Defining Zionism, anti-Zionism and antisemitism | Letters

Readers respond to Peter Beinart’s long read article ‘Debunking the myth that anti-Zionism is antisemitic’

In his article (Debunking the myth that anti-Zionism is antisemitic, 7 March), Peter Beinart makes the common error that trips up many people trying to understand the problems in the Middle East – he tries to apply logic to it. If A equals B and B equals C then A must equal C simply does not work here. Stating that if anti-Zionism just means being against Israel then anti-Zionism is OK misses the point by a mile and hundreds of years.

If Zionism is anything, it is a discussion; everyone seems to think it means something else. We had these discussions at Sunderland Polytechnic Student Union in the 1980s to no great resolution and they are continuing today at Essex University.

If people want to attack the appalling behaviour of the state of Israel to Palestinians I would agree with them. If people say they understand Zionism and feel they can tell others what it means, then I cordially suggest they are wrong.
John Gessler
Ex-president, Sunderland Polytechnic Jewish Society

• Peter Beinart’s claim that it is not antisemitic to identify as anti-Zionist conveniently ignores the prior predicate: that Jews get to define their own identity and the return to Zion as part of it. In my daily prayers, grace after meals, and many other daily acts, including the direction in which I pray, there is, and always has been, a desire to return to Zion, a specific physical location. There is a wide diversity of views among Jews how to give that practical expression. But we Jews get to define Zionism, and every poll shows that 90% of us recognise it as core to our identity. So oppose the actual policies of the state, support parties that want fundamentally to change the state, have philosophical historic debates about how it came about, but the moment you declare yourself “anti-Zionist” you are expropriating the right to define and deny my identity.
Justyn Trenner
London

• I think that Peter Beinart is mistaken. If, say, the Basques or the Kurds had achieved nationhood, then they too are likely to have had difficulties with their neighbours and their internal minorities. Nevertheless, if that nationhood were then challenged, their respective diaspora would have shown similar solidarity towards their new national homeland that many Jews now feel towards Israel. Some people are failing to understand the sensitivities of many (though not all) in our Jewish community.
John Whitehead
London

• At long last, a proper, objective analysis of the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. It is failure to recognise this distinction that leads to the accusation of institutional antisemitism in the Labour party, which I deny. In particular, it reveals the antisemitic motivation for the Balfour declaration, which first gave credence to the idea of a “Jewish national home” in historic Palestine. How different might the world be today had Balfour, instead, declared: “We are a democratic, tolerant, multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, and we welcome all persecuted minorities, who will no doubt make their own special contribution to our culture.”

The answer to antisemitism is the same as the answer to all forms of discrimination: recognition that our common humanity should override all the things that divide us. On that basis, the answer to the Israel/Palestine “problem” is the “state for all citizens” proposed by Palestinian members of the Knesset, but in the whole of historic Palestine. It would be a beacon to the world, while still being a special place for Jews.
Frank Jackson
Harlow, Essex

• Peter Beinart’s Egyptian-Jewish refugee grandma must be turning in her grave at her grandson’s failure to learn the lessons of history. To change Israel from an ethnic state to a “civic democracy” is effectively to make it a 23rd Arab state: its first act would be to abrogate Israel’s Law of Return giving Jews safe haven from diaspora antisemitism. To deny Jews a right to their own national symbols and character – over 90% of Jews are Zionists – while advocating a Palestinian state is itself antisemitic. To deny Kurds the state which an overwhelming majority of Iraqi Kurds support is anti-Kurdish bigotry.
Lyn Julius
Harif – UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa

• Peter Beinart’s article was the most thoughtful and considered piece on this subject in the Guardian since Stephen Sedley and Geoffrey Bindman’s forensic contributions to the debate on Labour’s adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism (30 July 2018). Beinart even dares to suggest that it might be advantageous to Israel’s leaders to conflate antisemitism with criticism of that country’s foreign and domestic policy, an opinion which it has become almost taboo to express in the current climate.
Mike Hine
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

• The Zionist aim was to establish a Jewish state that would always provide a haven for Jews fleeing persecution and death. The Zionist movement arose not only because of the centuries of suffering but also because when Jews attempted to escape, the gentile world closed its doors to them. Although our country took in 10,000 Jewish child refugees, we refused to take in their parents, most of whom perished. Had there been then a Jewish state, those parents and countless others would have survived. Overwhelmingly Jews support the existence of a Jewish state – Zionism – but the majority are critical of Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies. To criticise the current Israeli government is not antisemitic, but to condemn the existence of Israel usually is.
Paul Miller
London

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