by Daphna Whitmore
Last week France passed a law that equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. It is based on a definition of anti-Semitism that includes criticism of Israel such as: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” or “by applying double standards to Israel not demanded of any other nation”.
How do Palestinians struggle against their second class status within Israel and the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza now? This law targets the Palestinian resistance and aims to delegitimise any challenge to Zionism.
Similar laws are evident in other parts of Europe and in the US. The US has 27 states that oppose the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, on the premise that the campaign is anti-Semitic.
The wording of the French legislation includes a definition of Israel “as a collective composed of Jewish citizens.” This gives credence to the Nation-State Law in Israel which enshrines the second class status of Palestinians and other non-Jews in Israel.
As Haaretz writer Gideon Levy asks ” If Israel is a collective of Jewish citizens, what are the Palestinian citizens? And what are the subjects living under occupation?”
While some opponents of Zionism may be anti-Semitic, they are not a significant number. The majority of the critics of Israel and Zionism are supporters of democratic rights.
There are also a significant number of Jews who are not Zionist. This includes ultra-orthodox Jews who oppose the modern Jewish state and believe the return of the Jews to Zion and the establishment of a state will be the work of the Messiah in the days to come. Reform Judaism in nineteenth-century Germany held that there is no Jewish people only a community of faith and were also anti-Zionist. There are also leftwing Jews who are anti-Zionist and support the transformation of Israel into a secular democratic state.
Many Jews also oppose the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. James Cohen, a professor at the Sorbonne, is among 127 Jewish intellectuals (including around one third from Israel) who signed a petition against the legislation. He said “Some of the people out there who oppose the policies of the state of Israel, who may even oppose the existence of the state of Israel, might also be anti-Semitic […] but that should not delegitimise the legitimate act of criticising the policies of the state of Israel. And when it comes to the existence of the state of Israel, there are questions that need to be asked whether a one-state solution or a two-state solution could be viable. Why should this discussion not be open?”
Journalist Carolina Landsman writing in Haaretz argues the new definition “doesn’t have anything to do with the fight against anti-Semitism. Don’t let them fool you. This is a crude attempt to harness the battle against anti-Semitism for the benefit of making the occupation and settlement enterprise kosher, and politically silencing the opponents of the occupation by criminalizing the battle to end it. [T]his new definition is a manipulation, and you have to be a European consumed by guilt or an American consumed by political correctness to accept it.”
The legislation banning anti-Zionism is fundamentally an attack on free speech. Abandoning the principle of free speech is regressive and will have perverse outcomes. This legislation, as Gideon Levy points out, means “(e)ven every Jew and every Israeli who supports a solution of one democratic and egalitarian state, precisely in the spirit of the French revolution, is an anti-Semite.”