Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) defines antisemitism as hostility, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews because they are Jews. We acknowledge the historic scourge of antisemitism, especially in Christian Europe, and its culmination in the Holocaust. Like other Jews, many of us lost family members in that genocide.
It is important to recognize that antisemitism does not impact all of us who identify as Jewish in the same way. While both white Ashkenazi Jews and Jews of colour/Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews have endured discrimination, bigotry, and violence in countries around the world, their experiences have differed significantly.
IJV believes that the vital battle against antisemitism is undermined whenever opposition to Israeli government policies is automatically branded as antisemitic. It is not antisemitic to oppose oppressive Israeli policies or to support tactics in solidarity with Palestinians, such as heeding the Palestinian civil society call for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. Although the broad Palestinian solidarity movement repudiates antisemitism, a few antisemitic incidents have occurred. IJV has been especially vigilant in either correcting or condemning the people who commit these antisemitic acts. Israel’s apologists, by contrast, conflate opposition to Israel’s actions with antisemitism, at times even lauding antisemites who maintain strong support for Israeli policy, as has happened in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory.
We distinguish between prejudice and oppression. Some individual prejudice against Jews continues to exist in Canada. But Jews are not oppressed here or in other Western countries. On the contrary, antisemitic discrimination, statements, and acts have been outlawed, and those who commit them are officially censured. In contrast to the oppressive treatment of Indigenous people, Blacks, Muslims, and other minorities, Jewish Canadians, by and large, no longer face societal barriers or experience systemic discrimination. Jews are unrestricted and prominent in the arts, politics, academe, commerce and many other fields. IJV rejects all forms of oppression, and we are committed to realizing not only the goal of “Never again,” but of “Never again – for anyone.”
Antisemitism in context: Antisemitism arises in response to specific historical and political conditions, and its nature varies as those conditions change. Saying that Jews are a separate people who need their own country used to be considered antisemitic. Now, saying that Jews are not a separate people is widely considered to be antisemitic within mainstream Zionist circles. Antisemitism in Canada is quite different from antisemitism in Eastern Europe. Over the centuries, Jews in Europe were discriminated against for their religious beliefs, and later were also oppressed under the racist view that Jews are genetically inferior. This culminated in the Holocaust. By contrast, Muslim countries historically treated Jews with relative respect (as “dhimmis”[i]), and welcomed Jews fleeing from Christian antisemitism. However, since 1948, Israeli oppression of Palestinians and Israel’s claim that it acts on behalf of all Jews has generated antipathy toward Jews. This is unrelated to European antisemitism.
In Western and Central Europe, and particularly in France, some disenfranchised Arab youth who identify with the struggle of Palestinians against Israel’s nearly 50-year military occupation have taken out their anger and frustration at Jews and Jewish institutions. World-renowned scholar on antisemitism, Jonathan Judaken, explains that “what happens in Palestine becomes a symbolic filter through which the concrete experience of Muslims in Europe and elsewhere is given meaning and internalized, and also how the Palestinian Intifada has become a globalized symbol for the throwing off of the shackles of oppression everywhere.”[ii] While this does not excuse hatred and violence, it refutes claims that antisemitism is an innately Muslim phenomenon. Rather, this antisemitism has resulted from specific historical, social and political conditions. Conflating being Jewish with support for Israel’s behaviour has therefore served to fuel this particular form of antisemitism.
The long history of Jewish opposition to political Zionism: Like many other Jews, we question the morality of a modern state in which one ethnic/national group uses overwhelming political, economic, territorial and military power to oppress a second ethnic/national group. When Zionism arose in the 19th century, most Jews opposed the political project of establishing a Jewish-dominated state, either in Palestine, or elsewhere.[iii] Before the Holocaust, Jewish movements such as the Bund, Reform Judaism, Agudat Yisrael and others opposed the settler-colonial project in Palestine. Respected Jewish intellectuals such as Hannah Arendt, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein and Judah Magnes, and organizations like Brith Shalom and Ihud considered it morally reprehensible to dispossess the Palestinian occupants of the land, and they warned that doing so would be the source of endless violence.
After WWII, opposition to Jewish statehood in Palestine continued in the United States and elsewhere. The American Council for Judaism and many progressive organizations opposed the call for a Jewish-dominated state, arguing against the Jewish political and military domination of Palestinians. Following the June 1967 War, Israeli historians, philosophers and social scientists emerged who argued that diasporic Jewish life is necessary for Jewish continuity, and exposed Israel’s violent dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948 and onward. [iv] Using traditional Jewish precepts, many other Jewish intellectuals have raised troubling questions about Israel’s ongoing moral transgressions.
Using antisemitism as a smokescreen: The tactic of labeling critics of Israel’s laws, policies or actions antisemitic inverts the reality of Israel as an oppressive military superpower, creating the myth that Israel is the victim. This smokescreen imperils the possibilities for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. Israel’s apologists also use this smokescreen to attack a wide spectrum of sites and agents of progressive resistance, such as the World Conference Against Racism, Black Lives Matter, the Green Party of Canada, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and the 2016 World Social Forum, amongst others. IJV encourages critical thought and open debate regarding the situation in Israel/Palestine, as opposed to the exploitation of the term antisemitism, which aims to silence legitimate human rights concerns.
Criticism of Israel’s policies and of political Zionism is not antisemitism. Jews and others who care about human rights must reject disingenuous accusations of antisemitism and condemn real attacks on Jewish people. Despite their best efforts, Israel’s apologists cannot hide the vast and ongoing injustices being inflicted on the Palestinian people, nor stop the global movement for Palestinian rights.
[i] Dhimmi. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhimmi on November 23, 2016.
[ii] Judaken, J. (2008). So what’s new? Rethinking the ‘new antisemitism’ in a global age. Patterns of Prejudice, 42 (4-5) 543.
[iii] See Myers, D.N. (2007). Can there be a principled anti-Zionism? On the nexus between anithistoricism and anti-Zionism in modern Jewish thought. In J. Herf (Ed.), Antisemitism and anti-Zionism in Historical Perspective: Convergence and Divergence. New York, NY: Routledge.
[iv] See Pappé, I. (2014). The Idea of Israel. London: Verso.