February 2, 2024

SAAR | Why Anti-Zionism Is Antisemitism in Disguise

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Imagine a group of people accused of racism demanding the University adopt a definition of racism that would exempt them.

This, in essence, is what the Cornell Coalition for Mutual Liberation did on Dec. 1 when they demanded Cornell define anti-Zionism as an “ideology” and not antisemitism. It seems Jews are the only minority denied the right to define aggressions against them as bigotry.

Defining Zionism is simple: It is the desire by an indigenous people, the Jews, to return to their ancestral homeland and for those who never left to regain/retain sovereignty. Observant Jews pray three times every day for a return to Jerusalem and an end to their exile from Zion; Jews have been praying for an end to exile for almost 2,000 years.

The Anti-Defamation League, the world’s leading organization fighting antisemitism, has an entire webpage explaining why anti-Zionism is antisemitism in that it attacks the foundational legitimacy of Jewish statehood: “Anti-Zionism is antisemitic, in intent or effect, as it invokes anti-Jewish tropes, is used to disenfranchise, demonize, disparage, or punish all Jews and/or those who feel a connection to Israel, equates Zionism with Nazism and other genocidal regimes, and renders Jews less worthy of sovereignty and nationhood than other peoples and states.”

But there is no need to invoke the ADL’s definition of antisemitism, because Cornell, like every other educational institution in America, has already been supplied with a definition to use by the Department of Education.

When considering violations of Title VI involving accusations of antisemitism, federal agencies are required Under Executive Order 13899 to consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism and the IHRA’s contemporary examples of antisemitism. This means that Cornell, too, must consider the IHRA definition when assessing whether an incident on campus qualifies as antisemitism.

The IHRA definition outlines three categories of antisemitism relating to Israel, which are entirely distinct from criticism of the government of Israel (which is not antisemitic under any definition):

Delegitimize Israel: denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist.” The call “from the river to the sea…” falls under this category. The slogan is a call for a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea — an area which includes the entire State of Israel. The slogan thus calls for the complete elimination of the Jewish state. It is a rallying cry of Hamas and was used in their 2017 charter. 

Demonize Israel: blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions.” Justifying Hamas’ brutal rapes, torture and murders of Israelis on Oct. 7 by saying Israel is to blame falls under this category. The proliferation of numerous blood libels against Israel since Oct. 7 also falls under this category, including false accusations that Israel’s military deliberately targets children. 

Double standard for Israel: applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” Israel has dropped leaflets and made tens of thousands of phone calls urging civilians to evacuate before bombing an area, created humanitarian corridors and canceled missions to avoid civilian casualties. In contrast, Hamas puts its military infrastructure in hospitals, mosques, schools and residences — yet Israel is exclusively blamed for all civilian deaths. 

The demand to redefine anti-Zionism as a benign ideology is clearly antisemitic under the IHRA definition used by the Department of Education, as 530 members of the Cornell community who have signed in support of this opinion piece argue. Anti-Zionism seeks to deny Jews the right to be themselves as a people and a religion. If that’s not antisemitism, what is?

Gideon Saar ’96, ‘2000 is Dr. Philip and Rosalyn Baron Professor of Management and Professor of Finance at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business. His research interests are in market microstructure, behavioral finance and stock market return predictability. He can be reached at [email protected].

Barry Strauss ’74 is a former reporter and editor at The Cornell Daily Sun and the Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor of Humanistic Studies in The College of Arts and Sciences. He is the former chair of Cornell’s Department of History and the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. His research and teaching focuses on lessons from political and military leaders of the ancient world. He can be reached at [email protected].

David Zax is an Associate Professor in The College of Arts & Sciences. His research and teaching focuses on the disorder of structure and dynamics within chemical and biological systems. He can be reached at [email protected]

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