moderate leaders arose and the 1929, 1936 and 1939 Arab riots against Jews (See Hebron Massacre) occured, hostilities increased and the likelihood of co-operation went to virtually zero.

When the Arabs found themselves in a position of conflict with Zionism, a Jewish movement, over the destiny of Palestine, anti-Semitic sentiment began to spread among Arabs. Most of the Arabs knew little of the events in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s, and even those who did felt entitled to ask why they should be expected to give up their homeland to provide a refuge for the victims of European anti-Semitism. Some Palestinian and other Arab intellectuals soon adopted the ready-made slogans of European anti-Semitism. The spread of literature used by Nazis, including Hitler's Mein Kampf, became accepted. Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, eventually became a Nazi collaborator.

In much of the Arab world it became difficult to distinguish between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Asked why Jews from Europe and America would want to come and seize Palestine from the Arab-Islamic world, Arab intellectuals naturally turned to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other pieces of European anti-Semitic propaganda for explanations: the Jews were an evil and malignant race, were the sworn enemies of Islam, were agents of the western Christian-imperialist powers, etc. These views had become the orthodoxies of the Arab intellectual world by the 1970s, and since then they have been greatly inflamed by the mounting Israeli-Palestinian armed conflict.

Thus, although there was no specifically Palestinian national consciousness before the 1920s, the Arab inhabitants of Palestine would have reacted with instinctive and immediate hostility to any suggestion of Palestine being severed from the Arab-Islamic world. This was not necessarily the same thing as opposing Jewish settlement in Palestine. Jews and Arabs had lived peacefully together in Palestine for centuries, and Islam enjoins Muslim respect for Judaism as a fellow monotheistic religion. But once the Balfour Declaration made it clear that the Zionist project was for Jewish sovereignty over Palestine rather than merely settlement there, Arab opposition became implacable, and has remained so.

Arab anti-Zionism is also a reflection of the politics of the Arab states. Most Arab governments since the end of colonial rule have been feudal Islamic monarchies or oppressive secular dictatorships. Although oil wealth has given prosperity to the smaller Gulf states, most Arab regimes have conspicuously failed to provide either material well-being or political progress to their large and rapidly expanding populations. Diverting popular anger towards Israel and its western sponsors has thus served as a useful safety-valve for the Arab regimes. Even in countries like Egypt which have formally recognised Israel, the regime encourages its frustrated intellectual and political class to indulge in anti-Zionist rhetoric as a means of drawing attention from domestic political issues.

Western anti-Zionism

Before the 1970s, serious criticism of Israel, let alone opposition to its existence, was almost unknown in the western countries, except to some extent in the Communist parties. Indeed there was an almost completely uncritical acceptance of Israel’s projected image of itself as a nation of brave pioneers making the desert bloom. This was partly motivated by genuine admiration for the efforts of the pioneering Israelis, partly by a sense of guilt about the failure of the west to prevent the Holocaust or to take in the Jewish refugees of the 1930s and 1940s, and partly by relief that the "Jewish question" had now finally been solved by the creation of a Jewish state. Pro-Zionist sentiment in the west peaked in the 1960s, epitomised by the Hollywood epic Exodus (1960) and by support for "plucky little Israel" in the Six-Day War.

The tide of opinion turned rapidly after 1967, however, as the Palestine Liberation Organization began to conduct its campaign of "armed struggle" against Israel, and of terrorism against against symbolic western targets such as airliners. These events coincided with the wave of radicalism which swept through the western intellectual world in the wake of the anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1960s (see The Sixties). Many western radicals accepted the proposition that the Palestinians were an oppressed people like the South Vietnamese or the Black South Africans, and that the PLO was a national liberation movement of the type they supported in other places.

This wave of radicalism soon passed, but it left an intellectual climate in most western countries much less sympathetic to Israel than had existed before 1967. This anti-Israeli sentiment might have faded had there been an Arab-Israeli settlement, as seemed possible for example after President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel and the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979. But the repeated disappointments of Middle East diplomacy, and the successful portrayal by the Palestinians of themselves as the victims of a western neo-colonialist plot to plant a Jewish settler state in their midst, created a permanent reservoir of anti-Zionist sentiment among western intellectauals, including even some Jews such as Noam Chomsky.

The active expression of western anti-Zionism has tended to ebb and flow in relation to events in the Middle East. When developments seem positive, such as during the period of the Oslo Accords and the prime ministership of Yitzhak Rabin, and again during the Barak-Arafat negotiations in 1999-2000, western opinion, even on the anti-Zionist left, welcomes the reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. When events turn out badly, such as after the assassination of Rabin and again with the launching of the Second Intifada and the election of the Sharon government, western anti-Zionism flares up again. Nevertheless, most of this sentiment is "soft anti-Zionism." Few western intellectuals actively desire the physical destruction of Israel, and most would welcome any settlement if it was acceptable to the Palestinians.

Finally a distinction must be drawn between anti-Zionism in the United States and in other western countries. The United States is the home of the world's largest Jewish community, and Jews are thoroughly integrated into every aspect of American life. Every American administration and virtually all American politicians of both parties have been and remain vigorously pro-Israel. Most American media and most public intellectual figures are also generally pro-Israel, if not quite as uncritically as most politicians. American anti-Zionism is confined to the far left, an isolated and marginal segment of American society, although one capable of claiming disproportionate attention because its strongholds are in the universities and in some sections of the media and entertainment industries.

In other western countries, however, support for or opposition to Israel has become closely linked with attitudes towards the United States, which is seen as Israel’s closest ally and the guarantor of Israel’s security. The belief has become widespread that the failure to achieve a peace settlement in the Middle East is due mainly to American support for Israeli intransigence. Among the intellectual classes this sentiment is entangled with widespread resentment against America’s post-Cold War position as a global hegemonic power, intellectual distate for American mass popular culture, and fear of American economic dominance. In most European countries, and above all in France, anti-Zionism has become political orthodoxy on both left and right.

Most western anti-Zionists deny vehemently that they are anti-Semites or that anti-Zionism can be equated with anti-Semitism. Israelis and Zionist Jews outside Israel reply that a demand to destroy or abolish the state of Israel is intrinsically anti-Semitic, since Israel represents the fulfillment of the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination. Both these positions are in most cases sincerely held, and the conflict arises from the absence of an agreed definition of key terms such as "anti-Semitism" and "Zionism." This debate is complicated by two further factors: the habit of genuine anti-Semites of using the term "Zionist" as a euphemism for "Jew," and the tendency for radical Islamist elements to use the rhetoric of traditional European anti-Semitism. These rhetorical cross-currents make it almost impossible for Zionists and anti-Zionists to converse across the gulf of hostility and incomprehension which has grown up over the past 20 years.

International anti-Zionism

In parallel with the rise of anti-Zionist sentiment in the west was increased hostility towards Israel at the international level. During the 1950s and 1960s Israel made great efforts to cultivate good relations with the newly independent states of Africa and Asia, and hostility to Israel was confined to the states of the Arab-Islamic world and the Communist block. But a combination of inter-related circumstances in the 1970s radically changed this situation.

The first was the increased hostility to Israel following the onset of the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the late 1960s, as described above. The second was the decline in the prestige of the United States following the end of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. The third was increased economic power of the Arab oil-producing states in the aftermath of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the resulting energy crisis. The fourth was the rise of radical anti-western regimes in a series of African countries. The fifth was the increased diplomatic and economic presence of the Soviet Union, China and Cuba in Africa.

This anti-Zionist trend was manifested in organisations such as the Organization for African Unity and the Non-Aligned Movement, which passed resolutions condemning Zionism and equating it with racism and apartheid during the early 1970s. It culminated in the passing by the United Nations General Assembly of Resolution 3379 in November 1975, declaring that "Zionism is a form of racism." This resolution was passed by 72 votes to 35, with 32 abstentions. The 72 votes in favour consisted of all 20 Arab states, another 12 Muslim-majority states (including Turkey), 12 Communist countries, 14 non-Muslim African states, and 14 other states (including Brazil, India, Mexico and Portugal).

By 1991 this international situation had been completely reversed following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the American-led victory over Iraq in the Gulf War and the return of the United States to global political and economic dominance. In December 1991 the General Assembly passed Resolution 4686, repealing the 1975 resolution, by a vote of 111 to 25, with 13 abstentions. All the ex-Communist countries and most of the African countries who had supported Resolution 3379 voted to repeal it. Only three non-Muslim countries voted against the resolution: Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam. Nevertheless, only one Muslim-majority country (Albania) voted for the resolution: the rest abstained or absented themselves.

International anti-Zionism, like domestic anti-Zionism in many countries, rises and falls in parallel with events in the Middle East, and the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 saw some revival of the anti-Zionist rhetoric of the 1970s in some countries. But the combination of forces which gave anti-Zionism such apparent strength in the 1970s has disappeared and seems unlikely to return. The collapse of the Communist block, the decline of the Non-Aligned Movement, the weakened economic power of the Arab oil-producing states and the spread of free-market democracy through Latin America, Africa and Asia have all combined to leave the Arab-Islamic world increasingly isolated in its preoccupation with hostility to Israel.

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