Many Jews tend to see Israel as a threat to their convenience, a nuisance at best, a peril at worst. They have failed to comprehend the justice of George Steiner’s lambent remark in Language and Silence: “If Israel were to be destroyed, no Jew would escape unscathed. The shock of failure, the need and harrying of those seeking refuge, would reach out to implicate even the most indifferent, the most anti-Zionist.” According to Saul Bellow in To Jerusalem and Back, the great Israeli historian Jacob Leib Talmon was of the same mind. In a conversation with the author, Talmon feared that the destruction of Israel would bring with it the end of “corporate Jewish existence all over the world, and a catastrophe that might overtake U.S. Jewry.”
These Jews who are vexed by the existence of their fallback country are living in a fantasy of personal immunity to the bubonics of Jew-hatred, something that has never ceased to infect the world. In reviling the one nation on earth that serves as a last asylum should they ever find themselves in extremis, they have not only risked their — or their children’s — possible future survival. They have also effectively expunged their own historical identity, aligning themselves with the foul theories and convictions of their persecutors. Victim and victimizer are in agreement. This is nothing less than a form of self-loathing, a rejection of essence, that paradoxically corresponds to the contempt and hatred of the non-Jewish anti-Semite. It is, in short, nothing less than reflexive anti-Semitism.
As Daniel Greenfield asks in an article exposing the campus betrayals of the Berkeley Hillel chapter that endorses patently anti-Zionist organizations, “why shouldn’t there be a consensus that Jewish identity is incompatible with the rejection of the Jewish state?” Following the same line of thought, Phil Orenstein, a member of the National Conference on Jewish Affairs, writes:
For two millennium [sic], the Jewish people have been rejected from countries throughout the world. Now at long last we have the Jewish State, a safe haven that can welcome our people home. We need to teach our youth what the blessing of Israel means to the Jewish people.
In fact, it is not only Jewish youth who have strayed from the recognition of who they are and who the world regards them as being, as if they could find sanctuary in ostensibly exalted ideals or in collaboration with their diehard adversaries. It is every Jew who has embraced the anti-Zionist canard and by so doing negated his own integrity and selfhood. In denouncing or repudiating Israel, the state founded to ensure his perseverance and preserve his identity in the world, he has renounced that same identity. He has disavowed and thus erased himself — precisely as the typical anti-Zionist, laboring to obliterate Israel from the map, has sought to render the Jew defenseless and susceptible to repression or, even worse, extermination.
Updating the Hannukah story, Steven Plaut accurately describes these anti-Zionist Jews as modern Hellenists “ashamed of their Jewishness,” siding with the Seleucid empire against the Hasmoneans who fought for the restoration and survival of the Jewish people. But the upshot is that anyone who objects to the existence of the state of Israel, who would like to have it vanish from the international stage, who wishes it had never been established, who considers it a geopolitical blunder, or who insists on treating it as an embarrassment or a nettle to one’s equanimity, is an antisemite, for he would despoil the Jewish people of its last line of defense in an always problematic world. In What Is Judaism?, Fackenheim laments that “all anti-Zionism, Jewish and Gentile, should have come to a total end with the gas chambers and smoke-stacks of Auschwitz.” Regrettably, this was not to be.
Certainly, one can be critical of Israel, but given its beleaguered condition, surrounded by enemies and constantly under attack, such criticism must be tempered by respect and circumspection. Nor should criticism function as a stalking horse behind which an inimical or incendiary project moves forward. It is when legitimate criticism morphs into anti-Zionism that we know a malign agenda is at work.
King was right. “When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews — make no mistake about it.” It amounts to the same thing. Whoever — Jew or non-Jew — advances a campaign against the wellbeing or the existence of the Jewish state is, quite simply, an anti-Semite. It makes no difference if the hater is a Muslim like Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Christian like Jostein Gaarder, an American Jew like Thomas Friedman, or an Israeli Jew like Neve Gordon, he is an enemy of the so-called “Zionist entity” and therefore an anti-Semite. Make no mistake about it.