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Is there a country in the world that attracts so much criticism as Israel? Studies consistently show Israel to be one of the most disliked nations in the world (along with Iran and North Korea). But how much of this is to do with genuine concern about Israel’s actions, and how much is actually a cover for the age-old hatred of the Jews? Is what we are seeing here anti-Zionism – broadly understood as opposition to the existence of a Jewish state in the territory of Israel – or is it anti-Semitism?
Some people who have been accused of anti-Semitism argue that the accusation is deeply unjust: what enrages them is not the Jewish people per se, but the nature of Israel, the Jewish state. Israel, they say, is a country based on ethnic nationalism, designed to privilege the Jewish majority at the expense of the Palestinians. Israel’s critics claim that its creation in 1948 led to more than 700,000 Palestinians fleeing or being expelled from their land, and that today’s Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are still denied their basic rights. Israel’s immigration policy allows any Jew in the world to gain automatic citizenship, yet Palestinian migration to Israel is virtually impossible. The Israeli flag features the Star of David and its national anthem refers to the ‘Jewish soul’, but over 20 per cent of its citizens are Arabs. To be anti-Zionist isn’t to be anti-Semitic – it’s to take a legitimate moral stand against Israel’s discriminatory practices.
But others see anti-Zionism as a fig leaf for old-fashioned anti-Semitism. Yes, of course it’s possible to be a staunch critic of Zionism and not to be anti-Semitic, but mostly you find that the two go together. Despite being the only functioning liberal democracy in the region, Israel is fanatically singled out for criticism by its enemies. Anti-Zionists, it is said, often rehash ancient anti-Semitic tropes, using phrases like the ‘Israel lobby’ as a racist dog whistle to signify an all-powerful Jewish conspiracy. Attacks against Jews are on the rise across the world, with many of their perpetrators claiming they are responding to Israel’s policies, but in fact they are disguising their hatred of Jews in the garb of anti-Zionism – in France, anti-Semitic acts increased by 74% last year. And when anti-Zionists talk about Israel’s founding and its impact on the Palestinians, they conveniently omit the fact that in 1948 Israel was immediately attacked by its Arab neighbours who sought to wipe it off the map. It’s the only Jewish-majority country in the world, a homeland and haven for the Jews created in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Sure, you can criticise the policies of Israel’s government, but if you deny its right to exist you are inescapably an anti-Semite.
Who’s right and who’s wrong?
Speakers are subject to change.