February 12, 2024

LETTER TO THE EDITOR |  Anti-Zionism is not Antisemitism 

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Re “Why Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism in Disguise” (opinion, Feb. 2) 

The guest column by professors Saar, Strauss and Zax argues that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. The title, then, implies that all Jews are Zionists, when, for example, Jewish Voice for Peace, “working towards Palestinian freedom and Judaism beyond Zionism” notes on its website that “Tens of thousands have joined JVP.” Zionism is a late 19th century political ideology that seeks to solve the historic virulence of anti-Semitism in Europe by founding a Jewish state. Zionism, then, is not a part of Jewish tradition, either religiously or culturally. This tradition, beginning with the Old Testament prophets, is a tradition of social justice. The Zionist state of Israel has been violating this tradition since its inception in 1948, beginning with the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians from their native land and continuing through the present moment with the genocide in Gaza. 

While Saar et al claim Jewish indigeneity as the foundation of Jewish rights to historic Palestine, they ignore the rights of the Palestinians who have at least equal claim as Indigenous people of the region. Israel is recognized by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B’Tselem (the principal Israeli human rights organization) as an apartheid state. The conservative International Court of Justice has just declared that the charge of genocide brought against Israel by South Africa is “plausible” and thus will continue to be investigated by the court.

In light of this history of apartheid, the idea, promulgated by Saar et al, that somehow Israel’s historic violence against Palestine is carried out by “humanitarian” means, as if “humanitarian” violence is not itself a contradiction in terms, is belied by the facts on the ground: According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, more than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed to date in Gaza, 70 percent of whom are non-combatants and upward of 12,300 of whom are children and young teens. In addition to which, as stated by Save the Children, 10 Palestinian children are being maimed by Israeli forces every day, supported by the U.S. government through the supplying of armaments to Israel and refusal to call for a ceasefire. This violence is not new and has repeated itself historically: UN figures note that from 2008 to 2020, for every Israeli killed in the ongoing “conflict,” 22 Palestinians, predominantly non-combatants, were killed by the Israeli Defense Forces. As of writing, official and vigilante settler violence is also increasing on the West Bank, with close to 400 Palestinians killed. While not mentioning Israel’s historic violence against Palestinians, Saar et al focuses on Hamas’s Oct. 7 violence against Israelis, thus erasing the history in which this violence took place.

The terms “apartheid” and “genocide” do not appear in the Saar et al article; indeed, the word “Palestinian” appears only once, echoing the colonialist language that fueled Zionism at its inception: “A land without a people for a people without a land.” Historically, Zionism is equated with the erasure of the Palestinian people, both in word and deed.

In opposition to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which Saar et al upholds, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, signed by 350 distinguished scholars of Jewish, Holocaust and Middle East studies, states the following as “on the face of it” not examples of anti-Semitism: “Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism, or arguing for a variety of constitutional arrangements for Jews and Palestinians in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.”  The Declaration goes on to explain, “It is not antisemitic to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants ‘between the river and the sea,’ whether in two states, a binational state, unitary democratic state, federal state, or in whatever form.”

The Jerusalem Declaration of anti-Semitism is: “Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).”

This is the definition that should stand. The danger is that expanding the definition to cover political critiques of Zionism and/or Israel corrupts the historic definition by expanding its meaning to include legitimate political speech, thus inviting a rejection of “antisemitism” as a term that represents a form of racism.


Eric Cheyfitz

Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters

Ananda Cohen-Aponte 

Associate Professor of Art History

Shimon Edelman

Professor of Psychology

Eli Friedman

Associate Professor of Global Labor & Work

Neil Hertz

Professor of English, emeritus

Dan Hirschman 

Associate Professor Department of Sociology

Lois C. Levitan, 

Senior Extension Associate, Dept. Communication, retired.

Risa L. Lieberwitz

Professor of Labor and Employment Law

Noah Tamarkin

Associate Professor

Departments of Anthropology and Science & Technology Studies

Ben Wrubel, 

Archivist, Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives