In his January 19 piece, “Is Anti-Zionism Really Anti-Semitism,” Dr. Massad asserts that “most [Arabs and Palestinians] understand Zionist logic perfectly well,” but Massad himself is clearly not among this purportedly enlightened body. Dr. Massad’s treatment of the question as to whether anti-Zionism constitutes anti-Semitism is built upon a faulty foundation that grossly miscomprehends and distorts the nature of Zionism.
Zionism is nothing more than the insistence upon Jewish rights to self-determination in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. This can be verified through a cursory glance at a standard dictionary of political terminology.
This is how zionism was understood by the major leaders of the civil rights movement. When the UN issued the Orwellian resolution mentioned by Dr. Massad in his piece that insisted that “Zionism is racism,” dozens of civil rights leaders and other prominent members of the African American community from Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and Coretta Scott King, to Rosa Parks, Bayard Rustin and Rev. Ralph Albernathy took out an ad in the New York Times in response. It read:
“Zionism is not racism, but the legitimate expression of the Jewish people’s self determination…From our 400 year experience with slavery, segregation, and discrimination we know that Zionism is not racism.”
During the civil rights era, King and his co-activists in the struggle for Black rights were also smeared with every imaginable slur by those who would deny them the rights for which they fought: “godless commies”, “dangerous radicals”, “degenerate beasts”, etc.
Today, those who would deny to the Jewish people their legitimate rights to their ancestral lands also attempt to unfairly smear Zionists. It is common to hear among anti-Zionists the same rhetorical farces repeated by Dr. Massad equating Zionism with imperialism, colonialism, racism, oppression, and so on.
But anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of Zionism and its history understands that it developed in response to imperialism and racism, not in support of it. Jews were ethnically cleansed from our ancestral lands by imperialists, most notably by the Assyrian, Babylonian and Roman empires. Zionism developed as a counter to anti-Semitism in the Jewish diaspora and as the insistence on the Jewish right to that which was stolen by the aforementioned empires.
And before one relegates these facts to the dustbin of history as irrelevant to present circumstances, I challenge anyone concerned with Palestinian rights to answer the following question: “what is the statute of limitations on Palestinian rights to their ancestral land?” If the answer is that there is none, (and I agree) then I urge the extension of the same decency to the question of Jewish rights in that same land.
It is a fact of history that the establishment of the State of Israel marked the first time in millennia that the land of Israel/Palestine was under the direct sovereignty of the indigenous peoples of the region. No independent, autonomous nation-state existed in the land from when the ancient Jewish kingdom was destroyed by the aforementioned imperialists until 1948 when the modern state of Israel was established.
To insist, then, that Zionism is racism and characterize it as an imperialist project is an act of historical revisionism and an attack upon and attempt at erasure of Jewish identity.
Imperialism is the extension of power of a foreign metropole over lands to which it has no historical or legitimate claims. To suggest that Zionism is imperialism is to imply that the Jewish people have no historical claims to the land of their ancestors (all historical, genetic, anthropological evidence to the contrary be damned). Who would suggest, for example, that the indigenous American movement to establish autonomous Native American zones within the United States is an act of imperialism against the current inhabitants of the Americas? Since when do indigenous people imperialize their own land?
And this is precisely the kind of cultural expropriation and erasure that Dr. Massad engages in. He denies Jewish connection to the land of Israel, denies the Jewish people’s connection to their ancestors, denies Jewish Levantine culture. In a debate with Israeli Historian Benny Morris, Massad said that Jews cannot be descendants of the indigenous people of the Levant, because they “look like other Europeans” and “speak European languages.” This ignores both genetic data and the fact that the majority of Jews are either of Mizrahi, Sephardi or other non-Ashkenazi descent. It also ignores the fact that the Palestinians, many of whom are visually indistinguishable from many Jews, practice a culture and speak a language that originates in the Saudi Arabian peninsula, not in the Levant. Here, again, Dr. Massad’s double standard is apparent.
This brings us, finally, to the question of Zionism’s relationship to anti-Semitism. Dr. Massad attempts to convince the reader that since Zionism cannot be equated with Judaism, therefore anti-Zionism is not Anti-Semitism. This is nothing more than casuistry.
Zionist does not need to be synonymous with Jew for anti-Zionism to be anti-Semitism. If Zionism is the movement for Jewish rights, then anti-Zionism is opposition to Jewish rights. “Civil rights advocate” was never synonymous with African American. Yet those who were anti-civil-rights were racist nonetheless.
If Dr. Massad and his fellow anti-Zionists want to deny to Jews the same rights enjoyed by other peoples the world over — an Armenian state for the Armenians, an Ethiopian state for Ethiopians, a Croatian state for Croatians, etc. — then they must explain how they maintain such a double standard while insisting they are not engaging in racism.
Let’s be clear. Anti-Zionism is not NECESSARILY anti-Semitism/racism. One can be an anti-Zionist and oppose a Jewish state without being racist IF one also opposes an Armenian state for Armenians, an Ethiopian state for Ethiopians, a Croatian state for Croatians, a Korean state for Koreans, a Greek state for Greeks, and a Palestinian state for Palestinians. If one does not, and denies to Jews the rights extended to others, one is a racist, and an anti-Semite.
So, if anti-Zionism requires the erasure of a people’s history and identity, the imposition of an unfair double standard and the denial of equal rights, what word, if not racism, would the professor have us use?