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Zionism, Judaism and Anti-Semitism

By Abbie Baka

Israel  - A State Built on War and Occupation

The name of this forum is “Not in Our Name: Jewish voices opposing Zionism”. As we speak, Israel continues campaign for increasing military threats against Iran, where Israel would be an active or leading ally. In the summer of 2006, Israel’s war on Lebanon left countless levels of death and destruction, in a campaign of slaughter that our own Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended as a “measured response.”

And the state of Israel, first under the leadership of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and now Ehud Olmert, has been among the most consistent allies of George Bush and the coalition of the killing in the so-called “war on terror”.  This is a war against an ill-defined enemy of “terrorism”, that has carried out the occupation and attacks on Iraq - now approaching the fourth anniversary - and Afghanistan, and threatens to open up numerous other fronts including against Iran.

But it is important to note that the events of the summer of 2006 were no for the state of Israel something new. Wars not an aberration from otherwise peaceful and democratic policies. Israel is a state founded on war.

It was founded on wars of occupation against the indigenous Palestinian people, and defends its structures and borders through one of the most militarized economic and political systems in the world. It relies on the US for the largest per capita aid to any country in the world. And in the United Nations despite repeated violations of international law, it faces no sanctions or consequences.

One of the main reasons for the continuation of this blatant double standard in international law is that the state of Israel, in its foundational laws and policies, claims to represent the interest of another oppressed people, the Jewish people.

Israel claims to be a “Jewish state”, acting in the interests of Jews around the world specifically because they have experienced racist discrimination resulting from their Jewish identity, or anti-Semitism.

This claim is a lie.

We have to distinguish between word and deed, between rhetoric and reality.

Balfour Declaration: 1917 - 2007

Ninety years ago, in November of 1917, a former British Prime Minister and at the time Conservative Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur James Balfour, advocated the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire by designating British support for the Zionist plan of Jewish “national home”.

This was in no way motivated by imperial Britain’s opposition to anti-Semitism. In fact, the one Jewish member of the British Parliament at the time, Lord Montagu, wrote a letter objecting to the arrangement as an expression of the anti-Semitism of the government.1

Britain was in no way altruistic towards the Jewish people. In fact, the British imperialist state was more concerned with managing the spoils of World War One, and the threat of expanded socialist revolution from Russia.

Israel was founded as a state in 1948, ultimately as part of the division of the spoils of the next war, World War Two. But this came only after Britain -and the US, Canada and every other so-called “democratic” state in the world -had refused to open their doors to even a limited number of the millions of Jews facing genocide in Germany and Eastern Europe under the Nazis.

Israel operates on one set of laws and institutions for those defined, according to specific racialized terms, as “Jewish”, and another set of laws and institutions for those who are not-Jewish, in their vast majority the indigenous Arabic Palestinian population.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, stated in 1951, just three years after creation of Israel as a “Jewish state”:

“Israel is to become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy towards the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the US and Britain. But, if for any reasons the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy to the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible.2

Judaism and Zionism are not the Same

Those who criticize the policies, practices and apartheid nature of the Israeli state are commonly attacked by Zionists for being anti-Semitic, in this case meaning propagating anti-Jewish racism. But this is to assume an equation between the Zionist ideology of the state of Israel and Judaism. There are no grounds for such an equation.

I, like all Jewish people, am not unfamiliar with anti-Semitism. We need no one to give us lessons on what it is or isn’t.

Judaism is a religion or a cultural identity.  Like all religious doctrines it is subject to many interpretations among its adherents, and no one view can claim a monopoly or a direct claim to absolute “truth”. And like all cultural identities, cultures change and merge over time and place, fusing, altering and affecting other cultures and creating new cultural syntheses and forms of individual and group identity.

Zionism: Herzl’s Reactionary Legacy

Zionism is different. It is a political ideology and movement, the ideology that is at the heart of the Israeli state.  Founded in its modern form by Viennese journalist Theodore Herzl, Zionism accepts fatalistically that anti-Semitism is inevitable in every country where Jews and non-Jews (or Gentiles), live together. This is another lie.

Herzl not only accepted anti-Semitism. He believed that the basis for this was fundamental to the characteristics of Jews themselves. He wrote in his book, The Jewish State, first published in Vienna in 1896:

“Anti-semitism increases day by day and hour by hour among the nations; indeed it is bound to increase, because the causes of its growth continue to exist and cannot be removed.”

The basis for anti-Semitism in Herzl’s view was based in the racially-specific characteristics of Jews themselves. He accepted anti-Semitic stereotypes, maintaining the immediate cause of prejudice:

“is our excessive production of mediocre intellects, who cannot find an outlet downwards or upwards -that is to say, no wholesome outlet or direction. When we sink, we become a revolutionary proletariat, the subordinate officers of all revolutionary parties; at the same time, when we rise, there rises also our terrible power of the purse.”3

Zionism is the insistence on an ethnically-exclusive state for ethnically-defined Jewish people. In isolation, Zionism was a marginal and isolated view among European Jews. To challenge the racism they experienced, instead Jews in Europe responded as all oppressed minorities who resist have responded, by mass organization and seeking solidarity with non-Jewish allies in the trade union movement, the socialist movement, etc. Zionism thrives only in alliance with one or more imperialist powers, and this was envisioned in Herzl’s strategy. In the post-World War Two context, Zionism advanced on this basis.

There is no truth to the claim that Zionism was a movement for a people without land for a land without a people. Israel is an ethnically-exclusive state based on the forced removal and separation of the indigenous Palestinian people. To maintain this separation, it is necessarily anti-democratic, racist and backed by military force that is ranked among the most powerful in the world. It is also supported by a state ideology and institutions that reproduce the patterns of  ethnically-cleansing -to preserve the occupation of land based on sustaining ethnic separation and hierarchy.

Israel is a Zionist state, an apartheid state, not a Jewish state. It is not a state that protects, advances, or defends the interests of Jewish people from anti-Semitism and racism.

Zionism is a divisive force. It is a reactionary response to anti-Jewish racism -and racism cannot challenge racism.


But solidarity can. Solidarity is a unifying force.

The Palestinian movement for self-determination in the Middle East, and internationally for the right of return to the lands that have been stolen by occupation, needs to be supported. And it needs to be supported firmly, and without apology. It is part of the movement against imperialism, against Islamophobia, against the so-called war on terror of George Bush and his right-hand man Stephen Harper.

And Jewish voices needed to be added to this movement. The hegemony of Zionism as voice for Jews internationally needs to be definitively and openly challenged. We need to build solidarity with the Palestinian people and all those who oppose imperialist war and occupation. We need to support and advance the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the state of Israel.  Building real, genuine solidarity, has the potential to unite us, across differences of religion, race, nationality; to unite us as students and workers; to unite us as women and man, as lesbians, gays, transgendered and bisexuals and heterosexuals. We need to put aside differences that divide us and stand together in a mass movement that can win real peace and real democracy.


  1. Lord Montague, “A Dissenting Note on the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917: On the Anti-Semitism of the Present Government”, reprinted in Counterpunch, November 11, 2006.
  2. Ha’aretz, 30 September 1951, as cited in John Rose, Israel: The Hijack State: America’s Watchdog in the Middle East (Socialist Workers’ Party UK Pamphlet: 1986).
  3. Theodore Herzl, The Jewish State, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1988), pp. 90-91.

Also see NION statements by:
Abigail Bakan | Smadar Carmon | J. Deutsch | Charnie Guettel | Henry Lowi | David Noble | Herman Rosenfeld | Suzanne Weiss

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