How to destroy a church's moral authority: 2-20-19
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Is modern 'Anti-Zionism' really just 'antisemitism'? 2-21-19

Opposition to Zionism -- Zionism is the idea of establishing (or re-establishing) a Jewish presence or state in and around Jerusalem -- is not new. You can find evidence of it even among Jews not long after the term was coined in the late 19th Century.

Anti-z-anti-sBut what is relatively new is the widespread belief that opposition to Zionism today has, in some ways, become an expression of antisemitism, which is perhaps the world's oldest hatred.

A new book edited by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, founding director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University, explores whether, where and how that disturbing transition has happened. It makes for disheartening but important reading. And if there's one thing certain about the publication of Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: The Dynamics of Delegitimization, it is that reaction to it is bound to range from great praise to outright rejection.

The book is a result of a conference held at Indiana University in which scholars presented papers on this subject. Those papers have been revised for this book and edited into chapters that seek to shed light on how and why modern anti-Zionism often is seen as merely a disguise for antisemitism.

As Rosenfeld notes in his introduction, "In both its older and newer forms, a resurgent antisemitism has come powerfully to the fore and is now widespread. That is especially so with regard to hostility to Israel, which, in its most extreme forms, impels its adherents to denounce the Jewish state as a criminal entity and to vilify and attack those identified with it."

This subject is not new for Rosenfeld. A few years ago, in fact, he edited an excellent book called Resurgent Antisemitism, which I reviewed here for The National Catholic Reporter.

For starters, however, it helps to know that Zionism has deep roots, even as far back as the Hebrew Bible. Its more modern forms, however, can be traced back to the founding of the Alliance Israelite Universelle in Paris in 1860 and the founding of the Anglo Jewish Association in London in 1871. The term Zionism was coined in 1886 and its goal of a Jewish homeland was defined in 1897 at the First Zionist Congress. And Zionist immigration to what became the modern state of Israel in 1948 began in the early 1880s.

So Zionism didn't simply appear out of thin air after the Holocaust. And, as I've mentioned, there was a debate even among Jews about whether Zionism was a worthwhile goal. For instance, the Bund, the first Jewish socialist party in eastern Europe, opposed Zionism because members thought it would be a diversion from the interests of Jews in Russia.

One of the first points covered in this new book is the false assertion that Jews sought a state of their own just because of the Holocaust. As James Wald, a professor of modern European history at Hampshire College, notes, that idea seems innocuous, yet it is "insidious because it is untrue. . .By fixing the starting point as the Holocaust, this view conflates immediate circumstances with ultimate causes. It telescopes Jewish attachment to the land of Israel by both modernizing and secularizing it, thereby rendering invisible the entire history of political and religious Zionism, not to mention the centrality of the land in the Hebrew bible, liturgy, Talmud and Jewish tradition."

Nowadays, Wald and other authors in the book note, it's become commonplace for the most severe critics of Israel to liken the country and its leaders to Nazi Germany.

None of this is to deny that reasonable people can and do sometimes have thoughtful and legitimate criticism of some Israeli government policies and actions. But it is to point out that when criticism becomes polemic and denies Israel's right to exist because it is a Jewish state, critics have moved from rational comment and debate to antisemitism. And when it is rooted (as sometimes it is now) in such outrageous ideas as that the first temple in Jerusalem never existed, it becomes like Holocaust denial, or what Wald calls "an intellectual embarrassment possessing no more merit than the belief that alien astronauts built the pyramids." It amounts, he says, to an assault on and denial of Jewish history.

Today the term anti-Zionism, writes Thorsten Fuchshuber, a scholar in Brussels who does research on religion, "serves as a socially accepted form  for the expression of antisemitic attitudes, and for their rationalization and legitimization as political arguments." He argues that "both anti-Zionism and antisemitism must be understood as a means to rationalize hatred against Jews."

And Balazs Berkovits, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Haifa, suggests that in "this new anti-Jewish discourse and action, Jews are no longer taken to be an inferior race; rather, the Jews are seen as treating other peoples as inferiors. Now it is the Jews who are racists -- some even liken them to the Nazis -- and the notion that they intend to rule the world, which originated in traditional antisemitic discourse, persists."

Gil Ribak, who teaches Judaic studies at the University of Arizona, simply puts it this way: ". . .the new antisemites have replaced the word Jew with Zionist. This semantic change has enabled them freely to use antisemitic tropes such as the Zionist control of the media and politics, Zionist violence and cowardliness and Zionist greed for money, land and power while arguing that they are not antisemitic but rather anti-Zionist."

Well, there is much more here in these almost 500 pages and, as I say, the book no doubt will stir up some heated debate. My hope is that it will cause everyone engaged in the conversation/dispute about Israel and its neighbors to take a step back and make sure that what's being said is not just civil but also accurately reflective of both history and reality. That would be a big step forward for everyone.

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Love this story: When Alexa overheard a sermon, she ordered toilet paper for the family -- $28 worth. I've heard (and even preached) sermons to which that would have been an appropriate response.


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