The term “antisemitism” is being redefined to silence those standing in solidarity with the disenfranchised and dispossessed. It is being weaponized to intimidate those speaking against apartheid.
Antisemitism has always been rooted in conspiracy theories–
Jews kidnapping Gentile babies to drink their blood.
Plagues caused by Jews poisoning wells.
Jews controlling global financial institutions to the detriment of Christian nations.
Such conspiracy theories have justified centuries of confinement and restrictions on and worse, genocide against the Jewish people.
The rise of Christianity was intertwined with the rise of antisemitism. To be a Christian was to be an antisemite, justifying hatred through the propaganda that Jews killed “our Lord and Savior.” This “sinister” act forfeited being God’s “chosen,” a designation now held by Christians as “the new Israel.”
Let’s be clear: antisemitism is real and is experiencing a resurgence. To stand with the oppressed means to stand with our Jewish siblings against fellow Christians expressing antisemitism in word and deed.
But what does antisemitism mean now?
Equating antisemitism with anti-Zionism is a recent phenomenon. In 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance redefined the term to include “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” among other “contemporary examples” of the “working definition of antisemitism.”
To be anti-Zionist is, according to this redefinition, to hate Jews.
But some among those historically oppressed can gain political power and oppress others. This is what is currently happening with the rise of Zionism.
Prior to the brutal and vicious October 7 attack by Hamas, I lived for a few weeks in Palestine learning about their plight. I saw Palestinians humiliated by law enforcement, witnessed apartheid in action, and witnessed Jim and Jane Crow-type laws and regulations.
But to speak out against a secular state– Israel – for its complicity with oppression is to be called an antisemite.
Recently an academic colleague publicly responded to an earlier article I wrote, stating: “You promulgated some serious misinformation, deployed anti-Semitic tropes in doing it, endorsed terrorism, and stoked animosities in dangerous ways . . . [you] felt entitled to teach American’s university students that Israel is a product of European capitalist colonialism, and these students are now touting the most ill-informed, sometimes ridiculous claims (on par with the worst of Trump’s election deniers) and cheering at the massacre of approximately 1,400 Jews. I say shame on the faculty who inspired them. To align yourself with the claims of Hamas is no favor to the Palestinians, never mind the cause of peace.”
To speak out against the oppression Palestinians face is now to “deploy anti-Semitic tropes” to “endorse terrorism.” It is to “align [one]self with the claims of Hamas.”
In a simple world of dualities– of either/or, the complexities and nuances of both/and, which lead to rigorous academic inquiries– are demonized.
What my colleague refused to grasp is that one can simultaneously condemn the terror of rape and mass killings inflicted by Hamas in October and the terror of random killings by settlers and false imprisonments inflicted by the State of Israel over the past decades.
The images becoming available from the Israeli rave festival in the desert – many who oppose Netanyahu– are simply heartbreaking. The revenge bombing of innocent civilians in Gaza– many who oppose Hamas – is just as tragic.
One can grieve for the spilling of so much blood on both sides and condemn the perpetrators of terror on both sides. It is not an either/or.
The State of Israel is a modern secular government. It was neither ordained by “Hashem” nor the continuation of some ancient kingdom. Like all earthly governments, they can act unjustly.
To criticize the Israeli government makes me no more an antisemite than criticizing the Cuban government – as I often do – makes me anti-Hispanic.
Hurling the accusation of “antisemite” toward those who question a secular state’s genocidal policies musters the forces of right-wing conservatives to get scholars fired from academic posts.
The current state of Israel is a settler colonial construction of the British Empire. Its purpose was to provide a haven for European Jews, now in league with European Christians, who sought haven after the Holocaust at the expense of those living on the land for two millennia.
This is not antisemitism. It is history.
Those of European descent, Christians or Jews, who confiscate land and homes owned by a different racial or ethnic indigenous people and relocate the original inhabitants to walled ghettos while restricting their movement, erasing all traces of the former residents and changing the names of the original sites– this is the textbook definition of settler-colonialism. It is not the definition of antisemitism.
There are, of course, antisemites using the current war as an excuse to do physical harm to Jews. To seek solidarity with the oppressed means to call out such acts. It requires standing with Jews while simultaneously standing with Palestinians against a secular state seeking to do the same.
But rather than dealing with the current crises, it is expedient to dismiss inconvenient inquiries with accusations of antisemitism, of being pro-terrorist. Such a strategy is problematic when we consider there are Jews who themselves are also anti-Zionist.
And here is the irony: Those in the U.S. leading the crusade to root out antisemitism in “woke academia” are usually evangelical Christians, considered – per Netanyahu– true friends of the State of Israel.
Evangelicals’ unquestioning commitment to Israel is disingenuous.
Their dispensationalist ideology believes Christ’s second coming will occur after the Second Temple is rebuilt. Their support for Israel is not an act of solidarity with a people persecuted by Christians throughout history. It is, instead, purely for apocalyptic reasons.
Once Christ establishes his kingdom on earth, according to their end-times theology, he will implement the final solution and throw all Jews who reject the Messiah into the lake of fire to burn for all eternity.
Maybe true friends don’t call for Messiah-led genocide. Maybe true friends warn of complicity with genocidal political policies toward the people who have lived on the land for the past two millennia.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.