Take it from a “Jewish” (not religiously but culturally), and a politics student: yes, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. In this article, I will try to explain why; while considering how precise someone who wishes to critique the state of Israel should be.
As students, we have a deep consideration for the subjects we are doing and understand how important they truly are. We understand the reach they have. While this is valid for all subjects, it is especially so for history. In history, the aim of the discipline is to answer three main questions: who are we? Where do we come from? And where are we going?
Every time someone is referring to history without quoting any serious sources, the chances are that the person’s agenda is to persuade you of his or her claims, to influence your responses to one of those three fundamental questions of history. And that is why Ken Livingstone's recent comment, saying that “when Hitler won the election in 1932, his policy was that Jews should be moved to Israel", is not only false, but dangerous.
Rewriting history is not a detail, it is an attack on who we are, as members of humanity. It is possible that Ken was thinking he was just telling the truth and honestly did not know, which would mean what he never got the chance to have a proper history lesson on the matter. But obviously, that is something that we can doubt.
Even worse than Ken Livingstone’s comment is the recently reported situation where a political leader such as Naz Shah implies that Israelis could be deported to the United States. And deportation was indeed an idea of the Nazi party for some time – it was called the Madagascar plan, in case you are wondering. But even if Shah’s claim wasn't “serious”, it is insulting. Imagine that someone from the United Kingdom claimed that the United States wasn't legitimate to control its territory anymore, and that the Americans should give it back to the British or the Indians, and that Americans should be deported somewhere else. That would be insulting to Americans, of course.
The same principle applies in the case of Israel. What most people don't get is that anti-Zionism used to be a political opinion, before the declaration of the State of Israel, but now being anti-Zionist is equal to insulting 8 million people who live in their country. Having such a strong opinion is equal to denying the right of existence of a state that existed for 70 years, which is an insult to that state. And because most of those people are indeed Jewish, and the state itself is a Jewish state, it is equal to anti-Semitism. It is anti-Semitism because when someone tells me that the state of Israel shouldn't exist, I don't feel insulted because I'm French, a student or a Mancunian, I feel insulted because I'm Jewish; because my link to the State of Israel is due to my link to the Jewish community. Because I know people there, because of that link.
I would also like to address the mixture of criticism of the state of Israel and freedom of speech. Most of us can agree that the state of Israel is sometimes at fault. The politics implemented to assure Israeli interests are driven by a systematic and progressive occupation of the remaining Palestinian territories. Even if Netanyahu recently declared that he wants “a peaceful, sustainable two-state solution”, we are still waiting for clear actions that demonstrate that.
And of course we should address those problems, but with as much intelligence as we would for any other international issues. While as individuals we can think and say everything, we need to be more critical towards our political elite. History is what it is. And our political elite need to acknowledge it and make the distinction between having a political opinion and making claims that would insult a group of people.
For the case of Israel, the political spectrum is often divided between Post-Zionism and Neo-Zionism, movements that are relatively recent and still developing. These movements have built the right debate: the state of Israel is here, so what should we do now regarding the Palestinian population?
Personally, I would argue for a two-state solution, but I don't claim to know enough to be able to answer every question on the subject. If you are looking for a good resume of the history of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, “The Israel-Palestine conflict: a brief, simple history” by Vox is a great, complete and unbiased short video.
What is clear is to me in this issue, is that there is a debate to have. And we should not let our passions get in the way of our reasoning.
Lioui Benhamou is a first-year Politics and International Relations student at the University of Manchester