possible to support Jews, but oppose Zionists?
Zionism is integral to Jewish identity. And anyone opposing it is
Outlet: Jewish National Syndicate
Date: July 16, 2019
following are adapted remarks delivered by Alyza Lewin, president and general
counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, at the U.S.
Department of Justice Summit on Combating Anti-Semitism on July 15, 2019.)
you very much for inviting me to participate in this Summit. It is truly an
honor to be included.
people today are able to recognize “traditional” or “classical”
anti-Semitism—the anti-Semitism we associate with a swastika or the Nazis. It
is more difficult, however, for many to identify the anti-Semitism that Jonathan
Tobin just described—the anti-Semitism that targets Zionism and denies the
right of Jewish self-determination.
like to focus a bit more on that form of anti-Semitism. It is not uncommon to
hear people say, “I’m not anti-Jewish, I’m only anti-Zionist.” Is that
really possible? Is it possible to support Jews but oppose Zionists?
answer is no.
Because Zionism is an integral part of Jewish identity.
yearning and desire of Jews to exercise their right to self-determination and to
re-establish a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel—is an inherent ancestral
and ethnic Jewish characteristic. Zionism as a political movement
may have originated in the 19th century. But this “yearning for Zion”—the
desire of Jews to return to their ancestral homeland—that is thousands of
years old, as old as Abraham and the Bible.
a Zionist means to support this right of Jewish self-determination in the
ancestral homeland of the Jews. If I celebrate the fact that Jews have returned
once again to the Land of Israel, if I celebrate that the Jewish State of Israel
exists, then I am a Zionist. Those who oppose Zionism deny Jews this right.
Judea Pearl, the father of the late journalist Daniel Pearl, coined a term for
this. He calls it “Zionophobia:” an irrational fear or hatred of a homeland
for the Jewish people.
International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Definition of anti-Semitism
includes as an example of anti-Semitism “Denying the Jewish people their right
to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel
is a racist endeavor.” The IHRA definition recognizes that
“Zionophobia”—denying this fundamental core Jewish belief—is de facto
maternal grandmother was a sixth-generation Jerusalemite. Her ancestors came to
live in Jerusalem in the early 1800s—not because there was a modern State of
Israel, but out of a deep sense that as Jews this was their home.
“yearning for Zion” is the glue that kept Jews together for millennia. For
centuries, Jews have not only prayed facing Jerusalem, but they have prayed to
return to Jerusalem. L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim (“Next
Year in Jerusalem!”) is heard each year at the Passover seder and again at the
conclusion of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Do you know that over half of
the 613 commandments in the Pentateuch are connected to the Land of Israel and
can only be fulfilled in the Land of Israel? The Jews’ connection to the land
is so strong that for thousands of years, wherever Jews have lived, they have
prayed for rain—not for where they reside, but for rain in the Land of Israel.
Zionism, this essential component of Jewish identity, is now under attack. Those
who deny Jews the right to self-determination, and who say Jews do not have a
right to a Jewish state in any borders in the Land of Israel, their criticism of
Israel is anti-Semitic even if it is cloaked in human rights terminology.
Because if you do not believe the Jewish State of Israel has a right to exist,
then your criticism of Israel is not intended to reform the policies of the
Government of Israel. Rather, it is intended to destroy the Jewish state.
accurately identify anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism, we must learn to
distinguish between the “Zionophobes”—those who oppose a homeland for the
Jewish people and seek to destroy the Jewish state (on the one hand), and those
who genuinely seek coexistence between Jew and Arab (on the other). Groups like
Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, who believe the
Jews have no right to self-determination, no right to a Jewish state, are not
interested in dialogue or compromise. Their goal is elimination.
no mistake about it. What is happening today on campuses and beyond is part of
an organized well-funded strategy to marginalize pro-Israel Zionists and deny
them a place in society.
Students for Justice in Palestine, an organization supported by American Muslims
for Palestine, held its annual conference last November at UCLA, they posted
their “goals” for the conference on their website. One goal described
SJP’s attitude towards Zionism. Goal # 2, titled “Regearing from Mythos to
“The aim of this
theme is to remind us that Zionism is not an insurmountable force. We know that
Zionism is ethnic cleansing, destruction, mass expulsion, apartheid and
“goal” went on to say that “The reason we can have hope is that Zionism is
a human ideology and a set of laws that have been challenged and can be
destroyed. This is a reminder that the successful challenges to Zionism have
come from direct action.” According to SJP’s stated goal, Zionism “can be
broken down and dismantled.” Most importantly, however, SJP explained that at
the conference they would not just talk theory, but rather would also “focus
on developing actionable local and regional campaigns with clear targets.”
are a student group that equates Zionism with “ethnic cleansing, destruction,
mass expulsion, apartheid and death” and your group’s stated goal is to
“destroy” and “dismantle” Zionism, and you plan to develop “actionable
local and regional campaigns with clear targets,” then I ask you, who are your
what do those campaigns look like?
look like what we saw last year at New York University, when 53 student
organizations representing the entire progressive community on campus pledged
not only to support BDS and to boycott Israel, but to also boycott the
pro-Israel student groups on campus—meaning they said they would not engage
with or dialogue with or co-sponsor events with the pro-Israel students.
message does that convey to a pro-Israel student at NYU? It is saying to that
student, if you want to join our campus community, if you want to be a
full-fledged member and demonstrate with us on climate change, women’s rights
or LGBT rights, we’ll accept you on one condition—check your support for
Israel at the door. Shed that part of your Jewish identity and you can join us.
That is no different than demanding that a student stop observing Shabbat or
stop keeping kosher in order to gain admission. It’s comparable to demanding
that a Catholic student disavow the Vatican, or a Muslim student shed his/her
connection to Mecca. Excluding an individual in this manner, on the basis of
his/her identity, is discrimination.
discriminatory conduct is spreading beyond the college campus. Not long ago,
here in Washington, D.C. at the DC Dyke March, organizers of the march informed
Jewish participants that they could wear religious paraphernalia, such a kipah or
a tallit, but items that reflected support for Israel, such as the
Jewish pride flag—a rainbow flag with a Star of David in the middle—were
prohibited. The Dyke March leaders, who controlled access to a march designed to
celebrate diversity and inclusion, were demanding that Jewish Zionists hide or
shed a key component of their Jewish identity in order to participate. No other
group was charged such a high price for admission.
laws are designed to protect individuals from harassment and discrimination. The
law does not protect you from an opinion you find offensive. In the United
States, even hate speech is protected speech.
we want to be able to effectively utilize our legal tools, such as Title VI of
the Civil Rights Act, we must accurately articulate what is happening as
harassment and discrimination. If we fail to do this, we won’t be able to use
the tools in our toolbox.
permit administrators on university campuses and the general public to perceive
the situation as merely a political disagreement where each side takes offense
at the other side’s position then we disable our most potent weapon.
marginalizing and excluding pro-Israel Zionists on the basis of their identity
is not a “speech” issue. It is racist and unlawful conduct and must be
confronted as such.
must understand that what they are experiencing is anti-Semitism, and that the
law can protect them. We have to teach students and parents how to utilize the
law to effectively combat Zionophobia and anti-Semitism. We must educate our
children so that they don’t ally themselves with groups that deny Jews the
right to self-determination or deny Jews the right to express the Zionist part
of their Jewish identity. It is imperative that the public understand that this
denial is racist, discriminatory and anti-Semitic whether it comes from non-Jews
our panel conversation, I hope to share with you steps that the Brandeis Center
is taking to address these issues and change the climate on campus and beyond.
want to ensure that history does not repeat itself, we must recognize that if
you isolate and dehumanize Zionists and claim they represent society’s
greatest evil, you are branding Jews with a virtual “yellow Star of David.”
And then, what comes next?
Alyza Lewin is
president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights