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Anti-Zionism, anti-semitism, and the disregard for Islamophobia

  • Nadine Sayegh
  • 4 Mar 2019

A rise in anti-semitism deserves attention and action against it - but it should not be conflated with anti-Zionism, and Islamophobia should not be ignored in the process.

People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of anti-Semitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. The writing on the sign reads: "Antisemitism, islamophobia, racism - not in our name". ( Reuters )

It is difficult to dispute the fact that there is a rise in anti-semitic behaviour across the world today. However, it is quite problematic that politicians across the spectrum are either manipulating this fact for their political gain or are genuinely ignorant

The most recent example is a report from France24 noting that French President Emmanual Macron’s intends to recognise anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism. He said at the Annual Dinner of the Council of Jewish Institutions in France that his government will take measures to define, “anti-Zionism as a modern-day form of anti-Semitism.”

This comes off the back of an incident that occurred during a Yellow Vest protest concerning academic Alain Finkielkraut wherein a video recording showed protesters hurling remarks such as “dirty Zionist.” 

Also, close to the city of Strasbourg close to 100 Jewish graves were defiled with Swastikas.

It's understandable that the French leader would want to take measures against this violence but what he fails to understand is that the terms are not interchangeable. 

As Dr Azmi Bishara points out, there is no connection between the two ideas. 

He says, “Regardless of whether Macron really wants to, or even can, pass legislation of this kind, it seems that he is ignorant about both anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. He will be surprised to find that not only are some of the most important thinkers on anti-Zionism or anti-Zionists Jewish intellectuals of various political persuasions, but anti-Zionism itself, like Zionism, is a Jewish phenomenon – emerging originally as a Jewish response to Zionism.”

In his piece, he continues to highlight the different Jewish groups which are consistently opposed to Zionism - which positions the problem in a new context.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) too distinguishes between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as [anti-Semitic].”

The key to differentiating between the two ultimately leads to the Israeli state. 

In sum, Zionism was a project started to create a home for the Jewish people in the historical land of Palestine. While there is more nuance to the issue, essentially, it means that criticism of Zionism is a valid criticism of a settler-colonial project.

Why then in the UK and the US is there growing confusion between the two terms causing political scandal where none should be. Why are there accusations against US representative Ilhan Omar of being an anti-semite for practising the influence of The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC, on American politics?

In the UK Labour party, 9 Members of Parliament resigned citing criticism in how the party deals with anti-semitism within and outside of the party. This caused a media frenzy and heated statements from resigned members, calling it Labour’s ‘worst day.’ 

A BBC report on Labour’s comments accepting IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, “It included an extra statement saying this should not undermine free speech on Israel. Jeremy Corbyn proposed a longer additional statement - which would have allowed criticism of the foundation of the state of Israel as racist - but this was not accepted by the party's ruling executive.”

These two issues each stem separately from a criticism of Israel’s state and foreign policies, not discrimination against the global Jewish population. If politicians at the highest rank fail to make this distinction for public knowledge, it will continue to increase the hegemonic rhetoric allowing the Israeli occupation of Palestine to continue.

Amidst all this confusion surrounding discrimination of one religious group, we must also ask why the persistent attacks on another continue without the same indignation? One needs only to return to France to understand the contrast.

French retailer Decathlon announced their decision to scrap their ‘running hijab’ in France amidst serious outcry, from non-veiled women, against this product for defying moral values. This included politicians such as the Health Minister saying that while such a product is not illegal, “it's a vision of women that I don't share. I would prefer if a French brand did not promote the headscarf.” 

This product is set to go on sale in over 40 other countries after it’s enormous success in Morocco.

A large part of the French population, politicians, and the current government fail to recognise that this effectively seeks to exclude veiled women from sports, much like they have successfully banned veiled girls from public schools. For this to be misconstrued as anything but discrimination, and xenophobia is questionable. 

The country’s leader goes so far as to hope to, “reduce the influence of Arab countries, which prevents French Islam from entering modernity,” thus a French reform of Islam. 

Rather than invest in improved integration that encourages acceptance on both sides of the debate the current position openly vilifies one religion and weaponises oppressive political ideologies.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

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