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Harper’s assertion that anti-Zionism is the ‘new anti-Semitism’ is morally unacceptable

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During Harper’s impassioned speech to the Israeli parliament earlier this week, one of the many problematic items mentioned by our Prime Minister was his belief that criticism of the state of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people is tantamount to a new form of anti-Semitism. As a Canadian Jew, I strongly reject  this assertion by our Prime Minister. A growing number of leading experts on this issue have come to understand that Israel’s founding as a state was a violent, pre-meditated act, that sought and continues to seek the removal of the indigenous Palestinian population. Criticizing the Zionist cause—which has from the outset required the forced and permanent removal of Palestinians from their ancestral lands—is not at all indicative of a hatred towards Jews, and saying so is misguided at best, and at worst, racist and immoral.

Muslim and Christian Palestinians, making up the large majority of the native population of British-mandated Palestine, were violently displaced from their homes leading up to and during the war of 1948 between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Since Israel initially wrote the history of this war as the victor, people around the world were raised to believe that Israel was invaded by its powerful Arab neighbours, and that as a result of the intention of Arab countries to “drive the Jews into the Sea”, Palestinians had to flee temporarily out of their own volition, with the intention of returning to their homes after the Jews were to be annihilated. In actuality, the Zionist leaders in Palestine had concluded that the only way to create a Jewish state with a demographic Jewish majority in Palestine—a land already inhabited by another people—was to forcefully remove the native population by force. This resulted in a massive campaign to expel Palestinians, using tactics ranging from massacres to rape, aimed at instilling fear in the natives to flee from their homes. Arab armies invaded only after Israel began committing such atrocities, but their combined efforts could not match the far stronger Zionist forces. Hence, the creation of the state of Israel.

The foundation of this state is based on the ideology of Zionism, which culminated in the establishment of a Jewish state in historic Palestine. Zionism was considered a fringe movement within Judaism leading up to the years before the creation of the state of Israel—it was mostly supported by evangelical Protestants from the Western and imperial powers, some of whom were influential Canadian politicians. Jews in the diaspora did not want their hard-earned positions in their respective countries of origin to be compromised by the creation of a so-called ‘Jewish state’, at a time of intense anti-Semitism globally. While Zionism was able to win the hearts of most Jews following Israel’s “miraculous” victory in 1967, it continues to be strongly opposed by significant numbers of Jews around the world. The main reason why Zionism is strongly opposed is because it is premised on the idea of building a homeland for the Jews over the land of another people, which has resulted in a settler-colonial state that continues to colonize further Palestinian lands in the West Bank. The Zionist slogan of “a land without a people for a people without a land” is based on the denial of the existence of the indigenous people of Palestine.

For Stephen Harper to categorize opposition to Zionism as being the newest form of anti-Semitism completely ignores the violent and catastrophic consequences of the Zionist movement for the Palestinian people. This, therefore, is an enormous insult to Palestinians, who in Harper’s eyes, would be considered anti-Semites for challenging this history. Not only is this insulting and insensitive to the internationally-recognized Palestinian narrative, it is also an insult to Jewish people who have suffered at the hands of real anti-Semitism, such as the victims of the Holocaust. My ancestors were hated simply for being Jews, which is what anti-Semitism means. The State of Israel, which falsely claims to represent all of the world’s Jews, is widely disliked—and even hated—not because it is inhabited by Jews, but because it represents the continuation of a settler-colonial movement that systematically violates international law, disregarding the human rights of another people. This is why it is so important for individuals who oppose racism in all its forms, including anti-Semitism and anti-Arab racism, to support non-violent Palestinian efforts to seek redress for the harm committed against them, as they demand equal rights and justice through the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.  There will be no peace in Israel and Palestine until a modicum of justice is achieved for the Palestinians. Israel must acknowledge the crimes committed against the Palestinian people through respecting the Palestinan right of return, ending its military occupation of Palestinian lands, and stopping its discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens.


Tyler Levitan is the Campaigns Coordinator for Independent Jewish Voices – Canada, a national human rights organization that supports a just and peaceful resolution to the dispute in Israel and Palestine through the implementation of international law, and support for the human rights of all parties. 

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