From the beginning of political Zionism in the 19th century, there have always been anti-Zionists, even among Jews. Some were religiously opposed to the establishment of a Jewish state; others were politically opposed; still others were culturally opposed. There was Arab and Muslim opposition to any Jewish political entity in the region.
That was then. Since that time, the vast majority of decent people have supported the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, in the form of Israel as the legitimate nation state of the Jewish people. When Israel declared independence in 1948, it was recognized by all the major western nations including the United States and the Soviet Union. The left, both internationally and in the United States strongly supported Israel and Zionism. Only the Arab and Muslim nations along with their allies opposed Zionism.
The Soviet Union turned against Israel
Everything changed when the Soviet Union, anxious to build relationships with oil rich Arab dictatorships, turned against Israel. This change was accompanied by strong opposition to Israel and Zionism by communist parties and their surrogates throughout the world.
Today there are anti-Zionists who favor a secular binational state—which almost no Israelis or Palestinians support. Some modern day hard left anti-Zionists hate Israel because of its close association with the United States, which they regard as the bastion of Imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism. But the sad reality is that the vast majority of anti-Zionists today are motivated by a hatred of the Jewish people – by a contemporary variation on classical antisemitism.
It is not always easy to distinguish anti-Zionists from antisemites, but there are some criteria that may be helpful.
The first is whether those who claim to be only anti-Zionists and not antisemites apply a single standard of demonization to countries other than the nation state of the Jewish people? Or do they single out only Israel? Do they protest the lack of statehood for the Kurds and the occupation of Kurdish land by Turkey, Syria, and Iraq? What about the Uyghurs in China? The mass killings of civilians in Darfur? The Russian invasion and murder of Ukrainian civilians? The many other occupations and denials of human rights around the world? If not, then why only Israel? Is it because it is the nation state of the Jewish people? The burden of justification is on the selective demonizers.
Related to the above is whether the demonizers also condemned Hamas for its mass murderers, rapes, and kidnappings of October 7, or only criticized Israel for its military reaction to the Hamas massacres. Organizations like the National Lawyers Guild condemned Israel and praised Hamas the day after the massacres, well before Israeli soldiers entered Gaza. Many student groups at Harvard and other elite universities blamed Israel for the murders, rapes, and kidnappings.
Another criterion is whether they call for the release of the Israeli hostages taken and held in violation of the laws of war. Many groups and individuals have demanded the release of all Hamas prisoners, including mass murderers, while remaining silent about or even justifying what Hamas has done including the kidnappings.
Then there is the explicit hatred of all Jews, in addition to all Israelis. Susan Sarandon has been the most prominent among these bigots but not the most outrageous. She called for Jews to be scared, while others called for them to be gassed. Still others have assaulted Jewish students, shouted down Zionist speakers, and engaged in violent demonstrations. They have called for Israel to be free of Jews from “the river to the sea,” and for the world to be “cleansed” of all Jews.
There have been no calls for a two-state solution. To the contrary, nearly all the protests demand the end of Israel.
The focus of the current Jew hatred
The bottom line is that it is impossible to understand the massive hatred shown against Israel since October 7 without pointing to the reality that Israel is the Jew among nations and has therefore become the focus of the current Jew hatred.
Some of the young people who have contributed to this hatred are probably unaware of the sordid history of antisemitism of which they have now become complicit. That is no excuse, but it may explain why so many uninformed Jewish students who know little or nothing about the complexities of the Middle East have become useful idiots and are caught up in the antisemitic frenzy that is spreading around the world.
University students have historically been on the forefront of many hate movements such as Nazism, communism, and Islamism of the kind that brought the mullahs to power. Some have later regretted their involvement in such causes when their evils became manifest , but their early involvement gave credibility to these horrors. Many of the young woke progressives who support Hamas today deliberately blind themselves to the reality that this terrorist group also murders gays, feminists, and dissenters, and that those who support it have the blood of these murdered people on their hands. Those gays, feminists and progressives who are aware of Hamas’ widespread bigotry seem to hate Jews more than they support the groups with whom they identify.
Bigotry often starts against the Jews, but it rarely ends there. Those who today are joining the hatred against Jews and Zionists may soon become the targets of spreading hatred.
Alan M. Dershowitz is an American lawyer and law professor, jurist and writer, known for his work in U.S. constitutional law and American criminal law. His book “War Against the Jews” was published recently.