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Which of These Is Not Like the Others?

By Alan H. Stein

Published in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger
January 27, 2006

When protesters recently accused a Connecticut newspaper of being racist and anti-Hispanic, someone threw in the gratuitous complaint that the publication was Zionist. The lumping of those three terms reminded me of the question often asked on Sesame Street: "which of these is not like the others?"

Except for the likes of David Duke and his ilk, nobody wants to bear the red badge of being racist or anti-Hispanic. Zionism is in a totally different category; those who understand the national liberation movement of the Jewish people recognize it is anti-Zionism which is tantamount to racism.

The qualifier "tantamount" is used because Zionism has nothing to do with race or racism, so technically anti-Zionism is "merely" a version of anti-Semitism and bigotry rather than racism, but is obviously cut from the same cloth as racism.

It is theoretically possible to be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic, but the practical significance of that theoretical possibility is nil and most patriotic Americans would also be repelled by the rare individual who is anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, as further explanation will make clear.

The most accurate and meaningful definition of Zionism I've ever seen is simultaneously simple and complex: Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

It is simple because we are all familiar with national liberation movements. Zionism was one of the earliest such movements and in many ways serves as a prototype for most others, ironically including the national liberation movement of the Palestinian Arabs, the latter arising relatively recently as a reaction to Zionism.

It is complex because it involves the dual and perhaps unique dualism connecting Judaism as a religion and Jewishness as a national identity.

Generally, religion and nationality are separate. There is no national identity associated with either Christianity or Islam. That Judaism and the Jewish nation/people are inherently intertwined is difficult for many to understand; this difficulty has also been used by demagogues and bigots inciting hatred of Jews.

Every Jew, without distinction as to whether that person was born Jewish or converted, is part of the Jewish nation, enjoying whatever rights that membership entails. It is ironic that many Israel-bashers have successfully exploited that aspect of Judaism to hurl false charges. It is the basis of the infamous "Zionism is Racism" libel, approved by the United Nations in the most debasing moment of its history, despite the fact that it is logically impossible for Zionism to be racism.

People of all races and ethnic groups can become part of the Jewish people, simply by converting.

Yassir Arafat, as an Arab Muslim born and raised in Egypt (many people are unaware that he was not Palestinian) had it within his own power to become part of the Jewish people and a citizen of Israel.

In contrast, there is no way that I, as an American Jew of Ashkenazi descent, can ever become a part of the Arab people and I am barred, by one of the first laws passed by the Palestinian Authority, from even buying land in the portion of my historical homeland controlled by the Palestinian Arabs; anyone selling land to me would be committing a capital crime punishable by death!

As mentioned earlier, it is theoretically possible to be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic. Here's how.

One may be against all national movements. Someone who opposes the existence of all nations, including America, Great Britain, France and Egypt, would naturally also be anti-Zionist. Such a person, wishing to insult someone, might hurl the epithet "Nationalist" at that person, or perhaps "American." If such a person also hurled the accusation "Zionist" as an epithet, that would not constitute anti-Semitism.

In other cases, when individuals single out Zionism as the one national liberation movement they oppose, those individuals are claiming that while all other nations are entitled to their own sovereign state, the Jewish nation is not; this distinction denying to the Jewish people something accepted for other peoples is a manifestation of anti-Semitism and bigotry and should be recognized as such.

The next time you notice someone opposing Zionism, ask that person whether he or she also supports the dissolution of the United States of America. If that person is not anti-Semitic, the answer will be yes. You can then decide whether you consider that person is a friend or foe.

Racist, anti-Zionist, anti-Hispanic? They go together.

Racist, Zionist, anti-Hispanic? Bert and Ernie know one of these is not like the others.

Alan Stein of Waterbury is president of PRIMER-Connecticut

For more information about PRIMER-Connecticut, send email to info@primerct.org

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