The politically correct (and safe) attitude for those who wish to distinguish criticism of Israel as a state from anti-Semitism is that Israel is one thing and worldwide Jewry quite another. Intellectually this is a respectable position for many Jews are critical of Israel’s actions and there has always been a residue of Jews who have been opposed to the existence of the modern state of Israel. The problem is that many Jews, including very influential ones, do not make such a clear distinction. Consider these recent words by the Chief Rabbi of Britain Ephraim Mirvis:
“It is astonishing to see figures on the hard Left of the British political spectrum presuming to define the relationship between Judaism and Zionism despite themselves being neither Jews nor Zionists. The likes of Ken Livingstone and Malia Boattia claim that Zionism is separate from Judaism as a faith; that it is purely political; that it is expansionist, colonialist and imperialist.
“It is unclear why these people feel qualified to provide such an analysis of one of the axioms of Jewish belief. But let me be very clear. Their claims are a fiction. They are a wilful distortion of a noble and integral part of Judaism. Zionism is a belief in the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the centre of the Jewish world for more than 3,000 years. One can no more separate it from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain.
“To those who so eagerly reach for a vicious Holocaust reference in order to exact the maximum amount of pain and offence upon “Zionists”, I say: You are spreading that ancient and insidious virus of anti-Semitism. Look around you”
“Open a Jewish daily prayer book used in any part of the world and Zionism will leap out at you. The innumerable references to the land of Israel are inescapable and demonstrative. Throughout our collective history we have yearned for a chance to determine our own future, to revive an ancient language and return to rejoice in our love for this tiny sliver of land. Zionism is a movement celebrated by people right across the political spectrum, all over the world, and requires no endorsement or otherwise of the particular policies of any Israeli Government at any time.”
There are two serious problems with that. To begin with the Chief Rabbi is saying that no one but a Jew or a Zionist (and probably only a Jewish Zionist) is qualified to have an opinion on the subject. That is always the sign of someone without an argument to support their position. Then he makes a claim which to the vast majority of non-Jews and I suspect a considerable number of Jews will seem absurd, namely, that Jews have a claim to a land that they controlled only intermittently during the millennium before the Christian era and which ceased to be even a vassal state of Rome after the Emperor Titus effectively destroyed the ancient kingdom of Israel in 70 AD.
Stripped of all pretension. A people’s right to land of their own is won by occupation and retained by the ability and willingness of a people to defend the territory, whether by their own efforts or in alliance with other people. There is no God-given or legal title to a land. To claim a land as sovereign territory after a lapse of two millennia is best described as bizarre.
The idea of a homeland for the Jews was boosted by the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour during the Great War. What became known as the Balfour Declcaration was contained in this letter:
November 2nd, 1917
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you. on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour
Although it has often been treated as a quasi-legal pledge by Jews , all the Balfour Declaration did was commit the British Government of the day to do was support and facilitate the idea. It is simply a pledge by a government at a particular time. At any time a future British government could simply refuse the commitment. A later British government had no qualms about refusing to honour pledges to Arabs made on the government’s behalf by T. E. Lawrence. It is also worth noting that the Balfour Declaration conflicted with the promises of self-determination Lawrence made to the Arabs. In no way can the Balfour Declaration be considered as providing a legal right to establish the modern state of Israel. Moreover, Balfour’s condition “that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” is problematical to say the least . It is difficult to see how a Jewish Homeland formed not simply from Jews already in Palestine and to be swelled potentially by millions of Jews around the world could not interfere with the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jews already in situ. As for the UN’s vote granting recognition to the
But even putting aside the views such as those held by the Chief Rabbi it is difficult to disentangle anti-Israeli feeling from anti-Semitism. The state of Israel is an explicitly Jewish state which operates what in our very politically correct world would be considered by the politically correct to be a racist immigration policy if practised by any other state – Jews will be, with a few exceptions such as a history of criminality, accepted automatically as citizens under the “right of return” but non-Jews will not (an exception is made for non-Jews who have some Jewish ancestry ). It is also true that Jews outside of Israel do have a strong tendency to be uncritical supporters of Israel, and in the case of the American Jewish lobby, they can exercise a dangerous amount of influence, especially over US foreign policy in the Middle East to support the interests of Israel at the expense of America’s interests. The ex-Labour MP Tam Dalyell expressed similar reservations about undue Jewish influence over British foreign policy in 2003: “Mr Dalyell said: “I am worried about my country being led up the garden path on a Likudnik, [Ariel] Sharon agenda”, adding that “Straw, Mandelson and co” were leading “a tremendous drive to sort out the Middle East”. “ His reward was to be threatened with investigation for inciting race hate.
Nonetheless, despite these serious complications I think a distinction can be made between anti-Semitism and being anti-Israel. Let me use myself as an example. I am against Western support for Israel on the simple British and Western national interest ground that it is a never to be healed running political sore promoting anti-Western sentiment in the Arab world and increasingly so amongst Muslims generally. I would not suggest any positive Western action to overthrow the state. All I advocate is that the West should withdraw, military, economic and diplomatic support from the country. That I would argue is not anti-Semitic merely the following of Western national interest.
The existence of Israel is ultimately to the detriment of Jews generally because it generates hostility to them everywhere, not necessarily from simple anti-Semitism but also because the repeated police/military actions against Arabs and Palestinians in particular represents Israel to the world as brutal. This is a propaganda battle Israelis cannot win.