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Eric Hazan: Boycotting Israel isn’t anti-semitic

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This editorial was first published in Libération. Translated by David Broder. 



According to [French prime minister] Manuel Valls, "anti-Zionism is quite simply synonymous with anti-Semitism." This argument is no surprise coming from a politician for whom "the state of emergency is the state of the rule of law" and who wants to combat unemployment by making it easier to sack people. But seriously, now — what exactly is "anti-Zionism"?

There are two possible answers. The first one depends on two assertions, one built on the other: the state of Israel speaks in the name of all Jews worldwide; consequently, to be an "anti-Zionist," criticising Israeli policy, is to denigrate not only the Israeli government but the country’s population and indeed all Jews — and this is anti-Semitism. Such is the claim at the galas hosted by the CRIF [council of French Jewish "community leaders"]

This way of seeing things hides two essential points. Firstly, the fact that the great majority of Jews do not live in Israel, and many among them do not approve of Israeli policy. Secondly, that criticising a government doesn’t at all mean making accusations against the country’s population. No: condemning Israel’s colonial policy has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

The second answer to the question "What is anti-Zionism?" is of a historical order. At the beginning of the twentieth century when Theodor Herzl invited the Jews of Europe to depart for Palestine, many of them opposed this, including the revolutionary Polish workers of the Bund. They were anti-Zionists: perhaps the only people to merit this term, which barely still has any meaning today.

Subsequently, in the interwar period, with the Jews’ presence in Palestine now a fait accompli, many highly renowned Jewish intellectuals like Hannah Arendt, Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem said — and wrote — that this presence could not be questioned. But they also said that it was necessary to avoid the establishment of Jewish sovereignty over Palestine. In October 1947, when Palestine’s status was still being discussed at the UN, Arendt appeared before the international commission responsible for informing the General Assembly, and made a submission in favour of federation — a binational state on the territory of Mandate Palestine.

Today the terms of the debate are the same. On the one side are those who stand for a sovereign Jewish state — one as homogeneous and powerful as possible, working to make all the territory of historical Palestine Jewish by keeping its non-Jewish habitants, the Palestinians of Israel and the Occupied Territories, in a condition of subjection. On the other side there are those who think that the 11 million human beings living between the river Jordan and the sea all have the right to live as equals in a joint state (we can leave aside the two-state solution, a fiction designed to get people to accept the status quo).

For those people — both Jewish and Arab — who support the creation of such a state, there has long been no question of doubting the Jewish presence in Palestine. The heart of the dispute is Jewish sovereignty. For them, the boycott of Israel is a means of putting an end to this sovereignty. To accuse them of willing "the destruction of Israel," of being anti-semites, is once again to use Auschwitz to legitimise the Israeli government’s colonial policy. The boycott is not a weapon against Israeli Jews. On the contrary, it will help them one day become an integral part of the region where past generations were driven. It will help them abandon their habits as colonisers, and become equals finally living in peace in a reconciled country.