Jewish Voice for Peace, an American organization that has been highly critical of Israel, announced recently that it is “anti-Zionist.” It is certainly a matter of semantics, as the group’s own executive director acknowledged.
“This doesn’t change anything about our focus or our political analysis,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson. “It just names something that hasn’t been named before.”
On the one hand, at least the group is being honest and not hiding behind the ambiguity they had adhered to until now. On the other hand, it represents a progression in the evolution of the anti-Israel movement.
Until just a few years ago, it was rare for people like those in JVP to say they opposed Israel’s existence. They would claim they were merely opposed to a specific policy or direction of the Israeli government. Now, they admit, they don’t think there should be an Israeli government.
In the same interview in which Vilkomerson made the announcement, she also repeated that “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism.” Again, a few years ago, people said “criticism of Israel is not antisemitism.” This appears to be an evolution.
In what intellectual framework is it acceptable to make a statement like “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism”? The undercurrent of the sentence is that, under no circumstances, by any measure, in no way, is anti-Zionism connected with or affected by antisemitism. Progressive people – which is how JVP and many of Israel’s other critics define themselves – would never dream of dismissing the potential of bigotry toward any other ethnic or cultural group.
More egregiously, Vilkomerson overtly contradicts her very words, acknowledging that there are, indeed, antisemites in the movement.
“Obviously, there are people who are antisemitic or anti-Zionist and there are people who mask their antisemitism with anti-Zionist language. That’s a given,” she says, “but that doesn’t paint anti-Zionism as concept.”
Here is what does paint anti-Zionism as concept: it is a movement utterly unconcerned that there is antisemitism and that there are antisemites within it. The leader of JVP admits that her movement attracts antisemites but expresses not a whiff of displeasure or concern. It is what it is.
“Ever since [the advent of] Zionism there has been anti-Zionism within Jewish communities,” she goes on. This is true. Zionism did not reach a consensus point among European and North American Jews until sometime around the Holocaust. When the implications of Jewish statelessness became the gravest in 2,000 years, a massive majority of Jews worldwide abandoned whatever ambivalent positions they had held and (almost entirely) united to create and support Israel.
There is no false corollary here: the state of Israel was not a “consolation prize” for the Holocaust, as has been suggested on more than one occasion. No one gave the state of Israel to the Jewish people; our ancient homeland was won back through a bloody defensive war and has survived and thrived despite massive external opposition.
We will see if other organizations, including similar Jewish groups in Canada, follow JVP’s suit. We will also continue to see primarily non-Jewish groups argue against Israel’s existence based on an anti-nationalist idealism or more nefarious interests. As we watch these developments, it is worth wondering why, as the first target of a battle against the concept of nationalism, “progressive” activists target Israel. Why not France? Why do Hungarians deserve their own country? What makes Norwegians so special that their nationhood is not called into question?
Closer to the point, Why do the Palestinian people deserve a homeland, which is the stated motivating purpose of JVP and so many other groups, while Israelis do not? Can people who declare “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism” see how these inconsistencies, including the indifference to Jewish statelessness, might make their protests seem hollow?