We hear it so often that it sounds routine. “I am not an anti-Semite. I am an anti-Zionist,” the occasional anti-Semite confesses with astonishing candor. Such openness reveals the speaker’s ignorance about their own racism, a prejudice lodged in their unconscious though quite close to the surface. Or they do know it, and the discursive alibi is meant to hide it.
It is not coincidental. Jihadist fundamentalists use the term “Zionist” as a disqualification towards Israelis and Jews in general. It is always the Zionist aggressor, the Zionist invader, the Zionist occupier. Zionists or not, since, in the strict sense of the term, not all Jews are Zionists, the real problem they have is the Jews. And this is the debate of our times, yet again.
Zionism is a political movement that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. It is based on the notion that the Jewish people, a nation in an ancient diaspora, are worthy of their political and legal home—namely, their own state. As such, it is a nationalist ideology, a nationalism that the metaphor “extended family” has perfectly captured since the writings of the great Benedict Anderson—hence the search for a “home.”
The Zionist movement became a political community in the diaspora: religious and secular Zionists, conservatives and Marxists, revisionists and reformists, progressives and liberals, among others, a pluralism that has been maintained ever since. All of them, in turn, were permeated by dominant intellectual currents of the time, the Enlightenment and rationalism in particular, and all in the search for citizen rights that only their own state could guarantee for them.
And in the place of origin. Before the creation of the Zionist movement, the Jewish presence in what is now Israel has been documented since immemorial times, a biblical truism that is often forgotten or deliberately ignored. Many ancient archaeological sites confirm this.
Jewish immigration, in turn, was also relevant long before the creation of the Zionist movement. This is the case in the fifteenth century for Spanish Jews and in the sixteenth century for Portuguese Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. In the seventeenth century, Lithuanian and Ukrainian Jews fled pogroms. In the nineteenth century, many escaped pogroms in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. In the twentieth century, Soviet Jews fled totalitarianism. The Kibbutz movement, in turn, dates back to 1910—a random sample to illustrate that Jewish presence in and immigration to Palestine was never interrupted.
Thus, the argument of the Jew as a colonizer is baseless. And it’s not about who arrived first, nor who is truly originally from there. There is no such “truly,” there is no objective beginning of time. Where the line is drawn is subjective; primordialism is always “à la carte.” The idea that Palestinians are native and Jews are transplanted does not stand up to the slightest empirical test. Nativism is almost always insidious, inevitably retrograde, and, in the case of Israel, erroneous.
Hence, the narrative about the Palestinian struggle as decolonization is nothing more than that—a narrative. To also portray Hamas and its despotic rule as the vanguard of that struggle is humiliating to the Palestinians themselves, the main victims of Hamas.
Thus, the State of Israel was created in 1948 as a result of the partition of Palestine. In any case, the colonial power was Great Britain, just as during World War I, it had been the Ottoman Empire. It was partition followed by a war; often, the sequence of such processes since reconfiguring the map may well cost blood. At the same time, it tends to be simultaneously the cause and effect of deep and persistent ethnic conflicts.
Take some examples of the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the subsequent partitions in several of the states in Eastern and Central Europe. In Czechoslovakia, it was negotiated and peaceful—the “velvet divorce.” In the Soviet Union, however, fifteen new states arose from one, and it was hardly conflict-proof. Ukraine, for example, still pays the price of Russia’s official doctrine rejecting the existence of Ukraine as an independent state and the Ukrainians as a separate people and nation. Thus, some of the crimes of the Russian occupying forces, such as sexual violence and the kidnapping and deportation of children, fall within the realm of ethnic cleansing.
The partition of Yugoslavia led to a civil war with crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing as well, especially in Bosnia and then in Kosovo, predominantly Muslim societies, it should be noted. To question the existence of the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina, established in 1992, and the State of Kosovo, created in 2008, would imply denying the right to existence of the Bosnians and the Kosovars, respectively, the nations whose political and legal home is constituted in said States. Plain and simple, this is genocide, which is exactly what happened in that war.
“Anti-Zionism” expresses a similar racism, as it challenges the right of a people to have their own state, for which it is necessary to dissolve their identity, the Jewish identity. As an intellectual operation, this also implies ignoring reality, that is, denying the existence of what has existed for seventy-five years, the State of Israel, or worse still, proposing its elimination.
Western sympathizers of Hamas do exactly that when they repeat, “From the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea, Palestine will be free.” They associate themselves with a project of obliteration of what remains in between, the State of Israel. This necessarily implies the extermination of its population, a genocidal project whose most explicit notice, but not the first, is dated October 7, 2023.
Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are synonyms. Take the kidnapping, torture, and beheading of babies, and the rape of women as a statistical sampling of ethnic cleansing in the Hamas version, not unlike what happened in Bosnia and continues to happen in Ukraine under Russian occupation.
The thesis of Hamas as a liberation movement, in turn, has been particularly astute in the Americas. Transformed into some kind of dependency theory and narrated in superficial Marxist jargon, this form of anti-Semitism has fused today’s left with the neo-fascist right of the past. For the West, this is even more dangerous and more destructive.
Based on arguments around the notion of “liberation of Palestine,” the government of Bolivia broke diplomatic relations with Israel, and the governments of Chile and Colombia rushed to call their respective ambassadors for consultation without having expressed much condemnation of the attack on October 7. Seventy Latin American citizens were killed on October 7, and around thirty-one Latin American citizens were taken hostage. It is not clear that recovering them is a priority.
Greater moral clarity is seen among the European left, though acknowledging that social democracy, in its different versions, has begun to reflect on its failed social engineering experiment of the last quarter of a century: a multiculturalism that recognizes identity rights and legitimizes them at the expense of the universal rights of the liberal state. The consequence has been a fractionalization and segmentation of citizenship and, therefore, a loss of authority in that same state.
This is a recipe for a flagrant double standard: Muslim communities in Europe enjoy the freedom and protections granted to them by liberal constitutionalism, but at the same time, many of them refuse to recognize those same rights for others; for example, the right to blasphemy. The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo and the writer Salman Rushdie, among others, have paid with their lives or physical integrity.
Meanwhile, supposed and self-defined leftists march through Western capitals denouncing the genocide committed by Israel, quite ironically. By sending combat units to massacre Israeli civilians, Hamas issued a declaration of war. Israel acted accordingly, using its right to self-defense specified in the United Nations Charter. Undoubtedly, it must minimize civilian casualties, but that is difficult in any war.
And certainly impossible in a war against Hamas. The international press has documented for years that its command centers operate in civilian facilities, for example, in the basement of Al-Shifa Hospital. This could also make it a legitimate target under international law and the Geneva Convention itself. Tragically, the “proportional response” issue turns out to be a null equation. That is the worst misfortune of wars. This is why the international system must forcefully punish those who start these wars.
This conflict exhibits a more sophisticated logic than the usual terrorist operation. It turns out that it is not Hamas that makes the fundamental decisions. With this war, the West will move further and further away from the Muslim world, and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations of Israel with its neighbors—especially the Saudis—and the recognition of the State of Israel throughout the Arab world will be farther away. The Abraham Accords will be a nostalgic and unfulfilled promise, precisely the outcome Tehran has sought.
The mullahs also planned the repercussions of this war, not only as anti-Zionism but also as open anti-Semitism. Already, anti-Semitic vandalism is on the rise: Parisian buildings are marked with Stars of David, Montreal synagogues are firebombed, Jewish graves in Managua are desecrated, and, go figure, swastikas are painted in Jewish community centers everywhere.