This piece first appeared at Before.
Israel is at the center of the heated debate over what is and is not anti-Semitic.
The main leaders of the Jewish establishment have bonded over trying to explain precisely when and how criticism of Israel crosses the line of anti-Semitism. And even when they draw what appears to be a red line, there are caveats.
Meanwhile, many progressive Jews and Palestinians balk at what they see as frivolous accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against those who attempt to defend the suffering Palestinians under Israeli rule.
Now a new term has entered the debate, promoted by pro-Israel advocates who say it can bring clarity to the puzzling row over the definition of anti-Semitism. Zionophobia – “an obsessive animosity towards the idea of ââa homeland for the Jewish people” – represents the idea that discrimination against Jewish Zionists is a form of bigotry distinct from anti-Semitism.
“Zionophobia” seems to have sparked new feuds, however – between those who see it as another way of delegitimizing any criticism of Israel and those who say it reflects the discrimination they face for supporting the Jewish state.
Judea Pearl, a computer scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles who is active in the campus debates on Israel, appears to have originally invented term in 2018. But it only gained attention earlier this month after being used in a letter of the faculty at the University of Southern California concerned about statements by an engineering student on campus.
Over 65 professors wrote that they were not only concerned about “the persistent cases of anti-Semitism and Zionophobia on our campus.”
The appearance of the term in the letter – and a social media posting from the controversial pro-Israel group Canary Mission – quickly sparked a mixture of mockery and condemnation from pro-Palestinian activists online. Critics have taken hold of the idea that embracing a political ideology like Zionism could make someone a member of a group that should be protected from discrimination.
“We, the undersigned professors, wish to express our dismay at the open expressions of anti-Semitism and Zionophobia on our campus that go unchallenged.”https://t.co/dMW2Egu1EF pic.twitter.com/tdrwu4RABB
– Canarian mission (@canarymission) December 2, 2021
“We absolutely do NOT make ‘zionophobia’ a thing,” said novelist Rebecca Podos wrote on Twitter. âZionists are not an oppressed or marginalized class of people. Others were more creepy: “They keep coming up with ridiculous new terms,” ââanother user wrote. âYeah, I’m definitely apartheidphobic. “
new phobia has just fallen https://t.co/BGYbBASMzn
– ÎÎÏÏÎ± (@Axolotl_pragmat) December 2, 2021
But Pearl argued that discrimination against Zionists is a form of religious fanaticism aimed at Jews, even if those attacking the movement are not otherwise anti-Semitic.
“Zionism (the eventual return to Zion) is at the heart of Jewish identity, more fundamental even than divine oversight,” Pearl wrote in an email. “Therefore, discrimination on the basis of Zionist beliefs amounts to ‘racism’ – discrimination on the basis of an enduring quality.”
Despite this, Pearl said that allegations of anti-Semitism directed at anti-Zionists are too brutal to capture this form of discrimination, as many who oppose Zionism are themselves Jews or friendly to Jews outside of the context. from Israel.
“I see hordes of BDS buddies volunteering to fight for the right of Jewish students to have a kosher cafeteria, pray three times a day, and wear Yarmulke in public,” Pearl said. written in a blog of 2018 describing the term. “And they really mean it, as long as the Yarmulke isn’t decorated with blue and white Magen David.”
The term has other supporters, including Jewish Journal editor-in-chief David Suissa, who lamented that Zionists on college campuses lack the protections afforded to gay, Muslim and transgender students.
“All societal phobias – from homophobia to Islamophobia to transphobia – are unacceptable, with the apparent exception of Zionophobia”, Suissa written in a column Last year.
And although the term has been slow to spread outside southern California, other advocates of Israel have made similar arguments about how what is traditionally called anti-Zionism can effectively discriminate against Jews. even if not all Jews believe in Zionism or support Israel.
Misha Galperin, head of the National Museum of American Jewish Heritage, compared Zionism to Shabbat observance. While Jews may differ in their approach to the two concepts, Galperin said, demonizing either strikes at the heart of a religious belief important to many Jews.
âIf someone denies you the belief in Shabbat keeping because it is part of the Jewish religion, no one doubts that it is anti-Semitic,â Galerpin said. “And if someone denies you the fact that you are identified with a state – which is also part of our religion – that is also anti-Semitic.”
Yet Pearl’s promotion of “Zionophobia” runs counter to how most major Jewish organizations focused on both anti-Semitism and defense of Israel have dealt with anti-Zionism. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism, which has been adopted and aggressively promoted by much of the Jewish establishment, says that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” in Israel may be anti-Semitic, but it depends on the context.
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In recent months, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League have taken what appeared to be more unequivocal approaches to whether opposition to Israel’s existence as a predominantly Jewish state is anti-Semitic.
âAs an organization, we certainly believe that anti-Zionist rhetoric and discourse should be treated as anti-Semitic in all respects,â Avi Mayer, senior spokesperson for the American Jewish Committee, told opinion editor Forward Laura Adkins in October.
Likewise, ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt responded to the controversy over Sunrise DC’s boycott of three pro-Israel Jewish groups in October by declaring on Twitter: âLet’s be clear: excluding groups just because they support Israel is anti-Semitic.
However, we remain concerned that these litmus tests targeting Jewish groups are becoming more and more common.
To be clear: excluding groups just because they support Israel is anti-Semitic.
– Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) 22 October 2021
But others in these organizations have subsequently called these bold statements.
Kenneth Bandler, director of media relations for AJC, said the organization believed “anti-Zionist hate speech”, as opposed to all expressions of anti-Zionism, “should be considered anti-Semitic.”
And an ADL spokesperson shared with The Forward a definition the organization uses, which noted that anti-Zionism was not “inherently anti-Semitic,” although it would if it was used to disparage. Jews who feel linked to Israel.
Pearl prefers to avoid the mess that these definitions can create.
âEvery time we label an attack on Israel as ‘anti-Semitic’ we lose high moral ground and the conversation drifts to where we cannot win,â he wrote in the 2018 article titled âLa Zionophobia – our only fighting word â.
If Pearl hopes his new word will free the debate about Israel from a back-and-forth over the definition of anti-Semitism, he risks being disappointed. Alon Confino, who helped organize the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism Fearing that too many institutions would treat anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, said the invention of “Zionophobia” appeared to be an attempt to stifle political discourse.
“Zionism is a national political movement,” said Confino, a Holocaust scholar at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. âNational political movements are always questionable.