Letter to the Editor | Anti-Zionism represents anti-Semitism


By Cary Nelson

A hundred years ago and more, Zionism was being hotly debated across Europe. Many Jews opposed the idea of a Jewish state because they feared it would undermine the possibility Jews could gain full equality where they already lived. Pogroms in Russia in which Jews were killed put that dream in doubt. Then the Holocaust, above all else, ended the faith that Jews could ever be full citizens in Europe and live there in security.

But everything changed with the creation of Israel in 1948. The idea of a Jewish state was no longer hypothetical; it had become a reality. Six and a half million Jews live in Israel. We can no longer invoke century-old anti-Zionist arguments and use them to say a Jewish state should not exist. That is a key reason why anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic. It denies the right half the world’s Jews have to political self-determination in their ancient homeland.

Equally unacceptable are anti-Zionist comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, a too common way of suggesting Israel is an evil state that cannot be reformed. It must instead be eliminated.

We have recently seen the rebirth of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism in both Europe and the United States. Jews internationally are credited with vast conspiratorial power in ways not widely seen since the days of the Third Reich. Swastikas are appearing again on campuses and elsewhere. Actual mass murders of Jews have taken place in several countries, something people in the U.S. and Europe thought would never happen again. Violent anti-Zionist rhetoric and slogans can encourage real assaults and threaten people’s lives.

Israel can and should be criticized like any other state, its government policies debated and reforms promoted. No rational people claim it is anti-Semitic to do so. Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve the right to political self-determination. A two-state solution remains a viable practical option, even if it has lost some political support.

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    The University chancellor was right to say there were anti-Semitic implications in the powerpoint presented in a recent UI housing program and the comments accompanying it. Rather than urge the chancellor to withdraw his letter, we should urge wide discussion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.

    Cary is an emeritus faculty member of the University.

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