This is the presentation given by Bruce Katz at the CISO (Centre International de Solidarité Ouvrière) at the Symposium on Palestinian Self-Determination held in Montreal from November 29th to December 1st, 2018. Translated from the original French.
CISO Symposium on Palestinian Self-Determination
‘On the false notion of anti-Semitism’
Palestinian and Jewish Unity
My presentation is divided into three parts: first, a brief overview of the dialectic formed by Zionism and anti-Semitism, because far from being opposing forces, the two have traveled together since the beginning of Zionism. European anti-Semitism, sometimes institutionalized, underpins the creation of Zionism. The second part deals with the Canadian source of the manipulation of the notion of anti-Semitism under the epithet “The New Anti-Semitism” as established by the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition Against Anti-Semitism. The third part deals briefly with the conceptual basis on which Zionism (or Israelism, the worship of the State) is based.
Zionist leaders at the beginning of the twentieth century understood that anti-Semitism was a prerequisite for the realization of their colonial project. Theodore Herzl was unequivocal concerning this. In his early writings he stated that governments affected by the phenomenon of anti-Semitism would be “keenly interested in helping us obtain the sovereignty we want”. Herzl concluded in his diary that “the anti-Semites will become our most trusted friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.” This is not a short-term but rather long-term strategy that the Zionist movement and the State of Israel continue to practice.
Thus, we understand better the fact that the far-right Israeli government is rubbing shoulders with neo-fascist European governments and groups to such an extent that the chief rabbi of Europe, Pinchas Goldschmidt, has called on the Israeli government to put an end to its engagement with extreme right parties in Europe. Goldschmidt warned Israeli officials that a rapprochement with nationalist groups in Europe endangers the local Jewish community. “If a party is intrinsically racist, bigoted against large parts of society and intolerant of minorities, if Jews are not the target now, they will be in the near future,” Goldschmidt said. (“Top European rabbi urges Israel to end engagement with far right-parties.”)
This same phenomenon had previously manifested itself in the relations between the Zionist leaders and Arthur Balfour, author of the Balfour Declaration. The fact that Balfour was a known anti-Semite who, in 1905, sponsored a bill (The Aliens Act) to prevent European Jews fleeing pogroms from settling in Great Britain, did not prevent Zionists from soliciting him nor did it prevent Balfour from supporting the Zionist project by way of the Balfour Declaration which, he hoped, would divert Jews from Britain to Palestine. In short, Balfour acted exactly as Herzl had foreseen: as the most reliable anti-Semitic friend!
In the 1960s, Israeli agents seized Adolph Eichmann, high-ranking member of the Third Reich who was executed by the State of Israel after being tried for his crimes. It was this same Adolph Eichmann who in 1937 was the guest of honor of the Zionist emissary Feivel Polkes who took him to Mount Carmel to visit a Jewish colony. This, of course is never mentioned by the Zionists and their supporters.
“In 1933, Labour Zionism signed the Transfer “Ha’avara” Agreement with the Nazis, breaking the international boycott against the regime: Nazi Germany would compensate German Jews who emigrated to Palestine for their lost property by exporting German goods to the Zionists in the country thus breaking the boycott. Between 1933 and 1939, 60 percent of all capital invested in Jewish Palestine came from German Jewish money through the Transfer Agreement. Thus, Nazism was a boon to Zionism throughout the 1930s.” (1)
How ironic is it, then, that organizations like the B’nai Brith and the Anti-Defamation League associate boycott with anti-Semitism, given that the Zionist leadership worked to defuse the anti-Nazi boycott meant to combat anti-Semitism!
The Canadian Source
Let’s begin with what has traditionally been accepted as the definition of anti-Semitism : hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious or collective group. The attempt to include in the definition of anti-Semitism criticism of the State of Israel is a phenomenon which has followed on the heels of the call to a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel by 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005 and the Goldstone report condemning Israel’s December 2008 to January 2009 attack on Gaza and the murderous attack on Gaza in 2014.
Indeed, the greater the momentum gained by the BDS campaign against Israel’s apartheid system – now having acquired the critical mass which makes it irreversible, as was the case for the BDS campaign against South African apartheid – the more stringent the campaign to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism has become. The so-called “New Anti-Semitism” is a term coined by former Liberal MP and Minister, Irwin Cotler whose defense of human rights does not include Palestinian rights.
The campaign to amend the definition of anti-Semitism to include any and all critiques of Israeli policy toward the besieged Palestinian population living under Israeli occupation has among its sources a Canadian one: The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism. This parliamentary committee was put together in 2009 at the behest of Jason Kenney, then Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism in the Harper government and the aforementioned Irwin Cotler, a former Justice Minister in the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. Mr. Cotler is credited with coining the term the ‘New Anti-Semitism’ to include in that much broadened definition the critique of Israel’s institutionalized system of discrimination as being that of apartheid. Indeed, Mr. Cotler described Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, illegal under international law, as “disputed territories” rather than occupied territories, a curious sophistry for a law professor at McGill University, whom Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called his “mentor” a few short years ago.
In the introduction to the book entitled ‘Anti-Semitism Real and Imagined: Responses to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism,’ Michael Keefer, editor of the book which includes organizational responses from groups such as Independent Jewish Voices, Faculty for Palestine, the Canadian Arab Federation, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East among others, Keefer offers a succinct analysis of what the attempt to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is really about, which I now quote:
The rhetorical tactics being deployed in this attack on free speech are familiar enough. They consist in leveling a charge of anti-Semitism against anyone who draws attention to the State of Israel’s violent, degrading and (under international law) flagrantly illegal treatment of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza, or who points to the fact that this treatment is motivated by a systematic and likewise flagrantly illegal project of colonization, apartheid treatment of a subject population, and ethnic cleansing. (2)
I take exception to the idea that Zionism- the nationalist movement- and the religion of Judaism are one and the same, so that consequently to criticize Israel and the Zionist project is to be anti-Semitic. This is a mechanism meant to intimidate and silence critics of Israel’s apartheid regime. The list of Jewish intellectuals who have been critical of the nature of Zionism is as long as one’s arm and include such thinkers as Albert Einstein and Martin Buber. Are they therefore anti-Semitic?
Are Israel’s Rabbis for Human Rights anti-Semitic because they criticize their own government and defend Palestinian human rights? What about the other Israeli human rights groups who do the same? What about the many Jews who are active in the BDS movement? All anti-Semitic?
No, this is simply sophistry of the worst kind practiced openly by a self-serving political class and a supine ‘mainstream’ media who parrot the same falsehood. Let us recall the words of the late distinguished American journalist Edward R. Murrow who, during the McCarthy period, warned his fellow journalists that the fear is already in the room. In terms of consciously averting the Palestinian narrative, the fear has been in Quebec and Canadian newsrooms for some time now.
The Conceptual Basis
Yoav Litvin presents the conceptual underpinning of Zionism in concise terms:
The linkage between Zionism and Judaism is maintained by consistent historical revisionism and manipulation of the trauma produced by European anti-Semitism, which culminated in the Jewish Holocaust. It sustains support for Israel and serves to stifle effective resistance by attributing “anti-Semitism” to any critique of Israeli policies. Notably, this abuse of the term “anti-Semitism” has watered down and trivialized the real phenomenon of bigotry against Jews and thus further demonstrates the ongoing collusion between Zionism and white supremacy.(3)
Zionism succeeded in absorbing Judaism into the idea of the State, thereby secularizing and ethnicizing Judaism while emptying it of its transcendent nature and strict moral code, which issues from precepts of the Torah and Mosaic code. In other words, in order to create the New Hebrew Man as Yakov Rabkin coins the term in his book, A Threat from Within: a Century of Jewish opposition to Zionism, it was first necessary to evacuate the transcendent nature of Judaic normative principles in order to substitute the State for the God of the Israelites.
The State, however, cannot itself be conflated with Judaism or with Jews as a collectivity and no amount of sophistry will change that. In the case of the State of Israel, its worship should be called Israelism and not Judaism. To claim that the State of Israel is the embodiment of all the world’s Jews is not only a falsehood but a dangerous one, for if the State of Israel is guilty of crimes inflicted upon a neighboring people, and if the extrapolation is made that this State also embodies world Jewry, then all Jews are made to share a collective guilt with this same State, though many Jews oppose that State’s actions. This results in refurbishing old prejudices and stereotypes and stokes the fires of anti-Jewish sentiment, this especially at a moment in time when we are witnessing the rise of fascist movements reminiscent of the 1920s and 30s.
Given the actual social and political context of our times, it is necessary that those progressive elements of society that defend human rights, the rule of law and freedom of expression stand firmly against all forms of racism including anti-Semitic acts of hatred against Jews both as a religious and collective group, but also make the necessary distinction between protecting the religious and civil rights of Jews and the false worship of Zionism-Israelism.
1. Joseph Massad. «Zionism, anti-Semitism and colonialism».
See also Edwin Black. “The Transfer Agreement: The Untold Story of the Secret Pact Between the Third Reich & Jewish Palestine.” New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1984. 430 pages
Lenni Brenner, editor. 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration With the Nazis. New Jersey, Barricade Books , 2002. 342 pages.
Lenni Brenner. Zionism in the Age of the Dictators: A Reappraisal. (1983)
2. Michael Keefer, editor. Antisemitism Real and Imagined:Responses to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism. Waterloo, Ontario: published by The Canadian Charger, 2010. www.thecanadiancharger.ca
3. Yoav Litvin. «Ethical Jews Reject Zionism».
Bruce Katz is a retired language teacher. He is a founding member and current co-president of Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU)*, a Palestinian solidarity organization founded in the year 2000. PAJU is both a member-organization of BDS-Québec and the Canadian BDS Coalition. Bruce has given numerous interviews in English, French and Spanish on the Palestinian question over the past two decades.