“Zionism is racism” is indeed a pernicious lie. Propagation of this lie has led to both random and organized violence against Jewish people and the marginalization of Jews in their respective nations, from the Soviet Union to Great Britain. Should the claim that Zionism is akin to racism, white nationalism and Nazism penetrate mainstream American circles, it would be a crisis for our community. It would be used to justify hatred against us, isolate us from progressive movements and imperil our status as protected citizens of the United States.
We crossed into dangerous territory this week when journalist Peter Beinart and Matt Duss, the foreign policy advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders—two highly respected liberal commentators—publicly compared “The Great Replacement Theory” to opposition to the Palestinians’ so-called “right of return.” In doing so, they continue the legacy of the “Zionism is racism” libel and deliberately contribute to anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world.
The Great Replacement Theory is back in the news this month after a deranged shooter killed 10 black Americans in a parking lot in Buffalo. Like the shooters at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue and Chabad of Poway, the Buffalo assailant subscribed to a conspiratorial worldview that claims an elite cabal of Jews is manipulating demographics in the United States, breeding out white people and opening the borders to people of color to take their place. The theory is based on ideas of racial supremacy and ethnic hierarchy.
The “right of return” is a common policy initiative pushed by anti-Israel advocates. Its foundation lies in the 1948 War of Independence between the nascent State of Israel and surrounding Arab nations, which declared war on the Jewish people and swore to annihilate them. Some 750,000 Palestinians became refugees during the war. Shortly after, upwards of 800,000 Jews from Muslim countries were displaced and absorbed by the new Jewish state. Those who champion “the right of return” claim that the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and their descendants, who number close to seven million people worldwide, have a “right” enshrined in international law to return to areas inside Israel’s borders.
Not only is “return” not a right enshrined anywhere in international law, but Jews worldwide are strongly opposed to this idea, because the settlement of millions of Palestinians inside of Israel would render the Jewish people once again a minority in the region, compromise their means of self-defense and turn Israel into “Palestine from the river to the sea.” This is the goal of the “right of return,” regardless of the language used to disguise it as justice or human rights.
After the Buffalo shooting, the Anti-Defamation League took to Twitter to condemn “The Great Replacement Theory” for the hateful venom it is. Beinart responded, “The Anti-Defamation League denounces in America the principles it advocates in Israel,” referring to the ADL’s strong opposition to white nationalist ideas in addition to their support for a Jewish state in the Middle East. Duss then tweeted, “In the Israeli-Palestinian context, ‘great replacement theory’ is expressed as opposition to the Palestinian right of return, which treats Palestinians as a ‘demographic threat.’”
An irresistible narrative then developed in left-wing circles. It claimed that Zionism, because of its intention to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel, is no different from the ideology that animated the anti-Semite who slaughtered innocents in Buffalo, and therefore Jews around the world who support the existence of Israel are no different than the Nazis who tried to kill them.
Anti-Semitism has always been a politics of inversion. The alt-right and radical Islamists both revel in accusing the Jews of doing to others what has been done to them. That Beinart and Duss would join this crusade is shameful. As I see it, their argument reinforces an abject lie, and it is of paramount importance that it be addressed as such.
White nationalism and Zionism could not be more different. White nationalists view all white people as just that, a nation deserving of their own self-determination, which they define as an exclusively white society that upholds “white” culture and values. It bears repeating that white people are not a nation. White people are not a “people” with a common history, language, culture or attachment to a piece of land. The separation of “whites” from all other human beings is constructed purely on the pseudoscience of race, external characteristics and a power dynamic of genetic supremacy that they themselves have imposed.
Zionism, on the other hand, is a liberation movement that seeks to attain sovereignty for an independent people. The Jewish people fall under every political definition of a nation, sharing our own history, language, culture and attachment to a homeland. We encompass a vast array of races and ethnicities under the umbrella of the term “Jewish.” The founders of Zionism called for a Jewish and democratic state, where equality for minorities was to be enshrined as explicitly as protection of Jewish values.
Additionally, Jewish people are a perpetual minority who have collectively been made to bear the consequences of white supremacy and other forms of hatred that successfully exploited our lack of a state. The right of self-determination for independent nations is indeed universal. No left-wing commentator would ever accuse the Kurds, the Palestinians or the Uighurs of ethnic supremacy in their demand for political independence. However, they see Zionism, the Jewish form of this demand, as immediately evil. This reveals a pathological bias as well as a distinct set of double standards.
Anti-Zionism, the ideology Beinart and Duss seemingly espouse, the ideology at the core of “the right of return,” is closer to white nationalism than Zionism ever was. Anti-Zionism rejects the concept of coexistence in the Middle East, the idea that Jews have equal rights with non-Jews and the fact that the Jewish people are their own nation with the right to defend themselves and decide their own fate. Anti-Zionism, not Zionism, is akin to white nationalism by its very definition, as it is explicitly crafted by the desire to punch down at minorities and subjugate them once again. Zionism is an affirmative, the right of the Jewish people to a country; anti-Zionism is a negation, the denial of this right.
It is therefore incumbent upon us to recognize when demands to eliminate Israel are wrapped in manipulative words. Just as white nationalists twist their true intentions by claiming they’re only concerned with immigration, crime or “Western civilization,” anti-Zionists are hell-bent on describing their cause as liberation, peace and freedom. The ramifications of both ideologies spell disaster for the Jewish people. I propose that we Jews begin to address calls for the “right of return” as the “Great Return Theory,” because they share the same goals and the same strategies to reach these goals as those who propagate white nationalist conspiracy theories.
Blake Flayton is New Media Director and columnist for the Jewish Journal.
This article was originally published by the Jewish Journal.