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The strange phenomenon of Jewish anti-Zionism: self-hating Jews or protectors of universalistic principles?

In the last five years, close to ten major books have been published on Jewish anti-Zionists and other Jewish critics of Israel (Farber 2005a; Figes 2008; Karpf, et al 2008a; Kovel 2007; Kushner & Solomon 2005a; Loewenstein 2006, 2007a; Marqusee 2008; Rabkin 2006; Shatz 2004a). Specific Jewish groups promoting one-sided critiques of Israel such as the Independent Australian Jewish Voices have been established in many Western countries, and an International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network has also been formed. Most recently in March 2009, the highly regarded Encounter program on ABC Radio National devoted an entire session to the views of six local and international Jewish anti-Zionists described as "Voices of Dissent" (Bryson 2009). It would appear on the surface that anti-Zionism has become a growing and significant phenomenon in Jewish life.

The argument of this paper is that there is little if any evidence to support the above proposition.* In reality, anti-Zionists remain a tiny, marginal and generally detested group within Jewish society. There is no serious pro- or anti-Zionism debate within most Jewish communities. The only debate occurs within the minority of Jewish groups who identify with the ideological Left (Shindler 2007), and even there anti-Zionists arguably constitute a small minority.

* I am grateful for constructive comments on an earlier draft from Brian Klug, Bernard Rechter and Judy Singer.

I deliberately omit here the small number of ultra-orthodox Jews who adhere to anti-Zionist views. Their unique perspective necessarily belongs in a separate analysis.

Jewish anti-Zionism is not a new phenomenon, but rather fits clearly into a long-term political tradition whereby some left-wing groups persuade Jewish members to exploit their own religious and cultural origins in order to vilify their own people. As we shall see, there were Jews who defended the 1929 pogroms in Palestine, and there were Jews who endorsed Stalin's anti-Jewish campaigns in the early 1950s. Today there are Jews who support the most extreme Palestinian political demands and acts of violence against the Jewish state of Israel.

Unlike some commentators, I do not believe that Jewish anti-Zionists can be classified as "self-hating" Jews. Rather, Jewish anti-Zionism is a political not psychological phenomenon. Most Jewish anti-Zionists do not positively identify as Jews in terms of any collective cultural, religious or ethnic/national connection with other Jews. Rather, their Jewish identity appears to be solely negative based on a fanatical rejection of Zionism and Israel.

Jewish anti-Zionists are perhaps on firmer ground in claiming to defend universalistic human rights principles against narrower Jewish particularism. But their universalism is overtly partial. They are generally only interested in advocating for Palestinian and Arab national and human rights, and have little or no interest in defending the collective rights of Israeli Jews or Jews elsewhere.


In this paper, I will be carefully distinguishing between Jewish anti-Zionists and alternatively other Jews who are critical of Israeli policies but nevertheless support Israel's continued existence as a Jewish state. I define contemporary anti-Zionism as a view which regards Israel as a racist and colonialist state which should be eliminated in favour of an exclusivist ethno-religious Arab state of Greater Palestine--sometimes disingenuously called a secular state--in which Israeli Jews would continue to exist as at best a tolerated religious minority. Jewish anti-Zionists reject any notion of ethnic or religious solidarity with Israeli Jews whom they regard as inherently evil oppressors. Rather, their sympathies and loyalties lie with the Palestinians whom they construct as defenseless victims.

In contrast, many Jews are supporters of two states which means that they support the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign Jewish state within roughly the pre-1967 Green Line borders, and equally the right of the Palestinians to an independent state within the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They recognise that not all Israelis are the same, and understand the difference between particular Israeli government policies and the Israeli people per se. Most are critical of specific Israeli policies such as the West Bank settlements or the security fence, but still support Israel's right to defend itself from Palestinian or Arab violence (Mendes 2007:106-107).

This distinction is important for three reasons. Firstly as we will see, some conservative critics of Jewish anti-Zionism erroneously label all Jews who criticise Israel as "self-hating" Jews irrespective of whether they support Israel's existence. Secondly, Jewish anti-Zionists often join in broad coalitions with non-Zionist Jews and even left Zionist Jews in an attempt to fudge criticism of their own views. Conversely, some Jewish critics of Israel are the strongest and most effective critics of the simplistic solutions offered by Jewish anti-Zionists precisely because they recognise the complexity of the conflict. Thirdly, anti-Zionism is offensive to the large majority of Jews given that the destruction of Israel would almost certainly involve at best the creation of millions of new Jewish refugees, and at worst the massacre and genocide of most of the Israeli Jewish population. Such an outcome would have a catastrophic psychological effect on Jews worldwide.

Part 1: The historical context of Jewish anti-Zionism

Prior to the Holocaust, Zionism existed as a minority movement throughout most of the Jewish world. It has been estimated that even in Poland, for example, only twenty-five to thirty per cent of Jews supported Zionism during the two inter-war decades (Rubinstein 2001:14-15). Many Jews appear to have regarded Zionism as an extremist movement with utopian, if not politically dangerous, objectives. Ideological opposition to Zionism was particularly strong from three sources.

Jewish socialists including the numerically significant Bundists opposed Zionism as a reactionary diversion from the task of fighting antisemitism and defending Jewish rights in the Diaspora. In contrast to anti-Zionists today, however, they displayed little interest in the rights of Palestinian Arabs. Many Reform and assimilated Jews defined their Jewishness in solely religious rather than ethnic terms. And many Orthodox Jews believed that the rebuilding of the Jewish homeland must await the coming of the Messiah (Glanz 2005; Kessler 2001; Rubinstein 2001:22-23).

However, following the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel, Jewish opposition to Zionism largely vanished. Religious Jews gradually came to see Zionism as a fulfilment, rather than a contravention, of Jewish religious destiny. Many Bundists and socialists remained critical of Zionism's negation of the Jewish Diaspora, but in practice offered strong support for the State of Israel. In general, Jews increasingly turned to national, rather than internationalist solutions (Mendes 1999:499-500).

To be sure, significant organisations were formed in Australia and Britain respectively in the mid- to late 1940s to oppose the creation of a Jewish State, but they quickly disappeared (Medding 1968:130-135; Miller 2001; Rubinstein 1987:303-321). Over time, only pockets of Jewish ideological resistance to Zionism remained. They included, for example, marginal and eccentric groups such as the American Council for Judaism formed by a group of reform Rabbis in 1942, and the ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta movement based in Jerusalem (Berger 1978; Kolsky 1990; Menuhin 1969:325-361, 542-566; Menuhin 1984:222-243; Urofsky 1978:66-72). They also included some Jews on the radical Left whose opposition to Zionism arguably reflected a much older and highly malevolent political tradition.

The radical Left, Antisemitism and anti-Zionism

Historically, some of the most prominent Jewish revolutionaries including Marx, Ferdinand Lassalle, Victor Adler, and Trotsky, were noted for their hostility or at least indifference to Jews. This tendency for Jewish radicals to take sides against the aspirations of their own people reflected a specific denial of the Jewish experience of oppression.

For example, the Jewish-born leaders of the early twentieth century Austrian socialist movement, Victor Adler and Otto Bauer, publicly equated antisemitism and philo-Semitism, insisted that philo-Semitism was identical with the defense of "Jewish capitalism," allowed antisemitism in their publications, and declined to defend individuals who had been victims of antisemitic attack. When the Socialist International called for protest meetings against the infamous blood libel trial of Menachem Beilis in 1911, Adler refused, reportedly exclaiming, "Jews and more Jews. As if the entire world revolved around the Jewish question" (Wistrich 1976:98-114).

However, other Jewish socialists did express concern about specifically Jewish issues, and solidarity with Jewish victims of antisemitism. They included, for example, leading activists such as Julius Martov, Bernard Lazare, Moses Hess, Paul Axelrod, Leon Blum, and Eduard Bernstein plus the tens of thousands of Jews involved in the rank and file of the Jewish Labor Bund and labour Zionist groups (Liebman 1979:16; Mendes 1999:495-496).

The division between these two viewpoints appeared to reflect the broad spectrum of Left views regarding the Jewish question. On the one hand, the statements of Adler and Bauer reflected a viewpoint that was once widespread in the socialist movement equating Jews with the worst excesses of international capitalist finance and banking. There was, therefore, no reason for the working class to recognise any positive aspects of Jewish identity and culture, or to display any solidarity with persecuted Jews. However, the alternative viewpoint which gradually gained ascendancy in the socialist movement, recognised that many Jews were workers who experienced oppression on both class and ethnic grounds. This viewpoint implied that workers should defend Jews against antisemitic attacks (Mendes 1995).

Nevertheless, the first viewpoint tended to reignite when tensions emerged between the Left and the Jews over particular issues such as Soviet antisemitism and Israel. On these occasions, the Left would cynically present Jewish party members as the good Jews, (some such as Gal 1989:138 and Rosenberg 1973 call them "Uncle Toms"), who were willing to act as witnesses against the bad Jews. However, Jews were now denounced as Zionists, rather than as capitalists.

The Soviet Union had its own group of "House Jews" dating back to the Evsektsia-the Jewish section of the Communist Party--in the early 1920s who were used to attacking traditional Jewish religion and culture (Shepherd 1993:137-138, 166-169). In later decades, other Jews would be publicly paraded by the Soviet regime to disprove external charges of antisemitism. But the manipulation of Jewish communists outside the Soviet Union was equally malevolent.

For example, in 1929 there were Arab massacres of Jewish civilians in a number of cities of Palestine including Safed, Jerusalem and Hebron. 133 people died, and about 300 were wounded. The Jewish section of the American Communist Party initially responded (as did the Soviet media) by calling these murders a "pogrom," and laying blame at the feet of British imperialism. However, the Soviets then changed their political line, justifying what was now called a legitimate national revolutionary uprising, and blaming Zionism alone for the violence. The Jewish Communists in the USA and elsewhere were forced to endorse this new position which effectively meant siding with the murderers of Jews (Epstein 1945:223-233; Kann 1981:154; Laquer 1956:83-85; Srebrnik 2008:46-52).

In January 1953, Stalin introduced the famous Doctors Plot, which involved six prominent Jewish doctors who were falsely accused of plotting to kill Stalin and other Soviet leaders. It appears that Stalin was also planning at this time to deport a large proportion of the Russian Jewish population to Siberia (Gilboa 1971:293-335). The Doctors Plot was defended by many Jewish Communists. For example, French Jewish Communist Maxime Rodinson dismissed the allegations of Soviet antisemitism as "grotesque." Rodinson openly endorsed the Soviet conspiracy theories linking Israel and international Zionism to American imperialism. For Rodinson, Zionism was the means by which "treason penetrated the socialist world" (Caute 1964:202-204).

In the UK, the prominent Jewish communist Andrew Rothstein wrote an article in the Party magazine explaining why the Jewish doctors were guilty. This ironically appeared after Stalin had died and the doctors had been released (Taylor 2008:254). The veteran Canadian Jewish Communist Morris Biderman similarly describes how an antisemitic Jew was used to deflect well-documented accusations of Soviet antisemitism in the Canadian Communist Party (Biderman 2000:150-152).

This opportunistic practice has become particularly widespread since the Six Day War with prominent anti-Zionists, whose identify is solely political rather than Jewish, highlighting their Jewish background in order to evade serious questioning of their views and motivations including potentially the influence of antisemitism (Mendes 1996:99-100, 106, 119-120). Lamm (1977) argues that many Jews are bullied by left-wing groups to declare their position on Israel, and are then expected to act as "Court Jews" who publicly condemn Zionism and Israel whenever other Jews express pro-Israel views.

In Australia, for example, a small group of Marxist Jews formed the Jews Against Zionism and Antisemitism (JAZA) group in 1979 to defend community radio station 3CR against well-documented accusations of anti-Jewish racism. JAZA played the role of good Jews who were willing to place the class struggle ahead of national solidarity, and support the Palestinians. In contrast, the overwhelming majority of Jews who supported the continued existence of Israel were denounced as bad Jews irrespective of their diverse positions on Israeli/Palestinian conflict resolution (Mendes 2002).

Similarly, Jewish anti-Zionists in the UK have jumped in to defend those who seek to shift the blame or responsibility for the Holocaust from the Nazi perpetrators to the Jewish victims. For example, the left-wing British writer Jim Allen's 1987 play Perdition was widely denounced as victim-blaming and antisemitic for suggesting that Jewish collaborators as well as the Nazis were responsible for the murder of Hungarian Jewry. Yet Allen's narrative relied heavily on the historical arguments of Jewish anti-Zionists such as Lenni Brenner and Akiva Orr, and a number of other prominent Jewish anti-Zionists including Uri Davis, Noam Chomsky, Maxime Rodinson, John Rose and Tony Greenstein quickly sprung to his defence (Allen 1987). More recently, the UK movement for an academic boycott of Israel has also had a number of prominent Jewish voices including Stephen and Hilary Rose who have cynically highlighted their Jewish background in order to neutralise allegations of antisemitism (Gerstenfeld 2005; 2007; Hirsh 2007:109-110).

The most offensive use of a pseudo Jewish identity arguably occurs when Jewish anti-Zionists highlight and exploit the Holocaust survivor background of their parents or family in order to justify their attacks on Israel. For example, Figes (2008:148) argues that her late German-born grandfather who died in a concentration camp would have been appalled by Israel's actions, and Independent Jewish Voices activist Ruth Tenne (2009) uses her grandparents' death in the Holocaust to justify spurious analogies between the Nazis and Israel. Similar statements have been made by British Labour Parliamentarian Gerald Kaufman, and American Jewish academic Sara Roy. Yet any serious survey of Holocaust survivors and their families would almost certainly find that the vast majority furiously reject these statements, and offer strong support for the State of Israel.

Part 2: Are Jews evenly divided between Zionists and anti-Zionists?

Jewish anti-Zionists often emphasise that there was a long history of Jewish opposition to and struggle against Zionism, and that Zionism had been a minority movement before the World War II (Glanz 2005). However, this historical argument ignores the reality that most Jews today view support for Zionism and Israel as a fundamental component of their Jewish identity. This is particularly the case in English-speaking countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, and the USA.

For example, a 1991 survey of Melbourne Jews asked how they felt when international events put Israel in danger. Twenty-eight per cent stated that their feelings would be "as strong as if danger was to self," whilst more than half (fifty-eight per cent) responded that they would feel "special alarm because it is Israel." Another twelve per cent indicated they would be "more concerned than if it was another country," and only two per cent would feel "the same as if any country was in danger" (Goldlust 1993:155).

A more recent study found that the centrality of Israel to Australian Jewish life and identity was reflected in and reinforced by the following communal structures and frameworks: the significant political influence of Zionist organisations, Zionist education in the Jewish day-school system, high participation rates in the Zionist youth movements, the pro-Israel activities of Jewish university student groups, regular coverage of Israel in the Jewish media, extensive fundraising for Israel, a high number of visits to Israel and a disproportionate rate of aliyah, and significant political advocacy on behalf of Israel (Ben-Moshe 2004).

Similarly, a survey of British Jews found that they supported Israel through fundraising activities, political advocacy, and emigration to Israel. Eighty per cent expressed a strong or moderate attachment to Israel, seventy-seven per cent had visited Israel, and sixty-seven per cent had close friends or relatives living in Israel. Overall there was a close relationship between personal and emotional attachment to Israel, and Jewish identity (Miller, Schmool & Lerman 1996:7-8). US studies have also confirmed the centrality of Israel to Jewish life and identity as reflected in communal structures, fund raising, political activity, education, and religious observance (Ginsberg 2001:21-23).

One manifestation of this pro-Israel identity has been the belief that Diaspora Jews should unite in support of Israeli policies. This unified support is seen as enhancing Israel's international standing. Conversely, Diaspora Jewish criticism of Israel is depicted as dividing the Jewish people, and giving heart to those who wish to harm the State of Israel. This attitude is dominant in English-speaking Jewish communities, and has been reflected in constant attempts to censor or silence the minority of Jews who do not unconditionally support Israel (Brettschneider 1996).

However, recent studies suggest a more fluid and diverse Jewish identity amongst the younger generation. There is some evidence that younger Jews, many of whom intermarry, do not feel the same emotional and psychological attachment as their parents to the idea and reality of Israel, and that a number are indifferent or even hostile to the Jewish State (Ben-Moshe; Cohen & Kelman 2007; Samowicz 2008). Lerman (2008; 2009) argues with some validity that we should not "essentialise" Jewish identity by requiring anyone who identifies as Jewish to adhere to certain uniform beliefs including support for Zionism and Israel. Rather, there can be legitimate multiple definitions of Jewish identity based on religion, ethnicity, culture or small parts of such frameworks.

However, most young Jews do assume a continuing close relationship with Israel. Where they may differ from their parents is that some are more willing to be critical of Israeli policies in just the same way that they are critical of specific Australian government policies (Ben-Moshe 2006). In contrast, Jewish anti-Zionists reject any intrinsic connection between Jews and Israel, and seem to apply a virtual time warp framework whereby the 1947-1948 debate about whether or not to create Israel is yet to be resolved. It is not only that they seek to test the furthest boundaries of what constitutes a legitimate Jewish identification by suggesting that Palestinian Arab lives and aspirations should always take precedence over Israeli Jewish lives and aspirations. But additionally their pride in prioritising universal values over tribal loyalty seems to involve adopting extreme political positions that regard most Jews as the enemy.

Nevertheless, contemporary forms of communication such as the internet have made it easier for anti-Zionist Jews to disseminate their ideas even when they are excluded from mainstream Jewish communal institutions and media. Within this context, some have begun to spruik and in many cases exaggerate what is surely at best a tiny level of support including making false claims that Jews are split on this issue (Hirsh 2007:120). For example, Farber (2005c:15) argues that in recent years there has been a "marked increase in the number of Jews prepared to criticise Israel." This may or may not be true, but Farber provides no empirical data to support his assertion, and also fails to make the important distinction between Jewish supporters of a two-state solution, and Jewish anti-Zionists. Similarly, Marqusee (2008a:vii) argues that "increasing numbers of Jews are interrogating and rejecting Zionism," but provides no evidence in favour of this proposition.

The UK Jewish Socialist Group is perhaps on firmer ground in arguing, in relation to the recent Gaza conflict, that "Israeli policy has also helped create an unprecedented level of criticism and opposition within Jewish communities around the world from whom Israeli governments have traditionally garnered political and material support. Jews in many countries have played a full and prominent part in protest activities. In Britain the numbers of Jews marching together against Israel's war policies have been completely unprecedented" (Jewish Socialist Group 2009:2). However, this statement significantly makes no distinction between Jews who are specifically critical of Israel's actions in Gaza, and Jewish anti-Zionists who reject Israel's existence.

A key strategy used by Jewish anti-Zionists is to form coalitions with other Jews, who are critical of Israeli policies but do not necessarily share their anti-Zionism, in order to expand their potential support base. For example, the formation of the Independent Jewish Voices group in the UK, which includes prominent anti-Zionists such as Jacqueline Rose and Lynne Segal in its Steering Group, attracted considerable attention. But the IJV is not formally an anti-Zionist group.

The founding statement of the IJV could easily have been written by non-Zionists and/or Left Zionist supporters of the mainstream Israeli peace movement. The statement urged a universal upholding of human rights in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, an equal concern to achieve peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians, a rejection of racism directed against Jews or Arabs or Muslims, an open and free debate on Israeli policies, and a negotiated peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples (Independent Jewish Voices 2007; see also Klug 2007). Arguably just as important was what the statement did not say. It did not articulate the anti-Zionist view that Israel was a racist and colonialist state that should be destroyed. Nor did it argue that only Palestinian and not Israeli national and human rights should be respected.

Nevertheless, the IJV did emphasise the importance of prioritising universalism over what it defined as a narrow Jewish ethnocentrism, arguing that its views would "reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights and social justice" (IJV 2007). But noticeably the IJV did not explain via any religious or cultural terms the specifically Jewish basis of these universal values.

An edited book based on 27 chapters by IJV members or supporters also featured similar contradictions. Only two of the contributors--Lynne Segal and Mike Marqusee--openly declared themselves anti-Zionists, nobody proposed an academic boycott of Israel, and there was little advocacy of a one-state solution. But virtually all contributors emphasised their shared belief in "universal principles of justice and human rights," and their refusal to assess Israeli policies "through a narrow ethnocentric lens" (Karpf, et al 2008b:viii).

A more blunt and openly anti-Zionist statement was issued by about 100 British Jews including some supporters of the IJV on the sixtieth anniversary of Israel in April 2008. The signatories of this statement stated that they as "Jews would not be celebrating" Israel's anniversary because of its oppression of Palestinians past and present. They specifically accused Israel of "denying to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations." This statement made no attempt to affirm the rights of Israeli Jews other than an oblique comment that "we will celebrate when Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East" (Alexander, et al 2008).

Part 3: Are Jewish anti-Zionists self-hating Jews?

Conservative Jewish commentators have often argued that Jewish critics of Israel are self-hating Jews in an attempt to politically discredit their arguments. Self-hatred is an alleged psychological condition which involves members of despised low-status racial, religious or sexual minority groups identifying with the values and prejudices of the majority group and internalising their stereotypes (Allport 1954:146-148; Cohen 1980:181-182; Glazer 1971:61; Gottlieb 1979:29-30; Lewin 1941).

However, most of these commentators (e.g. Leibler 2009; Plaut 2006; Rosenfeld 2006; Schoenfeld 2004:130-139) fail to distinguish Jewish anti-Zionists from those Jews who are critical of specific Israeli policies, but still support the existence of Israel. For example, the American Jewish academic Edward Alexander edited a text which attacked not only well-known anti-Zionists such as Israel Shahak and former PLO representative Ilan Halevy, but also prominent supporters of two states such as Israeli politicians Yossi Sarid and Dedi Zucker, journalist Thomas Friedman and Tikkun community activists Michael Lerner and Arthur Waskow. Alexander implied that all these Jews were guilty of antisemitism (1992:4). An Italian Jewish academic, Emanuele Ottolongehi (2005:45), suggested that a spectrum of Jewish critics of Israel were "acting out their personal identity problems in public."

The American pro-Israel lobby group Camera (2008) published a volume attacking alleged Jewish defamation of Israel which castigated not only anti-Zionists such as Marc Ellis and Joel Kovel, but also prominent advocates of two states such as Michael Lerner and Amos Elon. One of the contributors to the volume, Kenneth Levin, accused Jewish critics of Israel of engaging in a process of self-hate whereby they embraced the positions of Israel's enemies in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with those enemies.

Even blunter was the British conservative Melanie Phillips (2007) who accused the Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) group of being "accomplices of those who wish to destroy the Jewish people," and labelled them "Jews for genocide." Some British Jewish critics even put their words into practice by abusing IJV members holding an anti-Israeli rally with words such as "traitors" and "kapos," a term used for Jewish collaborators in Nazi concentration camps (Klug 2009).

Now there is some evidence that significant Jewish self-hatred may have existed in particular historical and political contexts when Jews seeking to assimilate into modern societies were confronted with demands to abandon any behavioural characteristics that distinguished them from the majority culture (Gilman 1986; Vidal-Naquet 1996:122; Wistrich 1976:6-7). However, it is hard to make an empirical case for Jewish self-hatred today, given the absence of significant antisemitism in most Western societies. There is little if any benefit to be gained today by individual Jews who express dislike or distaste for other Jews. Moreover, they are likely to earn almost universal detestation from their fellow Jews. In contrast, I would argue that any serious analysis of Jewish anti-Zionists and their beliefs needs to concentrate on their political rather than Jewish or psychological motivations (Cohen 1980:184-189; Green 2005:246; Laquer 1971:41; Lerman 2008:46; 2009; Liebman 1979:16).

Most Jewish anti-Zionists appear to propose two key reasons for rejecting Zionism and Israel. One is that they view Jews only as a religious group, and not as an ethnic or national community. They reject the existence of states based on religion as racist and undemocratic, and contrary to the liberal values of the Enlightenment (Farber 2005b:10). However, this argument is wishful thinking since it erroneously assumes that Jews are not a nation, and therefore, neither need nor are entitled to a national state or homeland. In fact, most Jews today perceive themselves to be a nation who are just as entitled as any other group to national self-determination.

This argument also appears to confuse ethnicity and nationalism with race and racism. Most Jews would arguably define themselves as part of a Jewish people with common cultural characteristics and beliefs. However, this Jewish people or nation incorporates enormous variation in terms of language, religious beliefs and racial origins. There are Ashkenasi Jews, Sephardi Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and so on. The common factor is not religion per se given that an increasing number of Jews are secular, but rather shared beliefs, values and identity. Overwhelmingly, this includes a close identification with Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.

A second argument from Jewish anti-Zionists is that universal values and human rights should always take priority over what they label as the narrow tribal loyalty associated with Jewish support for Israel (Farber 2005c:12; Kovel 2005:60; 2007:8; Shatz 2004b:xiv). This is, however, a very partial application of universal rights. Most Jewish anti-Zionists do not seek to protect the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians, rather they are only concerned with defending Palestinian rights.

In addition, few if any Jewish anti-Zionists offer positive reasons for publicly claiming a Jewish identity, and most appear to have little or no interest in or knowledge of Jewish history, values and culture. They also deny any sense of solidarity with other Jews, and present no positive vision for restructuring Jewish communal activities. Nor do they identify with any poor or disadvantaged groups within Jewish society. Their rejection of Zionism and Israel appears to be a purely negative emotion. For example, Kovel acknowledges that his anti-Zionism is driven by his long-term estrangement from and rejection of Judaism (2007:1-7), and Marqusee admits that it is a "negative identity" which forms part of a wider Left (but not specifically Jewish) "opposition to racism and inequality" (2008a:viii).

To be sure, some Jewish anti-Zionists cryptically suggest that they are "rediscovering or reactivating aspects of their Jewish heritage in new ways" (Kuper 2008:97). Others claim to be motivated by their interpretation of what they call the historical Jewish moral and spiritual tradition of critical inquiry and/or the ethical ideals of Judaism, but they rarely spell out in any detail how this tradition can be inveighed to support a contemporary anti-Zionist rather than pro-Zionist position (Farber 2005c; Kushner & Solomon 2005b; Marqusee 2008a:62-67; Rose 2008:93-94; Shatz 2004b:xi).

One prominent IJV member and Jewish anti-Zionist, Mike Marqusee, openly acknowledges that such an interpretation of the Jewish prophetic tradition is at best contentious, stating: "As it exists in the Bible, the prophetic tradition is open-ended and often contradictory. Alongside the calls for social justice, the championing of the poor against the rich, the denunciations of oppressive rulers are calls for genocide, assertions of collective ethnic guilt and a misogyny the Taliban could cite as precedent. Both Zionists and anti-Zionists, liberals and fundamentalists can find succour in the prophetic texts" (Marqusee 2008b:221).

There is also little evidence of any existing commitment to Jewish communal life. A number of other UK Jewish leftists have pointed out in relation to Independent Jewish Voices, for example, that most of their spokespersons have actively distanced themselves from the Jewish collective (Kahn-Harris 2008; Shindler 2007). Novelist Linda Grant, for example, commented: "I can't speak for the intentions of IJV, but if their collective membership wants to have any impact on the majority of the non-Guardian reading British Jews, they need to take the conversation to the places where Jews are: in their synagogues, at their youth groups, in their voluntary organizations. They need to acknowledge the central role that Israel plays in contemporary Jewish life, how it is now part and parcel of Jewish identity. IJV focuses on the controlling influence of the Jewish establishment, the chief rabbi's office and the Board of Deputies, but these bodies do not dictate Jewish views on Israel, for good or ill, they merely reflect them" (Grant 2007).

Another left-wing Jew, John Strawson is even blunter, stating: "Many who participate in public letter-writing, sign manifestos, write articles, and join demonstrations against Israel, and who also announce themselves publicly as Jews in making that criticism, are not otherwise visible in any aspect of the life of the Jewish people ... They announce that they are Jews only in order to add impact to their criticism, whereas the claim of being Jews only adds that impact because it raises an assumption of identification with the community which is in fact absent. If criticize they must, it would be more honest for those individuals at least to write simply as individuals, not as Jews" (Strawson 2007).

I would therefore argue that there is little if anything that is authentically "Jewish" about their anti-Zionism unless they also demonstrate a significant positive commitment to Jewish life. Despite the pleadings of some (Marqusee 2008a:ix), it is arguably not unfair in many cases to characterise their presentation of a Jewish identification as little more than an expedient political strategy.

In contrast, many Jewish Left groups, which are critical of Israeli policies but still support Israel's existence, seem far more genuine when they align their criticism of Israeli policies with specific Jewish religious and spiritual values and morality. For example, the US Tikkun magazine annually publishes an alternative Haggadah Supplement which explains why Israeli actions towards the Palestinians have violated traditional Jewish teachings about love and justice and peace. The latest 2009 Supplement states:

Israel, which describes itself as "the State of the Jewish people," has failed to embody the highest values of the Jewish tradition in the way that it treats our brothers and sisters the Palestinians. The human rights violations and the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, the seizing of Arab lands, the imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians without trial and the revelations by Israeli soldiers themselves of acts of brutality in Gaza and the West Bank are not isolated incidents. They are not the product of evil soldiers. They are the inevitable consequence of imposing and enforcing occupation. We are not Jews who reject Israel or think it is the worst human rights violator on the planet! The US role in Iraq, the genocide in Darfur, the repression of Buddhism in Tibet, and the extremes of repression in Iran and several Arab states are moral outrages of equal or greater proportion. Nor do we excuse the human rights violations and terrorism perpetrated by Hamas. Every act of violence against civilians must be vehemently opposed.

Tonight at our Seder table, and again on the High Holidays, we affirm that our special responsibility as Jews is to look critically at our own individual and communal behavior. It would be hypocritical to celebrate the freedom achieved from slavery while ignoring the ways that we as Americans and/or as Jews and/or as supporters of the state of Israel have been acting as Pharaoh to the Palestinian people. Now it is we who are powerful, and when our Jewish community aligns with the use of power in heartless and cruel ways against another people we feel deep grief. Our Torah says: "When you come into your land, do not oppress the stranger. Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt." The Torah commands us positively: "Thou shalt love the stranger" (Lerner 2009a; see also Lerner 2009b)

Tikkun can in my opinion credibly draw these analogies because they have consistently demonstrated their commitment to the well-being of Jews and Israel. Other Jewish critics of Israel also seem to have some plausible Jewish identity. Howard Cooper, a reform Rabbi who is active in the UK Independent Jewish Voices group, has regularly provided an argument based on Jewish biblical values and beliefs to support his views. But Cooper states clearly that he is a supporter of two states, rather than Israel's destruction (Cooper 2008, cited in Bryson 2009).

The editor of Tikkun magazine, Rabbi Michael Lerner, who has himself been accused of being a self-hating Jew by Jewish conservatives, actually prescribes a test for the Jewish anti-Zionists. According to Lerner, only "those who have a strong loving connection to the Jewish people or to Judaism," have a right to use their Jewishness as a justification for their criticism of Israel or Jews. Lerner suggests a number of positive expressions of Jewishness such as combatting antisemitism, participating in Jewish cultural activities, or supporting Jewish social welfare organisations, that can be used to test the commitment to Jewishness of such persons. Those who display no positive commitment to Judaism, yet persist in using their Jewishness as a fork on which to display their hostility to Israel, can legitimately be labelled self-hating Jews (Lerner 1992:104-105).

I would personally remove the reference to "self-hating Jews," and argue that it is just straight-out anti-Jewish racism. As the UK scholar David Hirsh argues in relation to supporters of the proposed academic boycott of Israel: "Jews too can make antisemitic claims, use antisemitic images, support antisemitic exclusions and play an important, if unwitting, part in preparing the ground for the future emergence of antisemitic movement" (2007:13).

In offering this criticism, I am not ruling out the possibility of an authentic Jewish anti-Zionist group based on traditional Bundist principles. Bundist groups still exist today in a number of countries based on a solid commitment to Jewish culture and ethnicity in the Diaspora as a key component of their identity. These groups have largely come to terms with the centrality of Israel to contemporary Jewish life, but still maintain their distance from Zionist-inclined activities. However, their critique of Zionism (which they mostly call a non-Zionist rather than anti-Zionist perspective) forms an insignificant component of their overall Jewish activities (Slucki 2007). In contrast, most Jewish anti-Zionists today seem obsessed with attacking Zionism at the expense of any positive Jewish identification.

Part 4: The Australian debate

The Australian debate has largely mirrored the UK debate. The Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) group was formed in February 2007 as a virtual carbon copy of the IJV. However, according to at least two persons associated with IAJV, the group does not formally exist as an organisation. It has no constitution, no membership list, no established procedures for deciding organisational views or strategies, no official policy positions, and no elected leadership (Brull 2009a; IAJV 2008; Levey 2009). Nevertheless, most of the media construct IAJV as a traditional political group with recognised spokespersons.

The IAJV has pursued a similar strategy to the British IJV of forming broader coalitions with more moderate critics of Israel. The founding statement of the IAJV, for example, which was signed by over 500 Australian Jews, condemned violence by both sides, and urged recognition of the legitimate national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians including Israel's right to exist and the Palestinians' right to a homeland. The statement also specifically defended the right of Jews to criticise Israeli actions without being labelled as disloyal or self-hating Jews by Jewish establishment organizations. It advocated the protection of universal human rights for all groups in the Middle East, and condemned racism against Jews and all minority groups (IAJV 2007). Noticeably, while the statement did not incorporate any anti-Zionist statements calling for Israel's destruction, it made no reference to any specific Jewish values or beliefs. IAJV convenor Antony Loewenstein has acknowledged that it contained "little more than motherhood statements" designed to "challenge Jews to recognise the suffering caused by their homeland" (2007b).

The IAJV statement was immediately attacked by a number of conservative commentators. Dr Colin Rubenstein from the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council argued that the signatories were being duped by "a miniscule number of Jewish-born individuals who have adopted the ugly but increasingly common belief that alone among the world's nations Israel has no right to exist." And visiting UK journalist Melanie Phillips added that IAJV could potentially be "paving the way for a second genocide" (Frenkel 2007). In a further statement, Rubenstein alleged that IAJV's "prime movers" such as Antony Loewenstein were anti-Zionists who opposed Israel's existence (2007). He also argued that many of the other signatories had no record of involvement with Jewish communal life and institutions, and had disingenuously identified themselves as Jewish solely in order to deflect criticism when they issued unfair attacks on Jews and Israel.

As we shall see, Rubenstein was probably correct in describing Loewenstein and some of the other IAJV convenors as committed anti-Zionists. He was also correct in questioning the Jewish bona fides of some of the other signatories. Nevertheless, he was wrong in not acknowledging that many of the signatories were actively involved in the community, and did hold reasonable beliefs about alternative views not being adequately reflected in community discourse (Levey 2007a; 2007b). He also arguably failed to explicitly distinguish between anti-Zionist perspectives, and those that recognised Israel's right to exist, but were critical of particular Israeli policies.

In contrast, academic and IAJV signatory Dennis Altman, who is not an anti-Zionist, argued that it rightly prioritised universalistic principles of opposition to racism and support for human rights over narrower Jewish tribal loyalties (2007). But he did not provide any specifically Jewish rationale in support of his universalistic position. Nor did IAJV co-convenor Peter Slezak, who argued simply that many IAJV signatories "feel allegiances and moral responsibility to a wider group of fellow human beings" beyond the Jewish community (2007).

The IAJV also issued a statement during the January 2009 Gaza conflict which was signed by over 200 Australian Jews. This statement criticised the Israeli attack on Gaza as disproportionate both in terms of the firepower used and the resulting civilian casualties, and also condemned the associated Israeli blockade. However, the statement also acknowledged Israel's right to protect its civilians from rocket attacks, and urged an end to attacks on civilians by both Israelis and Palestinians (Loewenstein, et al 2009). Though the statement did not include any anti-Zionist rhetoric challenging Israel's existence, it suggested no specifically Jewish rationale for the views expressed.

On another occasion, however, the convenors of IAJV revealed their true colours when they canvassed support from the signatories of their founding statement for a pro-Palestinian advertisement in The Australian which implicitly called for the destruction of Israel (Berkovic 2008). This action provoked a backlash from other leftwing Jews. For example, the non-Zionist Australian Jewish Democratic Society, which supports Israel's existence but vigorously opposes the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, dissociated themselves from the IAJV and the advertisement, citing its extreme, inflammatory and one-sided language (AJDS 2008; Levin 2008).

A number of the IAJV convenors formally reject Israel's existence. Antony Loewenstein stated in the first edition of his book that he "supported the state of Israel and believed in its existence" (2006:xi). But he now calls himself an anti-Zionist Jew who advocates Israel's transformation into a bi-national state (2007a:xxviii; 2008a:278; 2008c). Loewenstein argues that he and many other anti-Zionist Jews reject Israel's claim "to speak in our name. Its action deeply shames us. We will cry out publicly against her crimes. We will work to isolate her from the list of civilized nations" (2009). Loewenstein justifies his views by reference to universalistic principles. He clarifies that he is "a human being first and a Jew second." He keenly cites other Jews such as Naomi Klein, Tony Kushner and Gerald Kaufman, who are also critical of Israeli actions. But nowhere does he provide a Jewish basis for his anti-Zionism (2009).

The IAJV co-convenor, Dr Peter Slezak (2009), uses universalistic ideas to justify his critique of Israel's actions in Gaza, and refers to his mother's experiences in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz. He contentiously draws an analogy with the non-Jews who wore the yellow Star of David during the Holocaust to "symbolize their solidarity with the Jewish victims of persecution," and concludes "this is the spirit in which I wear a Palestinian badge today and the spirit in which very many Jews and others around the world stand with Palestinians." But Slezak provides no explanation as to why the lessons of the Holocaust should be used to support the Palestinians rather than Israel.

Sara Dowse, who serves as editor of IAJV's opinion and letters page, uses the time warp argument. She acknowledges that Jews have a right to live in the biblical land of Israel, but then adds that there is no need for a "Jewish state in that land" (cited in Bryson 2009). Dowse doesn't seem to be aware that Israel has already existed for sixty-one years. Elsewhere, she recommends that Israel be transformed from a specifically Jewish state into a homeland where some Jews can continue to live (Dowse 2009). In contrast, IAJV blogger Michael Brull supports a two-state solution and opposes an academic boycott of Israel, but still regards Israel as a racist and oppressive state (2009b).

A more overtly Jewish anti-Zionist group is the Committee for the Dismantling of Zionism formed by John Docker and his son Ned Curthoys (2009a). Docker and Curthoys are also the convenors of a new campaign for an academic boycott of Israel which is based on the ethnic stereotyping of all Israelis as an oppressor people (2009c).

For nearly three decades, John Docker has articulated a fanatical antipathy to Zionism and Israel. This hostility reflects a consistent adherence to the Marxist notion of bad nations and good nations. For Docker, the Israelis are all evil and immoral oppressors, and the Palestinians are all defenceless and innocent victims. There is not even a hint in his analysis of a postmodern perspective that would recognise diverse perspectives and roles on both sides of the conflict. Docker has constantly coupled his anti-Zionism with a public Jewish identification, yet nowhere does he enunciate any positive affirmation of Jewish identity. His public writings reveal an unremitting hostility to the overwhelming majority of other Jews based particularly on their support for the State of Israel. He seems to dislike Jews per se (Mendes 2003).

In their founding statement, Docker and Curthoys describe themselves as "people of Jewish descent who utterly repudiate Israel's claim that it acts in the name of Jews the world over." They cite two historical Jewish figures-the former Australian Governor-General Sir Isaac Isaacs and the famous philosopher Hannah Arendt--in support of their views.

Isaacs was a political conservative, a British Empire loyalist, and a proponent of what we would call today anti-multiculturalism. Isaacs represented a declining minority of Anglo-Australian Jews who regarded Judaism as solely a religious, rather than a broader cultural and ethnic identity. What is most evident in his 1946 booklet, Palestine peace and prosperity or war and destruction, Political Zionism undemocratic, unjust, dangerous, is his relative indifference to the rights of the Jewish victims of Nazism. He has no specific sympathy for Jews as an oppressed minority group, and does not believe such a group is entitled on the basis of this suffering to affirmative action. He decries any notion of Jewish nationality, or group solidarity between Jews living around the world. He even defends British policies such as the 1939 White Paper which directly prevented Jewish refugees from reaching Palestine. His biographer Zelman Cowen would later describe Isaacs' arguments in this debate as "grotesquely overstated and unbalanced," and "reflecting little credit upon him" (1993:238).

In their unqualified defence of Isaacs, Docker and Curthoys (see also Docker 2001:173-186) go even further than Isaacs who at least acknowledges that many Jewish Holocaust survivors should be granted humanitarian refuge in Palestine (Isaacs 1946:4-5). For Docker and Curthoys, however, the 1940s global debate is solely about preserving the national rights of the Palestinian Arabs. The Holocaust does not rate a single mention in their statement.

Docker and Curthoys also misrepresent the views of Hannah Arendt (see also Docker 2002:7-9) in an attempt to provide historical legitimacy for their own anti-Zionism. They cite one essay she wrote in 1944 which suggested a rejection of Zionist plans for a Jewish state in favour of a bi-national solution. But they noticeably omit references to her other contemporary writings in which she strongly opposed Jewish anti-Zionist groups (Young-Bruehl 1982:179). A balanced examination of Arendt's views would suggest that she expressed considerable ambivalence regarding Jewish statehood in the years leading up to the creation of the State of Israel, and a particular hostility to the right-wing or Revisionist variant of political Zionism. Equally, she later became a strong supporter of the State of Israel (Young-Bruehl 1982:179-183, 223-233, 455-456). Noticeably, Docker and Curthoys make no reference in their statement to any specifically Jewish values or principles that inform their agenda. Elsewhere, they also pursue the time warp argument, implying that the United Nations Palestine partition resolution of 1947 is still to be debated and decided (Docker & Curthoys 2009b).

Most Australian Jewish anti-Zionists have also failed to demonstrate any positive commitment to Judaism. At best, some have suggested a vague association between ancient or historical Jewish principles of justice and their denunciation of Israel. John Docker, for example, attributed his views to a "left-wing Jewish tradition," but failed to note that the overwhelming majority of leftwing Jews today support the continued existence of Israel (Docker, cited in Bryson 2009). Elsewhere, he and Curthoys (2009b; 2009d) claim adherence to historical Jewish ethical traditions inspired by the Enlightenment and Talmudic disputation, but provide no explanation as to how these ideas might inform an anti-Zionist perspective.

Another Jewish anti-Zionist and IAJV signatory, academic Andrew Benjamin also rejected the connection between Judaism and Zionism (2006). Benjamin stated that he was writing "as a Jew and as a synagogue member whose academic work continues to move through questions of Jewish identity and the legacy of the Holocaust." Elsewhere, Benjamin argued that Jewish spiritual and ethical beliefs had been undermined by the State of Israel (cited in Morris 2007). However, Benjamin did not provide any specific Jewish rationale for his anti-Zionism.

Loewenstein seems genuinely ambivalent about his Jewishness. He acknowledges his estrangement from the Jewish religion and Jewish communal and social life (2006:25-29), but claims to still feel "culturally Jewish" based on the "merging of a deep knowledge of Judaic history and tradition with a secular embrace of humanism and compassion" (2004:238). He also states that he feels proud of expressions of Judaism not based on Zionism, and enjoys visiting synagogues and Jewish community centres when he travels overseas (2008b:48-49). But he provides no serious Jewish rationale to support the formation of a new Jewish identity based on what he calls the separation of Judaism from Zionism (2007c).

Like their overseas counterparts, Australian Jewish anti-Zionists and their supporters also tend to exaggerate their level of support. For example, ABC journalist Gary Bryson claimed that "Both within Israel and throughout the Diaspora, more and more Jews are demonstrating their concern about what's being done in their name in Israel and Palestine" (2009). Yet Bryson made no distinction between the small group of six mainly anti-Zionist Jews he interviewed and the much larger number of Jews who are critical of Israeli policies. He also failed to provide any verifiable evidence to support his assertion. One of his interviewees, John Docker, similarly claimed that "increasingly Jews around the world... are beginning to think that Zionism in Israel is a terrible mistake" (cited in Bryson 2009; see also Docker 2007:265). Docker relied solely on anecdotal communications for this assertion. Loewenstein argues that an increasing number of anti-Zionist Jews around the world are challenging Israel's actions, but provides no estimate of their actual numbers (2007:317, 329; 2009).


Jewish conservatives like to stereotype all Jewish critics of Israel, whether anti-Zionist or otherwise, as self-hating Jews as a means of discrediting their arguments. Conversely, Jewish anti-Zionists and their defenders claim to be motivated by universalistic values such as social justice and human rights which transcend a narrower loyalty to Jewish tribal concerns. My conclusion here is that neither of these superficial explanations provides an adequate understanding of the phenomenon of Jewish anti-Zionism.

The first explanation is inadequate given that most Jewish radicals do not hate their people or their culture, and are critical of specific Israeli policies rather than advocating the state's abolition. The second explanation is also inadequate as it does not explain why these Jews have chosen on political grounds to side with groups and viewpoints fanatically opposed to core Jewish concerns and interests.

In my opinion, contemporary Jewish anti-Zionism is nothing new. There have always been some left-wing Jews who have chosen to side with enemies of their own people. And there have always been some left-wing groups keen to opportunistically exploit their presence in order to manufacture false divisions between the good Jews who are willing to criticise their own oppressed group, and the bad Jews who place national solidarity ahead of the class or political struggle.

In the past, Jewish anti-Zionists were largely dismissed by the political mainstream as eccentric freak shows at best, and self-hating Jews at worst. However, they have arguably achieved greater traction in recent years for three reasons. One is their smart use of the internet to spuriously imply the existence of serious divisions within Jewish communities over Israel. Secondly, they have shrewdly marketed themselves as "the" alternative Jewish voices even though their voices are neither authentic nor representative.

The other factor is that the Jewish debate over Israel has changed. Many younger Jews do not automatically endorse the positions of a particular Israeli Government, and wish instead to debate the merits of particular policies or actions. Yet mainstream Jewish institutions are often reluctant or unwilling to accommodate open debates where the strength of Jewish support for various positions on Israel could actually be tested. In this limited debate, advocates of two states are sometimes at a relative disadvantage. Their position is complex and based on balancing various competing political tensions and dilemmas. They support both Israel's right to exist and to defend itself against external violence and terror, and the creation of an independent Palestinian State based on an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. In contrast, Jewish anti-Zionists offer a neat and simplistic analysis based on constructing Israel as evil and the Palestinians as victims, and advocating the end of Israel. This black and white sound-bite, however ill-informed and unconnected to reality, seems to be appealing to some sections of the media.


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Author:Mendes, Philip
Publication:The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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