For many Jews on the left, particularly the moderate or liberal left, there is a preoccupation — some might even say an obsession — with finding the so-called “line” between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, between legitimate, even if harsh, criticism of Israel and an attack on the Jewish people as a whole.
Given Jewish history and the rise in antisemitism during and since the Trump years, one can understand the vigilance. Several antisemitic incidents during Israel’s latest criminal onslaught on the Gaza Strip cast a spotlight on the question again.
Yet the question itself is contentious at best. Anti-Zionism, criticism of Israel, and even harsh condemnation of the state, including bombastic, inaccurate, or exaggerated statements are all part of political debate. Attacking Zionism, no matter how harshly, is no different, in and of itself, than attacking any other ideology. This holds even more true for nationalist ideologies, which are generally exclusively self-interested, and often tied to political claims that others might bitterly oppose, despite the claimants’ historical grievances.
The 3D test
It should not need to be stated — but, sadly, it does — that Israel may be the only self-proclaimed Jewish state, but this does not mean it should receive less, or more, criticism than other states. Its actions, its treatment of people it affects, citizens or otherwise, and its role in global affairs are as open to criticism — again, including harsh, bitter, even angry criticism — as any other country. No more, no less.
That includes questioning whether the structure of the state precludes the possibility of respect for universal rights and, if it does, demanding a change in that structure. That is as true for Israel as it was for apartheid South Africa, or as it is today for various dictatorships, autocracies, and theocracies around the globe. It also holds true for critical inquiry into the creation of Israel, the same as the United States, Australia, Canada, and other places currently grappling with the questions of their founding on genocide, dispossession, and ethnic cleansing.