A is antisemitism. B is anti-Zionism. You can be an A without being a B. (This describes a portion of the US evangelical movement.) You can be a B without being an A. (This describes me.) You can be both A and B. (Hamas.) You can be neither A nor B. (Anti-Defamation League.)
It’s really not that difficult, but public debate, not only in the US but also Europe and elsewhere, is constantly tripped up by it. I’m reacting to an op-ed in today’s New York Times in which a Jewish student at Brown just doesn’t get it. He denounces the left on his campus as antisemitic for refusing to include Jewish groups that support the Israeli government in its coalitions. He equates Zionism with “Jewish rights”, which means, for him, a position like mine is unthinkable. Unfortunately, a lot of anti-Zionists share his assumptions.
There are two complications that might lead a reasonable person to be unable to disentangle the A and B of this situation. One is that it arises in the context of coalition politics, which is always tricky. Progressive groups at Brown don’t want to share their coalitions with organizations that support Zionism. I can understand that. I can also understand a coalition based on the principle that its members disagree about fundamental things but have agreed to cooperate on a particular issue. It’s always a judgment call. It’s not essentially different from a coalition on, say, ending the death penalty deciding whether or not to include a religious group that is also actively against abortion rights. There are no universal principles to adhere to in these cases, and the costs of a decision don’t disappear just because the benefits seem to be more compelling.
The second complication is created by the government of Israel, which from the beginning has claimed to represent all Jews everywhere. That doesn’t justify antisemitism, but it encourages it. And then it leads to a circular logic in which Israeli leaders point to acts of antisemitism in other countries to justify their policies against Palestinians, which they defend by saying that if you oppose them you are antisemitic, and so on.
The acid test at Brown or anywhere else is whether organizations exclude individual Jews for simply being Jewish or Jewish organizations that are not pro-Zionist. If so, we are talking about plain vanilla antisemitism. Otherwise, it’s a political dispute about colonialism, nationalism and social justice: who has the rights to what.