Is Anti-Zionism Anti-Semitism? Trump’s Extending Civil Rights To Jews On Campus

Is Anti-Zionism Anti-Semitism? Trump’s Extending Civil Rights To Jews On Campus


Leonard Zwelling

Oh boy! This is a tough one.

First, I have to set aside my own prejudice on this issue because my love for the land of Israel is so profound, that I cannot be objective about those who oppose official Israeli policy including the enlargement of the settlements in the West Bank. The Jewish people have their roots in the historic sands of all of the land of Israel, even the part that was occupied by Arabs until 1948 and 1967. I cannot understand why the parties cannot live in a single country that encompasses both Jews and Arabs, but I don’t live there. And, when I have been there, I have seen the animus between Arab and Jew with my own eyes. It isn’t pretty. So the truth is, though I wish it were otherwise, I get the current stalemate.

That being said, I surely understand the position of students and others, Jews and non-Jews, who believe that the Palestinian Arabs are an oppressed people. There is the land in the West Bank once completely occupied by Arabs and now carved into three zones including one for the Israeli settlements and one Israelis cannot enter. These areas are contested, to say the least.

I understand the people in the BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, movement who wish to segregate the Israeli Jews in the West Bank from doing business with the rest of the world. They feel that the Jews there are occupying territory that belongs to the Arabs. In fact, the land belongs to whoever last conquered it and, right now, that is the Israelis, despite several attempts by the Arabs to take it back (1948, 1967, 1973). After all, countless civilizations have ruled over the land that is modern Israel. Why not the Jews again?

I understand the anti-Zionists. I don’t agree with them, but I see their position.

The question for today is whether or not President Trump’s move to place Jews, particularly those on college campuses, under the protection of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act is good for the Jews. After all, isn’t that what we Jews are mostly worried about? What’s good for the Jews?

Under Trump’s new order, anti-Semitism is now covered along with offenses against people on the basis of race, color and national origin. Religion was not covered under Title Vi. Is it now?

That depends on what you think Judaism is. Officially, now, it is more than a religion. But if being a Jew is equivalent to being Israeli, that’s not exactly right either. We American Jews are Americans first.

It seems more than obvious that people can object to the behavior of the government of the state of Israel without being anti-Semitic. However, things do get blurry really fast.

Were the free speech rights of those gathered in Chapel Hill earlier this year for a conference on Gaza that featured a Palestinian entertainer who was blatantly anti-Semitic being simply exercised, or is such hate speech more than political? Whenever someone wants to suppress the expression of an opinion by someone else, there are bound to be disagreements, often unpleasant ones. (I mean who ever heard of pleasant disagreements? Surely not the Democratic candidates on the debate stage.)

We American Jews make up a wide breadth of opinions when it comes to Israel. There are young Jews on campuses who really do see the Palestinians as an oppressed people. This oppression is nothing compared with that in Myanmar or China, but I hear the message. It is one that I have struggled with for years, particularly after having gone to the Arab part of the West Bank several times and seeing the vast differences between life there and life in the rest of the territory that used to be Palestine. I have arrived at the conviction, heavily influenced by friends in Israel, that a one-state solution is the only solution as long as the right of every Jew to come to Israel is preserved. I see no reason the right of those Arabs who have felt displaced by Israel cannot also return. BUT, Israel won the many wars for its independence. Some of those wars were started by the surrounding Arab states. Those surrounding states, including Jordan, have not been very helpful to the Palestinian Arabs. The plight of the Palestinian Arab’s predicament is not only in the lap of Israelis. The rest of the Arab world has been less than helpful.

Until someone supplants the democratically elected (albeit now for the third time) government of Israel, that land will remain free and a Jewish homeland. Nothing can be allowed to change that and nothing will.

Meanwhile, back in America, we Jews of various mindsets need to both defend our own right to speak, and also the right of others with whom we do not agree.

The Palestinian entertainer was frankly anti-Semitic. Was the entire conference? My guess is, given that I was not there, it was sometimes and wasn’t at others.

There needs to be room to discuss the many sides of the issue of who governs the land of the West Bank. There is no room for anti-Semitism in that discussion. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism innately. But it tends to get there often. We shall see if the Trump Administration’s move is good or bad for the Jews. Stay tuned.

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