Two weeks ago my friend Ron Forthofer wrote a Peace Train column criticizing Israel's assault on the people of Gaza. Ron, who is a person of the highest ethical and intellectual caliber, provided arguments and evidence about why Israel's attack on Gaza was completely unjustified. A few days later a letter to the editor scurrilously called his entire argument anti-Semitic.
My usual practice would be to ignore such ad hominem insults, but the pillorization represents a much larger pathology: equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. This identification is a political tactic which apologists for Zionism have often used to discredit negative evaluations of Israel. Unfortunately, this tactic is often successful: It effectively silences well-justified criticism, because no enlightened person wants to be known as an anti-Semite, and because the charge of anti-Semitism (even if entirely groundless) is often difficult to refute.
Anti-Zionism means opposition to a state based upon an ethnic hierarchy; a state in which Jews have special privileges and the indigenous people are, at very best, second-class citizens (but, more often, systematically oppressed and sometimes murdered). Anti-Zionists that I have known are motivated by principles of human rights, social justice and egalitarian democracy, and sometimes also by an inclination to protect the ethical reputation of the Jewish people. Rarely if ever have I encountered an anti-Zionist who is motivated by hatred of Jews.
Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are very different phenomena. The true anti-Semite typically lumps all Jews together and blames them collectively for the crimes of the state of Israel. True anti-Semites may even wish to cleanse their community of Jews by having them all immigrate to Israel. This was clearly a reason why some western political leaders supported formation of a Jewish state in the Middle East in the first place.
Many Jews are highly critical of Zionism if not outright anti-Zionists, including Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe, Judith Butler, Norman Finkelstein, Max Blumenthal, Naomi Klein, Richard Falk, Avi Shlaim, Gilad Atzmon and many more. The organization Jewish Voice for Peace has had a leading role in efforts to secure justice for Palestine.
The most unfortunate aspect of equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is that it curtails political discussion precisely when such discussion is desperately needed. All political perspectives are subject to criticism and none have a monopoly on truth. If there is any hope of avoiding an interminable sequence of catastrophic wars in the Middle East, it requires rational consideration of all available alternatives. This is exactly what associating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism makes difficult if not impossible.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" column runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.