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The Anti-Zionism Canard

Mitchell Cohen has a fine essay in this month's Dissent about the areas of congruence, in style, rhetoric and fallacious logic, that exist between so-called "anti-Zionists" and classical anti-Semites. Cohen concludes: If you judge a Jewish state by standards that … Read More

By / November 15, 2007

Mitchell Cohen has a fine essay in this month's Dissent about the areas of congruence, in style, rhetoric and fallacious logic, that exist between so-called "anti-Zionists" and classical anti-Semites. Cohen concludes:

If you judge a Jewish state by standards that you apply to no one else; if your neck veins bulge when you denounce Zionists but you’ve done no more than cluck “well, yes, very bad about Darfur”; if there is nothing Hamas can do that you won’t blame ‘in the final analysis’ on Israelis; if your sneer at the Zionists doesn’t sound a whole lot different from American neoconservative sneers at leftists; then you should not be surprised if you are criticized, fiercely so, by people who are serious about a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians and who won’t let you get away with a self-exonerating formula—“I am anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic”—to prevent scrutiny. If you are anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, then don’t use the categories, allusions, and smug hiss that are all too familiar to any student of prejudice.

Cohen spends a few paragraphs debunking the latterday absurdities of Tony Judt, who thinks that the equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is a recent phenomenon, and that the notion of a Jewish state is an "anachronism" when in fact it very much of the moment. I respect Judt as an historian who provided a masterful analysis of European Stalinism. As Cohen rightly points out, this analysis was deeply enriched an understanding of how Moscow used "Zionist" as a code-word for Jew. The names Anna Pauker, Rudolph Slansky, Traicho Kostov and László Rajk may not resonate much anymore, but these were all undeviating Stalinists in charge of Soviet satellites, purged simply because of their Hebraic roots.

To understand Soviet anti-Semitism, one has to understand Stalin's lucubrations on the so-called National Question, the only work he ever produced as a pre-revolution Bolshevik that had any lasting policy impact. As a Georgian, Stalin knew that the tribalism that defined the Caucasus was anathema not only to Communist internationalism but to bourgeois nationalism as well. The "rootless cosmopolitan" was therefore the worst kind of subversive — someone without organic ties to a people or state. It did not help, of course, that more Jews became Mensheviks than Bolsheviks, especially in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. ("Filthy, circumcised Yid" was how Stalin once described Julius Martov, the leader of the Menshevik Party.)

Oftentimes, after World War II, the Kremlin would accuse a Jew of being simultaneously a Zionist, a Trotskyist, a Titoist, and a CIA agent, a congeries of interests that, if legitimate, would have made postwar history even more interesting than it was.

Of course, the real anachronism is the term Zionist itself, at least as it has come to mean a supporter of Israel. Zionism was a 19th and 20th century political movement that underwent multiple permutations and revisions yet always agitated for the founding of a homeland for the Jews. Now that that homeland exists and will continue to do so indefinitely, the movement has become obsolete. The messianic reactionaries of Gush Emunim or other Greater Israel chauvinists are not, properly speaking, Zionists any more than Rush Limbaugh is a "rebel colonist" as opposed to an American jingoist. Ditto the most uncompromising elements of AIPAC.

When a conservative calls a liberal who believes in socialized healthcare a socialist he is resorting to a rhetorical flourish that indicates his own tendentiousness rather than the true politics of the liberal. Socialist, when used pejoratively, conjures all sorts of images of undesirable, radical behavior. Propagators of the archaic and meaningless term Zionist are trying to conjure the same thing, but they are acting under a veil of ignorance that pretends Zionist is a polemical identifier no different than any other. Of course, there is no ethnic or racial component attached to socialist.

In fact, there is already a term in the lexicon to describe people who advocate the physical or demographic destruction of a state: anarchists. But those who target only Israel for such destruction seem to be, at their very best, selective or discriminating anarchists. And it's their discrimination that raises eyebrows and gets them into trouble.

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