“I can tell you that many protesters who advocate for ‘Palestine’ would find themselves not so welcome in its territories. The outspoken feminists at the National Women’s Studies Association who endorse BDS and attack the Jewish state would not be so loud on the streets of Hebron.”
When Manny Yekutiel first introduced his café in the Bay Area in November of last year, it was this Israeli’s intention that the restaurant double as a “civic social gathering space.” As a progressive Jew, Mr. Yekutiel hosted speakers from the Black Lives Matter movement as well as speakers from movements that focused on urban sustainability. “I wanted to create a central, accessible, and affordable place to go to become a better informed and more involved citizen,” he told the San Francisco Examiner upon opening Manny’s in the Mission District. If you were to read next, then, that one morning while Mr. Yekutiel went to unlock the café, he would discover one of his windows had been smashed and a Star of David had been graffitied on the outer wall, you might naturally conclude that it was the work of some neo-Nazi group on the far right. And you would be wrong.
The vandalism, and the weeks of protests which followed thereafter (where potential customers were blocked from entering Manny’s), was coordinated by multiple local left-wing groups, among which were The Lucy Parsons Project, the Black & Brown Social Club, a group called Gay Shame, and the Brown Berets. The Lucy Parsons Project in particular wrote in a letter to San Francisco media that their protest was due to Mr. Yekutiel espousing “Zionist, pro-Israel ideals” that they “would not tolerate or accept in [their] community” (as if it was in any way up to them who the community chose to accept or tolerate). While these types of “political cells” represent the fringiest of the fringe of the left, and rarely have more than ten members at any given time, the alarming aspect of this story is how these fringe clubs feel emboldened by the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions movement (BDS)— which has become increasingly mainstream— to act out their anti-Semitism as “anti-Zionism.”
Lest you fault me for drawing a dishonest connection between anti-Semitism and “anti-Zionism,” I’ll change the story above only slightly to show you what I mean.
Imagine if I were to organize a protest outside of a Chinese restaurant—and even block the entrance of the restaurant so customers couldn’t get in—and when asked, I told you “It’s because of my disagreements with the actions of the Chinese government.” Would that not be racist? Of course it would! Why? Because I would be projecting my political grievances with the Chinese government onto the owners of the restaurant, based solely on the fact that they’re Chinese. But let’s go one further: let’s say that the Chinese owners of the Chinese restaurant voiced how proud they were of Chinese history and culture. Even then, would I be justified in protesting the owners because of my opinions about the Chinese government? No. It would still be racist. Why? Because culture does not equal government, and to celebrate one’s country is not necessarily the same as celebrating the actions of its government. Too many assumptions would be made on my part.
If this is so plainly understood in the context of the Chinese, why isn’t it understood in the context of Jews? Why is it that Jewish business owners like Manny Yekutiel have to denounce Israel to keep themselves safe from protest and vandalism? More importantly, what makes activists think it’s okay to even ask Jewish persons of influence how they feel about Israel based solely on the fact that they are Jewish and/or Israeli? Again, if I approached a Chinese CEO and demanded they denounce the government of China before they conduct their business, bystanders would instantly cut me down with objections (as they should).
In simpler terms, ask yourself the question: If you wanted to be an anti-Semite and still maintain mainstream legitimacy, how would you do it? The only way you could do it is from behind the banner of “anti-Zionism.”
I am reminded of a portion of Bernard-Henry Lévi’s book The Genius Of Judaism, where— in a chapter on anti-semitism—he writes:
“The problem is not how to determine, as you hear in the media, whether you have ‘the right’ to criticize Israel or whether it is possible to be ‘anti- Zionist without being anti-Semitic.’ The truth is that one can now be anti-Semitic only by being anti-Zionist; anti-Zionism is the required path for any anti-semitism that wishes to expand its recruiting pool beyond those still nostalgic for the discredited brotherhoods. The reality is that there are only a few ways to be anti-Semitic today, only a few solutions that enable anti-Semitism to escape from the secret circles within which the defeat of Nazism confined it. And one of those ways is to establish the image of an unscrupulous people using their own history to crowd out the history of others, to create a vacuum around themselves and smother the tremulous voice of its Palestinian ‘competitors.’ The coming anti-Semitism will burn the fuel of the competition of victims or it won’t ignite at all. It will establish the idea of a monstrous people who suck the air from around others, preventing them not from breathing but from complaining and from having their complaints heard: it will do this or it will fail.”
In simpler terms, ask yourself the question: If you wanted to be an anti-Semite and still maintain mainstream legitimacy, how would you do it? The only way you could do it is from behind the banner of “anti-Zionism.” You can’t openly hate “the Jews,” but you can hate Israel and oppose its right to exist as a Jewish state. The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion was proven a hoax almost a hundred years ago, and goose-stepping ain’t as cool as it used to be, but “end the occupation” achieves the stunning result of allowing anti-Semites to present themselves as human rights advocates.
This leads us to another question, and really, the question: Do the Jewish people have the right to self-determination? I’ll break this question down even further: Do the Jewish people have the right to determine their own laws, customs, and desires within lands that are historically theirs? Here, the conversation in most left-wing circles would become more interesting, because Jews being indigenous to the land of Israel is a point of contention in activist circles… though not a point of contention in archaeology circles, anthropology circles, genealogy circles, or history circles.
Regardless, the situation on the left today is such where progressive Jews who are pro-Israel are being actively pushed out of their spheres of activism. And they are being pushed out because the assertion by pro-“Palestine” activists is that Zionism (the belief that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination in lands historically theirs) is a fundamentally racist ideology. To be a Zionist and a lefty is to be a contradiction. It has nearly arrived at the point where the only Jews who will be allowed to remain, then, in progressive movements are Jews willing to renounce who they are and betray their own people.
But let’s deal with the charge head-on. Is Zionism racist? Pro-“Palestine” leftists argue that yes, it is, because Zionism at its core is the belief in an ethnostate. This is false. Israel, while a Jewish state, does not restrict the question of “Who is a Jew?” to mere blood, but gives citizenship to anyone who converts to Judaism, marries a Jewish person (who can also just be a convert), or can demonstrate that they have adopted Jewish cultural practices (e.g. kosher, holidays, etc.) In addition, Israel is the home of 1.5 million Arab Christians and Muslims, 70,000 North African refugees, over a million post- Soviet Union refugees, and a sizable Druze population that resides mainly in Jerusalem. If Israel’s Zionist goal, then, were to be an ethnostate, its critics should swap the charge of bigotry for extreme incompetence.
This being said, there are fanatical forms of Zionism. The ethnic messianic Zionism which drives the illegal settlements in the West Bank (encouraged by the current Prime Minister Netanyahu), for example, is rooted in a theocratic belief that the Jewish messiah will one day come to reign after the settlements are completed and dole out punishments to all infidels and apostates (this Jewish supremacy is aided and abetted by “Christian Zionists” in the American evangelical community who believe that the Jewish doomsday vision aligns with their own).
But Zionism’s “default”—expressed through the Labor, Green, and Political strands of the philosophy—is quite secular. It is merely the belief that the Jews—as a people, religious or nonreligious—should have a place in the world free from persecution where they can determine their own government and future. This is not that different, I would argue, from the self-determination that came out of the Haitian rebellion of 1791 or the Cuban revolution in 1959. The land of Israel is ours, Jews are indigenous to it, and it is therefore fitting that we be the ones to articulate a vision of what we want from that land and in it.
Even then, over the past 70 years, it has not been the way of the Jewish people to extol a vulgar nationalism. On the contrary, a proud socialist tradition courses through the veins of Israeli history: the development of Labor Zionism by Jewish intellectuals such as Ber Borochov and Nachman Syrkin; the prime ministership of David Ben Gurion at the very beginning of Israel’s founding; LGBT rights being recognized in Israel in 1963; the nationalization of Israeli healthcare in the mid-1990s; and, of course, the kibbutz movement of the 1960s and 70s (similar, but not exactly the same, to the counter-cultural communes that sprang up in the United States at around the same time).
Meanwhile, in “Palestine,” what? A parallel leftwing socialist tradition? Oh, please. No “Palestinian” intellectual has ever articulated a vision of what “Palestine” should be after Israel ceases to exist or after the two state solution finally becomes reality. There are no political manifestos written by “Palestinian” figures in advance concerning how their society is to be structured. Almost as if the destruction of Israel is the primary goal, and the establishing of their own country is merely a political talking point to that end (“Palestine” after the fall of Israel, I think, would simply be a bigger Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan). Furthermore, no “Palestinian” political leader has ever risen to power in Gaza or the West Bank proclaiming any progressive message of any kind. We’ve had Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and— over Gaza— the terror group Hamas. Should I really even bring up healthcare and LGBT rights? If you insist. In Gaza and the West Bank, the arrest, torture, blackmail, and murder of lesbians and gays is commonplace (while the annual Tel Aviv Pride parade consistently draws an average of 200,000 people). In Gaza, there is no medical aid beyond whatever scant provisions Hamas chooses to distribute, while the notoriously subpar healthcare in the West Bank is funded largely by foreign governments (Israel treats 160,000 “Palestinians” a year including relatives of Hamas members).
This is ultimately why Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions cannot be seen as a good faith liberation movement. It repeatedly lies about the nature of Israeli society, calling it “apartheid” when it is not. It presents armed militants as “victims of oppression” who merely react to that oppression through the only means left to them (such patent nonsense, given the chance at statehood the “Palestinians” themselves squandered at the Camp David summit almost 20 years ago). The BDS movement additionally has a history of being financed by individuals who previously raised funds for Hamas, as was found to be the case just three years ago. And yet the movement’s most odious lie is that it exists simply to stop the spread of illegal settlements. Fortunately for us, one of BDS’s founders, Omar Barghouti, couldn’t keep his big mouth shut five years ago when, in an interview with Outlook India, he let slip:
“A Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinian… most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine… Ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself.”
Moreover, it’s amazing how many activists there are a part of the BDS movement who have never actually been to Israel, or the West Bank, or near Gaza during a rocket attack. With my having been to all three, I can tell you that many protesters who advocate for “Palestine” would find themselves not so welcome in its territories. The outspoken feminists at the National Women’s Studies Association who endorse BDS and attack the Jewish state would not be so loud on the streets of Hebron, nor would the group Queers For Palestine be left alone by the “virtue and vice patrols” in charge of policing Gaza against spiritual immorality. These activists would be more than welcome in Tel Aviv, however, where plenty of Israeli feminist and LGBT residents already reside. But now the question is if these same Israeli feminists and LGBT individuals would even be welcome in San Francisco.
Race Hochdorf is a Jewish-American writer, veteran, secular humanist, stoic, and proud member of the anti-totalitarian populist left. His writing has been featured at The Humanist, Areo Magazine, Outlaw Poetry, and Paste Magazine, and he writes regularly on his personal website www.racehochdorf.com He currently resides in Israel.