My last post dealt with the striking blindness of self-proclaimed anti-racists to the blatant anti-Semitism in the anti-Israel movement. It explained it was not simply a matter of dishonesty or naivety but the result of the inherently blinkered nature of identity politics. 

Here I want to look more closely at the phenomenon of anti-Zionist Jews. This topic has become more prominent recently as anti-Israel activists using the involvement of Jews in their movement to discredit accusations of anti-Semitism. For example, Al Jazeera, a staunchly anti-Zionist (in fact pro-Hamas) media organisation, often shows campus anti-Israel activists wearing T-shirts identifying themselves as Jews. And in Britain the director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Ben Jamal, makes a point of pointing to the Jewish bloc on anti-Israel marches. 

At the time of writing “As a Jew” was also trending on Twitter/ X. Most using this as a hashtag seemed to be anti-Zionist Jews distancing themselves from Israel. They included a video clip of someone claiming to be the daughter of a Holocaust survivor saying: “My mother dies of shame of what Israel is doing in her name as a Jew to Palestinians”. 

The first thing to note about these claims is that anti-Zionists are a clear minority among Jews. According to the National Jewish Identity Survey (NJIS) 2022  some 8% of British Jews overall described themselves as anti-Zionist with 15% describing themselves as non-Zionist. Of course it may be these figures have increased since the 7 October pogrom. However, even if that is the case it is hard to imagine they are not still a minority.

The Neturei Karta is a tiny but high profile component of anti-Zionist Jewry. It is a haredi (strictly orthodox) Jewish group which opposes Israel on the grounds that the state was created by man rather than by God. Neturei Karta men and boys, with their distinctive garb, have been a feature on anti-Israel marches for decades ( I have never seen any women or girls on their contingents). Their photographs often feature on anti-Israel literature and on social media. Sometimes they are even hailed as representing the authentic Jewish viewpoint.

Most anti-Israel activists seem to be imbued in identity politics. The outlook is clear in the statements of anti-Zionist Jewish groups, most of them small. In America they include IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace and Jewish Currents magazine. In Britain they include the Jewish Socialists’ Group ,  Jewish Voice for Labour and Na'amod as well as the publications of Vashti Media. In Europe more generally European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP) is a federation of 12 groups operating in nine countries.

In broad terms these conform to the tenets of identity politics described in my last article. They tend to see the world in terms of a simple binary of oppressors and oppressed. Often they tweak this to put Jews – although obviously not Israelis – on the side of the oppressed. But this only redoubles their commitment to a binary outlook. They do not see that the world is more complicated than that. They also typically related racism to colonialism rather than recognising it can exist in many different forms.

More specifically they tend to identity anti-Semitism with the extreme right. From this starting point it is no wonder they struggle to see anti-Semitism on anti-Israel marches. I can confirm that, having been on several such marches as an observer, I have never seen anyone openly identifying as part of the British extreme right. Neither have I seen images of ultra-right extremists on the television coverage of American campus protests.

To be sure there are many people displaying old-style (that is focused on Jews as Jews) slogans on anti-Israel protests. But they do not openly identify with the extreme right.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism identified many clear expressions of anti-Semitism on last Saturday’s London march alone. These included “fuck off Jew” and “Go back to Poland” shouted at a Christian revered who was wearing a cap with a star of David on it. 

According to the campaign there were also many placards on the march alleging conspiracy theories. These included one that thank Sir Mark Rowley, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, for standing up to a ”Mossad pedo ring”. Another alleged that “Our media, TV, radio and Government are controlled by Zionists”.

However, if the broader demonisation of Israel is included in the definition of anti-Semitism then the picture is far greater. To emphasise again the objection here is not to those who simply criticise Israeli policy or support Palestinian rights. It is to the substantial number of activists who insist that Israel is someone the epitome of evil in the world. It is held up to symbolise all the sins of apartheid, colonialism and imperialism. 

Zeteo: a new anti-Zionist outlet

A new media organisation exemplifies many of the trends discussed above. One of its defining features seems to be a zealous approach to attacking Israel. It has already made a point of pointing to anti-Zionist Jews as evidence that the anti-Israel protests are not anti-Semitic. Its arguments embody many of the flaws already discussed above.

Zeteo , was set up by Mehdi Hasan. Its editorial stance can be defined as broadly “woke”. The site’s announced contributors include many known to take extreme anti-Israel positions. They include Diana Buttu, Naomi Klein, Owen Jones, Greta Thunberg and Bassem Youssef.

One of its first articles was by Jonathan Ben-Menachem, a PhD student at Columbia, who staunchly denied anti-Semitism at the university. He seems to think that his declaration that he opposes anti-Semitism is sufficient. But, as already argued, those who define anti-Semitism in narrow terms, focusing on the extreme right, are doomed to miss its other forms. They end up as deniers of the anti-Semitism identified with identity politics and with Islamism.

Ben-Menachem also laughably claims that organising a Passover seder service in the encampment demonstrates that it welcomes Jews. But such an action is entirely consistent with identity politics. It is perfectly possibly to engage in an identitarian expression of Judaism while endorsing identitarian and Islamist anti-Semitism.

Yesterday Zeteo published a video interview  with Jason Stanley, a Jewish professor of philosophy at Yale, where he denied the existence of significant levels of anti-Semitism on campus. He presented the protests as is in the long-standing and noble tradition of non-violent anti-war protests. He also failed to see that the student protests of the 1960s and 1970s were not informed by racism but were in fact against it.

Stanley acknowledged that on the margins there have been support for Hamas and anti-Semitic chants but he played these down. Indeed later in the interview he denied support for terrorism entirely. In his view the reaction against the protestors is simply a case of far right authoritarians cynically weaponising anti-Semitism. 

They key factors he missed were already covered in my previous article on the blindness to anti-Semitism. He is clearly thoroughly imbued in identity politics and an avid anti-populist. Stanley accepted, among other things, the description of Israel as a “militarist ethnostate” and “quasi-fascist”. And he uncritically accepted the claim that Israel is engaged in genocide in Gaza when a philosophy professor might be expected to be more questioning.

Soon I intend to write a piece explaining why the anti-Semitism at American campus protests represents something far worse than an accumulation of unfortunate incidents.

PHOTO: Anti-Israel protest in London by Simon McKeon. 

The aftermath of the 7 October Hamas pogrom in Israel has made the rethinking of anti-Semitism a more urgent task than ever. Both the extent and character of anti-Semitism is changing. Tragically the open expression of anti-Semitic views is once again becoming respectable. It has also become clearer than ever that anti-Semitism is no longer largely confined to the far right. Woke anti-Semitism and Islamism have also become significant forces.

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