Is it antisemitic to ask if Israel has ‘right to exist’?

Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz tackle the question on Mondoweiss, in the context of the current ‘controversy over whether certain criticisms of the state of Israel can be considered anti-Semitic.’

Saying Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state is not anti-Semitic

Excerpt: ‘… This is obviously a battle ground; and we have a clear position: We think it is legitimate and not anti-Semitic for critics to make such an argument. Given the principle of separation of church and state, such an argument has a long pedigree in modern political philosophy. Moreover, Israel’s history shows that creating and maintaining a “Jewish state” has entailed ethnic cleansing of Palestinians on a regular basis, including in East Jerusalem and broad portions of the West Bank to this day, in order to maintain a Jewish majority in certain areas. In practice, the Jewish State in Israel/Palestine has meant an ethnocracy where Jews are given special and exclusive rights over other citizens and non-citizens under the sovereignty of the Israeli government. This is a system that we (Horowitz and Weiss) reject for political, personal and moral reasons that are in no way connected to vilifying or discriminating against Jews, the traditional definition of anti-Semitism.

Of course, many other people oppose these definitions of anti-Semitism as well.

Palestine Legal has an excellent FAQ on the State Department definition that notes that it blurs criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The FAQ addresses the “right to exist” idea:

Likewise, any criticism of Zionism—which questions Israel’s definition as a state that premises citizenship on race, ethnicity, and religion — is considered anti-Semitic under this redefinition, because such speech can be seen as “denying Israel the right to exist” as a “Jewish state” that privileges its Jewish citizens over others

Palestine Legal points out that blurring Jewishness and Zionism are essential tactics of Israel supporters:

[C]criticism of the Israeli state is not based on the Jewish identity of most Israeli citizens or leaders; it is based on the nation state’s historical and present day actions. Despite these important distinctions, some go to great lengths to lump Jewish people and the Israeli state together, arguing that Jews and Israel are inherently connected, and that any attack on one is an attack on the other.


Yossef Rapoport, who self-defines as a Zionist, asks the same question.

Read the article in full  here.

Excerpt: ‘…does the current State of Israel have a right to exist as a Jewish state? I’m not sure, and it is definitely not anti-Semitic to doubt it. It is not its Jewishness that puts Zionism under this spotlight; for me, there is really nothing inherently wrong with Jews having a state they can call their own. Rather, it is two generations of occupation and the denial of the rights of refugees that put a question mark about Israel’s legitimacy.

[…] The permanency of the occupation goes into the heart of Israel’s legitimacy, because there are as many Palestinians who live between the sea and the river as there are Jews, but Jewish sovereignty is maintained by denying citizenship to most of those Palestinians. To ask for equal rights for all who live on the land cannot be branded anti-Semitic, even if it would end the Jewish state.

[…] But there are today six million Palestinian refugees who have a right to return to their lands. No doubt, fulfilment of this right for all of them will bring an end to the Jewish state as we know it. And yet, for them and for their supporters, to demand the right of return is not anti-Semitic.

The recent debate in Britain is not a really about the British left, but about whether Israel has earned the right to be accepted by the Palestinians it has dispossessed and disenfranchised. All the recent discussion about anti-Semitism omits the Palestinians – they have no voice in this, because if they will say anything but acceptance of Israel’s existence they would be brandished as anti-Semites too.

The Israeli government has waded into the row over anti-semitism and Labour, but isn’t it fair to ask the Palestinians too? Does anyone seriously expect a Palestinian whose family was driven out of their home in 1948, and who continues to live stateless and disenfranchised, to accept the right of Israel to exist? And yet, by default, they are all an anti-Semites – as well as everyone who represents their demands for justice and equality – because these demands mean the end of the Jewish state.

[…] But it is not anti-Semitic to ask whether – in the current circumstances – a Jewish state is simply not possible without suspending the basic principles of equality and justice. The jury is out there. I’m a Zionist, but not at any price.

-Yossef Rapoport is a lecturer in Islamic History at Queen Mary University of London.

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