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How should Zionists relate to anti-Zionist Jews?

Jewish anti-Zionism is a failed movement and ought to be treated as such.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (left) meets with members of the Haredi Neturei Karta faction in New York, Sept. 20, 2023. Source: X/Twitter.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (left) meets with members of the Haredi Neturei Karta faction in New York, Sept. 20, 2023. Source: X/Twitter.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.

Over the past week, Zionist Jews has been exposed to some very disturbing images of fellow Jews protesting against Zionism and Israel. These anti-Zionist Jews denounced Israel’s existence on college campuses and hurled accusations like “genocide,” “apartheid” and “oppression.”

If this wasn’t sufficiently disturbing, there were also images of Jews dressed in traditional Chassidic garb and scarves made from Palestinian flags meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the U.N. General Assembly. They reportedly lectured him on the difference between Zionism and Judaism.

It was almost a relief to see images of Jews protesting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visits to New York and California. These demonstrators were Zionists with Israeli flags who love Israel.

Considering the small number of anti-Zionist Jews today and their marginal influence, the extent to which Jews are disturbed by their activities seems misplaced. 

Nonetheless, there is a reason for it. Anti-Zionist Jews are so disturbing because Zionism stands for the unification of the Jewish people in one nation with the right of self-determination in their historic homeland. Thus, anti-Zionist Jews attack the basic tenets of Jewish existence that Zionists hold most dear.

Many anti-Zionist Jews don’t consider the Jewish people a nation, preferring to think of Judaism as solely a religion. Thus, they don’t believe Jews have the right to self-determination. They also often maintain that Jews have no claim to the Land of Israel.

These beliefs directly contradict the foundational tenets of Zionism. It is troubling enough when non-Jews deny the Jewish people’s identity, but when fellow Jews do so, it can be maddening.

Jewish anti-Zionism is not new. It is as old as Zionism itself. Historians have estimated that up to 95% of world Jewry was opposed or at least indifferent to Zionism during the first decades of the movement. This was the case in almost all Jewish movements and denominations. Political Zionism’s founder, Theodor Herzl, often faced stronger opposition from fellow Jews than from non-Jews, including Muslim leaders of the Ottoman Empire. It wasn’t until global Jewry saw the devastating effects of the Holocaust that Zionism found widespread support among the Jewish people.

Today, Jewish anti-Zionists can be divided into two camps: One is opposed to Zionism for religious reasons. The other cites principles of human rights or has adopted Palestinian nationalist ideology.

The first are outliers among religious Jews. They maintain that according to a complex Talmudic passage, the Jewish people are forbidden to govern Israel until the arrival of the Messiah. The overwhelming majority of Talmudic scholars over a thousand years of rabbinic literature interpret this passage differently.

The second camp views Zionism as a movement based on a false premise. They believe that the Jewish people are not indigenous to the Land of Israel and therefore have no right to govern it. They maintain that the Palestinians are the native people of the land and thus should rule it “from the river to the sea.” Thus, they conclude, the very existence of Israel is an injustice to the Palestinians that must be rectified immediately. 

These are old arguments and have proven ineffective. Zionist leaders like Herzl, Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion overcame anti-Zionism and created first a strong Zionist community in Palestine and then a Jewish state. This was partially due to political and financial support from Zionists in the Diaspora. This demonstrated to the world that the Jewish people were ready to return to and govern their own state within their historic homeland.

Even at the height of its popularity, Jewish anti-Zionism could not prevent the realization of Zionism’s goals. Today, Jewish anti-Zionism is even less effective. The Jewish state has been strong and growing for over 75 years. There is virtually no anti-Zionism among Israel’s 6.5 million Jews. Over 85% of America’s six million Jews support the existence of a Jewish state. Clearly, Jewish anti-Zionism is a failed movement.

Today’s Zionists must educate their children and students that Jewish anti-Zionists are wrong about Judaism and Jewish rights in the Land of Israel. At the same time, Zionists should ignore the protests and events organized by anti-Zionist Jews. To obsess over these marginal phenomena only fuels the media attention that anti-Zionists crave. Unless directly asked by non-Jews, media or government officials, Zionists ought to ignore the Jewish anti-Zionists. The last thing Zionists should do is draw more attention to a moribund and ineffective movement.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.

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