The on-line magazine Slate recently saw fit to re-publish an article by a self-declared Jewish “anti-Zionist,” who explained that “I do not just condemn the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Rather, I think there is something fundamentally wrong with any state that privileges one ethno-religious group over another.”
Even granting that anti-Zionists aren’t necessarily anti-Semitic, it is highly suspicious that in a region where all but a handful of countries stipulate an official state religion, and where freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law, anti-Zionists find Israel’s brand of ethno-nationalism uniquely “supremacist.” Never mind that Israel has a founding document that extends equal rights to all its citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish. True, Israel often falls short of these ideals, but if anti-Zionists aren’t anti-Semitic they are oddly selective in their target and perversely unmindful of the ways nation-states have defined their own citizens.
In a challenging essay in Haaretz, meanwhile, Peter Beinart asserts that efforts to counter Israel’s “delegitimization” in the United States will not succeed if we only point out the hypocrisies of the anti-Zionist Left. That is because American-born Palestinians “fluently speak” the anti-colonialist language of the American Left, while “younger, secular American Jews do not themselves grasp the necessity of a Jewish state of refuge.” Israel is vulnerable to attack, he writes, precisely when it fails to live up to its democratic ideals and is unable to convince progressives that “Israel can be both a democracy and a Jewish state.”
That’s not to say that the BDS movement and zealous anti-Zionists will call off their attacks once Israel commits to a two-state solution that relinquishes control of and enfranchises Palestinians, Beinart writes. But it does suggest that fighting for democratic principles within Israel and the territories is not, as some right-wing Knesset members insist, a threat to Zionism. Instead, it is exactly what is needed to attract alienated young people.