The strange phenomenon of Jewish anti-Zionism: self-hating Jews or protectors of universalistic principles?

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Author: Philip Mendes
Date: Annual 2009
From: The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies(Vol. 23)
Publisher: Australian Association of Jewish Studies
Document Type: Article
Length: 10,773 words

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In the last five years, close to ten major books have been published on Jewish anti-Zionists and other Jewish critics of Israel (Farber 2005a; Figes 2008; Karpf, et al 2008a; Kovel 2007; Kushner & Solomon 2005a; Loewenstein 2006, 2007a; Marqusee 2008; Rabkin 2006; Shatz 2004a). Specific Jewish groups promoting one-sided critiques of Israel such as the Independent Australian Jewish Voices have been established in many Western countries, and an International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network has also been formed. Most recently in March 2009, the highly regarded Encounter program on ABC Radio National devoted an entire session to the views of six local and international Jewish anti-Zionists described as "Voices of Dissent" (Bryson 2009). It would appear on the surface that anti-Zionism has become a growing and significant phenomenon in Jewish life.

The argument of this paper is that there is little if any evidence to support the above proposition.* In reality, anti-Zionists remain a tiny, marginal and generally detested group within Jewish society. There is no serious pro- or anti-Zionism debate within most Jewish communities. The only debate occurs within the minority of Jewish groups who identify with the ideological Left (Shindler 2007), and even there anti-Zionists arguably constitute a small minority.

* I am grateful for constructive comments on an earlier draft from Brian Klug, Bernard Rechter and Judy Singer.

I deliberately omit here the small number of ultra-orthodox Jews who adhere to anti-Zionist views. Their unique perspective necessarily belongs in a separate analysis.

Jewish anti-Zionism is not a new phenomenon, but rather fits clearly into a long-term political tradition whereby some left-wing groups persuade Jewish members to exploit their own religious and cultural origins in order to vilify their own people. As we shall see, there were Jews who defended the 1929 pogroms in Palestine, and there were Jews who endorsed Stalin's anti-Jewish campaigns in the early 1950s. Today there are Jews who support the most extreme Palestinian political demands and acts of violence against the Jewish state of Israel.

Unlike some commentators, I do not believe that Jewish anti-Zionists can be classified as "self-hating" Jews. Rather, Jewish anti-Zionism is a political not psychological phenomenon. Most Jewish anti-Zionists do not positively identify as Jews in terms of any collective cultural, religious or ethnic/national connection with other Jews. Rather, their Jewish identity appears to be solely negative based on a fanatical rejection of Zionism and Israel.

Jewish anti-Zionists are perhaps on firmer ground in claiming to defend universalistic human rights principles against narrower Jewish particularism. But their universalism is overtly partial. They are generally only interested in advocating for Palestinian and Arab national and human rights, and have little or no interest in defending the collective rights of Israeli Jews or Jews elsewhere.


In this paper, I will be carefully distinguishing between Jewish anti-Zionists and alternatively other Jews who are critical of Israeli policies but nevertheless support Israel's continued existence as a Jewish state. I define contemporary anti-Zionism as a view which regards Israel as a racist and colonialist state...

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Source Citation
Mendes, Philip. "The strange phenomenon of Jewish anti-Zionism: self-hating Jews or protectors of universalistic principles?" The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies, vol. 23, annual 2009, pp. 96+. Accessed 11 Aug. 2022.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A354662427