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Thursday, May 16, 2024

Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism

 At Inside Higher Ed, Jessica Blake interviews Prof. Benjamin Ginsberg:

Q: You are a scholar of Jewish history and you recently released a book on antisemitism in America. How do you think we got here?

A: I’ll give you the short version. I think this began as a result of the Israel-Arab war. In 1967, Israel defeated all of its Arab neighbors, and this had a number of consequences which still resonate through the world. But one of the consequences was to transform Israel from a small socialist state, which was loved by politicians of the left. The war transformed Israel into a power. Moreover, it brought it into the American security orbit and the U.S. began to arm Israel.

To socialists, this was sort of a great betrayal. They began to see Israel as an agent of American imperialism. This became even more manifest with a huge migration of Muslims from the Middle East into Western Europe. Socialists and other left parties saw Muslims as new voters for their coalition. Muslim voters weren’t much interested in the theories of Karl Marx, but the European socialist parties found one point on which they could agree with their putative new followers—and that was Israel.

Both groups could cheerfully oppose Israel. So anti-Zionism became an important plank in the European socialist platform. From there, it migrated to the United States, where anti-Zionism has become a very important element in left liberal politics in the U.S., as we see now.


Q: Do you draw a line in the sand between anti-Zionism and antisemitism? And if so, where is it?

A: This is endlessly debated in America. However, in much of the world, there’s no difference. Moreover, even though anti-Zionism and antisemitism might be philosophically different, in the political arena, they become one in the same. If you’re an anti-Zionist, your opponents are likely to be Jews. From that clash emerges a certain degree of enmity. This is why there’s kind of a mix of anti-Zionist and antisemitic rhetoric from these encampments.

These positions become blended for several reasons. One of which—and this was a question well before October 7—is why Israel? Arguably, there are many regimes in the world that are more despicable than Israel. More Muslims are oppressed by other Muslim governments than are oppressed by Israel. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt—these are very repressive regimes. So why direct animus toward Israel? In some cases, it’s motivated by an underlying dislike of Jews.