Do you think that Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and are you aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history that might prompt that need and desire? And if your answer is no, if your notion is somehow that that history doesn’t matter, then that’s a problem, in my mind.
— President Barack Obama, on drawing the line between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism
Molly Horwitz’s proposed student Senate bill calls for support from the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) to condemn anti-Semitism on campus. A portion of the bill also clarifies the line between legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies and anti-Zionism. But what is that difference? What does ‘anti-Zionism’ even mean?
Zionism is defined as the national liberation movement affirming the right of Jews to live free in their native land. The Jewish struggle for self-determination. The civil rights movement of the Jewish people.
(Note that the Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group – meaning the collective Jewish identity is comprised of both religious and ethnic components. There are some Jews – many Jews – who identify with only one component of this definition, and many, like myself, who find them virtually inseparable.)
Anti-Zionism: The antithesis of the above. The belief that Jews do not have the right to self-determination in even part of their ancestral homeland.
Israel is a Jewish and Democratic state, but Israelis are not defined by their religion or ethnic origin. In fact, Israel’s population is roughly 74.9% Jewish, 20.7% Muslim, and 4.4% other. Criticizing Israeli policy is not inherently anti-Semitic – after all, the policies are instituted by Israel’s Knesset, which is comprised of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Druze, and more. But delegitimizing Israel’s fundamental right to exist as Jewish national homeland – in one form or another – targets the Jewish character of the state. It targets Israel alone, and Israel’s fundamental right to exist among all countries in the world.
Can you be anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic? Frankly, I don’t think so – and neither does the U.S. State Department or President Barack Obama.
But even if, in theory, a delineation between the ideologies could be made, let’s look at the reality. At Stanford’s student Senate meeting, some of the most vocal opponents of the bill were members of Stanford Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Stanford SJP is explicitly associated with the international SJP, including member groups at schools like Vassar and City University of New York, where anti-Zionism has long since explicitly given way to virulent anti-Semitism.
At Vassar College, the SJP chapter promoted the sale of T-shirts depicting Leila Khaled, an infamous Palestinian airline hijacker, holding a machine gun in the air. On their Facebook page, Vassar SJP advertised the shirts as “sweet fucking anti-Zionist gear.” The same SJP chapter tweeted Nazi and white supremacist cartoons vilifying Jews and mocking the holocaust.
At City University of New York (CUNY) schools, a student protest against tuition increases at Hunter College was cosponsored by SJP, and included the chant “Zionists out of CUNY!” Student reports of the event also include the phrase “Jews out of CUNY!”
In these cases and so many more, any pretense of delineation between “anti-Zionism” and “anti-Semitism” has been dropped. If someone demonizes Israel, applies double standards to Israel, and delegitimizes Israel by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination in at least part of their ancestral homeland – then what are they doing but singling out the Jewish state and the Jewish people in a blatant act of discrimination?
Personally, I love Stanford. I love the sunshine, the teachers, and the woman who yells at me when I bike through the main quad. I love my classes, my friends, and Stanford traditions. I have never in my life been happier than I am at Stanford.
But of the three times I have seriously considered leaving Stanford, each one was related to the state of anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism on campus.
The first time, was prior to arriving on campus, when I learned of the Swastikas defacing the SAE building and began to question whether I might be safer at a different school. The second time occurred in my third week of classes, when a student used biblical tales of conquest to claim that, reading the Hebrew Bible “it becomes evident that the proverbial “Other” doesn’t matter [to the Hebrews]. And… the reverberations are still being felt today, namely in Palestine.” The third was a misunderstanding with a professional in relation to the above topics.
My experiences alone should not dictate ASSU Senate policy, but I hope they’ll be taken into consideration when the student Senate and student body consider the impacts of this bill on Jewish students at Stanford. But more importantly, I hope the Senate will take into account the state of Vassar, of CUNY, of Oxford and King’s College London. I hope the Senate will take into account President Obama, the State Department, and the kind of campus community we seek to create.
– Michal Leibowitz
The author is a fellow with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).
Contact Michal Leibowitz at michalgl ‘at’ stanford.edu.