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Why anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism

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Israel's supporters, or Zionists, are increasingly pushed onto the defensive as the horrible reality of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians hits the headlines. Breaking the ceasefire in December, Israel brutally attacked the almost defenceless population of Gaza, killing 1,330 Palestinians and injuring 5,450 in 25 days. But Nat Silverstein believes Zionists have all but run out of justifications for Israeli war crimes, and as a result they wrongly argue that opposition to Israel means that you are anti-Semitic, i.e. racist against Jews.

Unfortunately this view is not confined to the openly right wing Zionist lobby but is also adopted in mainstream politics, including the EU Monitoring Committee's working definition which says that examples of anti-Semitism could include "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour".

More worryingly, it also extends to the ostensibly socialist organisation, the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, which states in a letter to the Guardian on 12 February 2009 that "the core and root of modern anti-Semitism is the denial of Israel's right to exist and to defend itself. That inexorably leads on to a radical political hostility to most Jews alive."

It cannot be denied that a minority of those protesting against Israel and its war crimes are indeed hostile to Jews. But this error is based precisely on the same conflation that the Zionists and their sympathisers make: that Israel equals Judaism and that it is in the interests of Jews for Israel to continue existing.

In fact, Israel is today by far the most dangerous place in the world for Jews to live, and its aggressive and barbaric acts against both the Palestinians and neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon, have strengthened anti-Semitism around the world.

From the beginning, Zionism represented a capitulation to the view that Jews were somehow a burden on "host" nations - for example, the president of the World Zionist Organisation Chaim Weizmann said in 1912: "Each country can only absorb a limited number of Jews if she doesn't want disorders in her stomach."

The "father" of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, decided after the anti-Semitic Dreyfuss affair in France that he "recognised the emptiness and futility of trying to 'combat' anti-Semitism." For this reason, Jews would have to have a separate state. Yet these views went against the grain of majority Jewish opinion at that time, which favoured fighting for integration and assimilation.

Even in the 1930s, when the growth of fascism meant a huge increase in the oppression of Jews, only 8.5 per cent of Jewish migrants went to Palestine. Those who did need to leave Germany, Austria, etc, for the most part left for the US and, to a lesser extent, Britain. The Zionist movement actually opposed a relaxation of immigration controls for Jews to enter these countries, in order that more would be forced to move to Israel.

Incredibly, Ben Gurion (later to become the first Israeli prime minister) stated in 1938: "If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative." This demonstrates that, just like today, the Zionist movement of the time put its political motives before the actual wellbeing of the Jewish community.

The early Zionists recognised that the creation of a state based on such massive ethnic cleansing would require the backing of a colonial power. Herzl's ally, Vladimir Jabotinsky, wrote in 1923: "If you wish to colonise a land in which people are already living, you must provide a garrison on your behalf.... Zionism is a colonising adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force."

The British government, whose Balfour declaration in 1917 recognised the Zionist settlements springing up in Palestine for the first time, provided this garrison. This support helped Britain in two ways. Firstly, it helped to rid them of the subversive internationalist Jews that they saw as a "worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of ... impossible equality."

Secondly, Israel was in return to play the role of advancing and protecting imperialist interests in the Middle East.

This was clearly spelt out in an article in the newspaper Ha'aretz in 1951, which stated that "strengthening Israel helps the Western powers maintain equilibrium in the Middle East. Israel is to become the watchdog... Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighbouring states whose discourtesy to the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible."

This observation stands today more than ever, with Israel increasingly making threats to Iran, a state that is openly hostile to the imperialist powers.

Israel's political role allows the Zionist lobby to strongly influence the Western discourse, in which any criticism of Israel is labelled anti-Semitic. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the question - how can descendants of those that survived the horrors of Nazi Germany justify inflicting the same kind of brutality and ethnic cleansing on another people?

The pro-Israel lobby continues to rely on the lie that was used to sell Zionism to Jews in the 1940s - that they would be moving to "a land without a people, for a people without a land". Just as this was untrue then - 1948 alone saw 750,000 Palestinians forcefully driven away from their land - it is untrue now. Israel's very existence depends on aggressive expansion into Palestinian territories and a continued denial of rights, let alone the possibility of a viable independent state, to Palestinians.

Today an increasing number of prominent Jews publicly condemned the recent attacks on Gaza. We must encourage more Jews to take this view and to recognise that Israel is fundamentally a racist state.

Revolutionaries must unreservedly oppose anti-Semitism while also opposing Israel and must fight for the right for Palestinians to return to their land.

This does not mean that Jews living in what is now Israel must leave that area, but that they must allow all Palestinians forced out during the Nakba to return, and live together in a state that does not give any privilege based on ethnicity or religion.

Revolutionaries should not be afraid of "offending" those Israelis that actively defend their privileges over Palestinians - it is not anti-Semitic to believe that Palestinians should have equal rights as Jews.