It's Time to Call Anti-Zionism What It Is: Antisemitic Extremism | Opinion

Antisemitic incidents in 2021 were higher than any year since the Anti-Defamation League began tracking these trends four decades ago. This is due to numerous factors, but clearly in part to an unprecedented surge in antisemitic violence that exploded across America during the conflict between Israel and Hamas one year ago. In May 2021, ADL logged an increase of almost 150 percent over the same period in 2020.

Some might dismiss these incidents, saying they were just political. But these incidents, including 15 brazen assaults, featured a veritable greatest hits of antisemitic rhetoric—everything from claiming Jews are responsible for killing Jesus to hideous Holocaust analogies.

While there are some who want to make the academic argument that one can be anti-Zionist and not antisemitic, that is a distinction that has no difference to the antisemites. Simply, anti-Zionism is antisemitism.

Anti-Zionism is an ideology rooted in rage, based on the belief that the Jewish people should not be able to have a nation state. It's a belief predicated on the negation of another people, and demonstrates a willful denial of even a superficial understanding of history.

Make no mistake: those who rail against "Zionists" do not mean Christian evangelicals who support the modern state of Israel. They mean "Jews."

This is not a new phenomenon. Replacing the word "Jews" with "Zionists" to claim some perceived moral high ground was a rhetorical technique pioneered by Soviet disinformation specialists who wanted to claim that their Communism inoculated them from antisemitism, that the systemic antisemitism rampant in the Soviet Union was about opposition to imagined Western Imperialism, and that it was rooted in politics, not prejudice.

It wasn't: It was propaganda and prejudice then, and it is propaganda and prejudice now. And these words matter precisely because they have real-world effects.

If you demonize another group enough, there are more than a few people out there who will act—who will think it's OK to slur a classmate during a pick-up basketball game, or spray paint a synagogue, or jump the Haredi man walking down the street in Brooklyn, or—God forbid—do even worse.

That is why we are seeing this jump in antisemitic incidents, because groups from all sides of the ideological spectrum are using their words to make it OK to hate Jews.

anti-Zionism is antisemitism
A man carries a fake body bag as people march to demonstrate in support of Palestinians in New York, August 29, 2021. KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images

Consider the words of the head of the San Francisco branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Zahra Billoo, in a speech earlier this year, when she astonishingly claimed that ADL, Jewish Federations, and Hillel chapters are the "enemies" of her community. Billoo concocted a wild conspiracy of interconnected Jewish organizations that supposedly are planning and plotting to harm Muslims, including the groundless accusation that the Israeli military secretly trains U.S. police to harm people of color.

That in and of itself is antisemitic extremism. And when CAIR, a major organization that is welcomed into coalitions by a range of mainstream non-profits, stayed silent and took no action itself to correct the conspiracism, to acknowledge the hurt of such slander, and instead opted to blame the victim and defend the bigot, that just added fuel to the fire.

Anti-Zionist groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and CAIR may not have taken to arms like right-wing extremists. But they are still spouting combustible extremist rhetoric that threatens the peace and wellbeing of the Jewish community—and society at large.

Over the past month, another wave of terror attacks roiled Israel. Terrorists with handguns and knives targeted and killed anyone within arm's reach, killing Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. In response to this violence, organizations like SJP and JVP rallied in midtown Manhattan. They didn't call to "give peace a chance" or "stop the violence." Instead, they called to "globalize the intifada." Their response to a surge in homicidal violence against civilians was literally a call for more homicidal violence against civilians.

That is extremism.

To combat this extremism, we must be prepared to act. For ADL, it means that we will use our analytic capabilities to expose their ideas and ideology, use our litigation skills to hold them accountable for their harm, push policymakers to take action, and do our utmost to expose these extremists to the world.

To be sure, some will claim that putting these groups in the same category as right-wing extremists somehow makes one anti-Muslim or anti-Palestinian. This is also a lie, one as toxic and false as the claim proffered by alt-right bigots that calling out their extremism makes one anti-Christian or anti-white. Indeed, we believe that a two-state solution ultimately is the only outcome that can provide dignity and security to both sides.

Shining a spotlight on anti-Zionist extremism may fray old friendships. Some may be reluctant to take a stand against groups with whom they agree on other issues. Some may try to hide behind their own faith, as if that somehow relieves them of responsibility for their words. It does not.

But too many just do not realize that these groups are spewing extremism, the kind of dangerous hatred that sparks violence. And so, we will work relentlessly to push back on such prejudice. It is essential if we hope to end the oldest hatred once and for all.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and the author of "It Could Happen Here."

The views in this article are the writer's own.