Jul 27

Anti-Zionism is Not Anti-Semitism

In Brief—The roots of the present day conflict between Israel and the Palestinians go back to the British mandate in the land originally called Palestine. Identifying those roots has led some to the erroneous conclusion that anything suggesting opposition to Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians is anti-Semitic. This explains the error in such a judgment.


A Painless History Lesson—

When I was a student at UCLA, my class in Colonial American History was taught by the renowned Page Smith. At the beginning of every day’s class, Smith would spend five minutes on an entirely different subject such as philosophy. It was mentally stimulating and made an otherwise boring subject like history glow. While I won’t pretend to make it glow, I will at least make the history I am about to discuss a bit less painful.

Many will say that the view I hold is provocative, maybe even anti-Semitic. As to the latter, I am not anti-Semitic and stoutly deny any animosity toward Jews. As Judaism is a religion like any other, I firmly think it and all religion is totally illogical and divisive at a minimum. My beef is with Israeli government policy toward Palestinians, not with Jews. Policy, not people.

 My ”Provocative” Observation—

I think that the creation of the state of Israel on what the British described as ”empty land” was one of the most ignorant and short-sighted moves of the 20th Century and guaranteed to result in conflict such as we have seen and see today. Some people may consider that provocative but it is clearly not anti-Semitic. It is simply realistic common sense and the predictable outcome of an ill-considered action.

 A Brief History—

I am reminded of a story a friend told me. When he was a student in college, he turned in a short essay that resulted in the professor questioning the length of the essay. My friend quoted the old adage, ”Brevity is the soul of wit.” The professor is reputed to have responded, ”Then half-brevity is the soul of a half-wit.”

At the risk of being labeled a half-wit, here’s a brief history of how Israel came into existence. Since whole books have been written on the subject, I’ll leave it up to my readers to verify and affirm the accuracy of what I say.

Britain was in charge of governing what was then known as Palestine. Ignorant as is too often the case, the Brits were constantly dealing with fanatical Zionists who devoutly believed that God had granted them the area in which Israel now exists. Those Zionists assassinated British officials and opponents and used tactics that led the British to label them ”terrorists.” They were a constant source of agitation and violence.

At the end of World War II, in the company of France and the United States, the British saw a way to solve their Zionist terrorist problem: give the Jews a homeland in what the British called ”empty land,” the area now known as Israel. Little spoken of or acknowledged was the quiet anti-Semitic refusal of the allied nations to give asylum to the masses of Jews who were being persecuted and killed by the Nazis. A few like Albert Einstein were accepted, but the majority of Jews were left to their own devices or were exterminated by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

In 1948, the state of Israel came into being blessed by the United Nations. At last, two things happened: the Zionists got their wish and the great nations of Europe could crow that they were giving the long-persecuted Jews a homeland while simultaneously ridding themselves of the Jewish population of their own countries. A ”two-fer,” in other words.

BUT…what about the Palestinians who had their ”empty land” given to the Jews? This issue wiil be examined in my next piece on the predictable results of the creation of Israel.

 Definitions of Semitic and Zion—

The word ”Semitic” refers first to a family of languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic and so on. The word later came to refer to the people speaking those languages, especially to the Jews and Arabs. In later years, the word came to refer to the Jewish people.

Zion refers to the hill on which the city of Jerusalem stands. Secondarily, the word refers to the ancient Israelites and more recently to the modern Jewish nation and Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. It also has a religious connotation as the place chosen by God and under his special protection. It is this last reference that drives the Zionists and the reason I think of myself as an anti-Zionist. I should add that many Jews are anti-Zionists as well, though they are supportive of Israel.

A few words on the history of the concept of anti-Semitism must be mentioned. Although Wilhelm Marr is credited with coining the term ”anti-Semitism,” scholar Alex Bein states that the concept was first used in 1860 by the Austrian bibliographer Moritz Steinschneider who referred to ”anti-Semitic prejudices” and elaborated on how the ”Semitic races” were inferior to the ”Aryan races.” That view is reflective of attitudes that pervaded non-Jewish societies then and later.

You can see that these pseudo-scientific theories concerning race and Jews came into popular usage in Europe late in the 19th century. As we know, the Nazis used German historian Heinrich von Treitschke’s phrase “the Jews are our misfortune” for their warped political purposes. Thus, while anti-Jewish prejudice has been around for centuries, ”anti-Semitism” is a relatively recent concept and is too often used carelessly to tar anybody who opposes Israeli policies.

Given the definitions of the words, particularly ”Semitic,” for one to be anti-Semitic one would have to be opposed to both the Arabs and the Jews. I am opposed to neither. They are only people who generally have different religions and occupy the same area of the world.


Be sure to read my upcoming piece on the current situation involving the Israelis and Palestinians and the source of Palestinian anger.


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    • Susan on July 27, 2014 at 18:22

    Thanks for the brief but informative history lesson. Now I know what a half – wit is and so much more.

      • Don Bay on July 28, 2014 at 10:44

      Half-wits aside, it’s a seldom mentioned fact that the earliest leaders of the state of Israel were former Zionist terrorists who murdered, bombed and kidnapped British officials, soldiers and assorted opponents in order to get the land that they claimed God promised them. Those Zionist leaders were, among others, David Ben-Gurion and Menachim Begin.

      That said, beyond the fact that the Zionists have demonstrated that terrorism pays, my opposition to Zionism arises out of its being a religious concept. The Zionist terrorists and, indeed, many Jews, believe that God granted them the area now known as Israel. Although Jews and Arabs inhabited the area together for centuries, the Zionists claimed God had granted them the area. They used terrorism to reinforce their claim. Zionism’s claim is pure hogwash. It’s a religious claim.

      Too late to correct an egregious error: the establishment of Israel. Israel exists and the world must recognize that. It’s too late to unscramble the egg. Although it was a grave mistake, opposition to Zionism—the belief that God granted the Jews the area we know as Israel—is not anti-Semitism. My objections to the continuing mistreatment of Palestinians rests on Israeli policies, not on opposition to Jews. Thus speaks an alleged “half-wit.”

    • Lionel Burt on July 29, 2014 at 04:07

    Don, old buddy,

    Your piece on the so-called “Jews” is full of Slop-Talk. It is the type of print-talk that simply perpetuates the problem. I guess that you either a. disregard what I refer to as the Principles of Quality Talk b. you don’t really know what they are c. you don’;t agree with the efficacy of their application or d you just don’t understand. So be it.

    Last Thursday I was the subject of an hour-long live radio interview on KWMR, Pointe Reyes, Ca. I focussed on the Middle East Conflict. The show is titled “Pieces of Peace”. Perfect. Judging by her responses to my responses, what I brought up was a “piece” that she hadn’t heard before. She suggested that I come on the show again and continue what i refer to as a “Quality Talk Scrimmage”. I look forward to it.

    I have asked her to send me a link to the program and I expect to get it soon. If you want, I will send it to you.

    Best wishes to you and the clan.

      • Don Bay on July 29, 2014 at 17:52

      Having read your book and having exchanged thoughts with you about Quality Talk (QT), I am fairly familiar with QT. You put forth four alternatives for why I engaged in what QT defines as “Slop-Talk. I plead guilty to a) and c); Not guilty as to b) and d). I disregarded the need to utilize the Principles of QT because my piece was about the anger driving the Israeli-Palestinian bloodletting. I think that any efficacy of QT is impossible now that the anger has boiled over yet again. I will repeat: I am familiar with the QT principles and understand why they are important.

      I think QT is good in the abstract and even in small groups where the participants are intelligent and, though doubtful in some cases, want to learn something about QT and why language is important. Indeed, those principles would be helpful in negotiations leading negotiators to agree that every word has an agreed meaning. However, in the big, messy world, after decades of misunderstanding, oppression and violence, precision in words is not only unimportant to the participants, but meaningless.

      It seems clear to me why some readers were puzzled about your references (see Mary Anne’s comment). It’s not just that they don’t have the history you and I have, but QT just wasn’t relevant in the context of what I had to say and the theme of the piece. As I said above, the piece was about the anger infecting both sides and was designed to point out that the roots of that anger grow out of religion. Still more to the point of this blog, as a lawyer I use certain words to explain to readers the facts I am dealing with and also to show them why I consider the topic so important. Many of those words are deliberately chosen for their emotional impact rather than the accuracy required by QT. While this may move you let me know of your disapproval (and that is okay), it is necessary to convey the impact of my view.

      Yes, I am interested in receiving a copy of the program in which you participated. If it deals with QT, I am always interested. I hope that you will continue presenting QT scrimmages. From little seeds, great things can grow. By the way, have you ever considered sharing your message on TED Talks? Naive though this sounds, your message is an important one. Help that seed grow.

    • Mary Ann Conley on July 29, 2014 at 05:33

    I thought this was an excellent piece of historical information. I was surprised and puzzled by the response of one of your readers! Additionally, the response didn’t shed light on the content of his objections. Would appreciate further conceptual debate since it an area of interest and concern.

      • Don Bay on July 29, 2014 at 18:05

      I suspect that you will get some understanding of Lionel’s comment if you read my reply to him. He and I know what he meant. Let me know if I failed to clear up any questions you may have. And thanks for the encouragement. As I’ve been unjustly accused of anti-Semitism for being anti-Zionist, it’s entirely possible that this piece and the one that follows next week will move some readers with strong feelings to accuse me again. I hope that is not the case since anti-Semitism is just not my flaw. No doubt I am flawed, but anti-Semitism isn’t one of them.

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