The UK Labour Party has been at the centre of a row over anti-Semitism, including its relationship to anti-Zionism. What do these terms actually mean?

  • Anti-Semitism is “hostility and prejudice directed against Jewish people” (OED).
  • Zionism refers to the movement to create a Jewish state in the Middle East, corresponding to the historic land of Israel – anti-Zionism opposes that.
  • But some say “Zionist” can be used as a coded attack on Jews, while others say the Israeli government and its supporters are deliberately confusing anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to avoid criticism.

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone was suspended from Labour following a series of remarks about Israel, including the suggestion that Hitler supported Zionism before the Holocaust.

It follows the suspension of Bradford West MP Naz Shah after it emerged she had once suggested, among other things, that Israel should be moved to the United States. The new president of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, has also been heavily criticised for remarks she made about Zionists.

Some in the Jewish community say the use of “Zionist” as a term of abuse reflects a rising tide of bigotry and racism directed at Jews.

The Labour peer Lord Levy told the BBC’s Newsnight: “There can be criticism of the state of Israel, but anti-Semitism – using the word ‘Zionist’ as another form of anti-Semitism – frankly can no longer be tolerated.”

Others – including Livingstone – argue anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism, and that it’s wrong to mix up anti-Jewish prejudice with legitimate disagreement with the actions of the Israeli state.

However, critics of anti-Zionists point out that sometimes particularly harsh criticism of Israel goes further than disagreement with policies, but rather denies the right of the Jewish state to exist.

Speaking on The Daily Politics, the former London Mayor said: “Don’t confuse anti-Semitism with criticism of the Israeli government policy and treatment of the Palestinians.”

It’s a debate around which emotions run high. It’s also obviously true that being a Zionist and being Jewish are not the same thing.

There are Zionist critics of Israeli government policies, such as the occupation of the West Bank, the route of the separation barrier (which Israel is building in and around the West Bank and which it says is for security against Palestinian attackers, though Palestinian supporters see it as a device to grab land) and the building of settlements.

Equally, there was Jewish opposition to the Zionist movement, which sought to establish a Jewish homeland, long before the state of Israel was declared in 1948. Today fringe ultra-Orthodox groups such as Neturei Karta oppose the state of Israel because they believe the true Jewish state will only be established with the coming of the Messiah.

Likewise, some make the point that Zionism is a political project supported by plenty of non-Jews, including Western governments and many US evangelical Christians.

But it’s been widely argued that the term “Zionist” has, in some circles, become a code word for “Jew” and that bigotry against Jewish people has been expressed using the language of anti-Zionism.


What is Zionism?

  • Political movement which emerged in 19th Century Europe aimed at countering anti-Semitism, and establishing a Jewish homeland
  • In the Hebrew Bible the word “Zion” refers to Jerusalem, hence the movement’s identification with the city and the land that surrounds it
  • Balfour Declaration of 1917 gave British support to the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine
  • Chaim Weizmann, the president of the Zionist Organisation, was elected the first president of Israel in 1949

Khadim Hussain, a former Lord Mayor of Bradford, was suspended from Labour after he shared a Facebook post that referred to “the six million Zionists that were killed by Hitler”. Alex Chalmers, a former co-chair of Oxford University Labour Club, said some members regularly used the word “zio” – despite it being regarded as an ethnic slur.

Bouattia was attacked after it emerged that in 2011, she co-wrote a blog for a Friends of Palestine campaign group saying that “the University of Birmingham is something of a Zionist outpost in British Higher Education”. She has also attacked “Zionist-led media outlets” – which critics said reflects anti-Semitic myths about Jewish conspiracies to control the media.

 

Source: What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism? – BBC News

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