Opinion | Jewish Anti-Zionists, Check Your Privilege

It's easy to say a Jewish state is not needed from the safety of the United States.
By | Jul 08, 2024
Opinion, Summer 2024
An illustrative image of three yellow anti-zionist protest signs held in front of a blue background.

“Our home is wherever we are. There’s no nation-state that is our national homeland,” said a Jewish instructor at the University of Chicago who helped organize an anti-Zionist Seder held during this spring’s campus protests against Israel. So The Chicago Tribune reported.

“Zionism does not make you safe. Zionism makes the world more dangerous for Jews,” a member of Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) at the University of North Carolina told the Religion News Service.

JVP reportedly took a prominent role in organizing protests on college campuses this spring. “Zionism was a false and failed answer” to the antisemitism faced by “many of our ancestors” in Europe, says JVP’s own statement on its website rejecting Zionism.

To which I must respond: Check your privilege.

Given how that phrase is often used, I’ll clarify: I’m not referring to the skin color of people who made these statements. I’m speaking of the safety they enjoy as Jews in America while they attack Zionism. For nearly all, that safety is due to historical luck: Before they were born, their ancestors were able to come to the United States.

To explain, let’s take a look at the statement on JVP’s website, with its mix of historical facts, distortions and lacunae. Accurately, it says that some Jews tried to assimilate into European society; many emigrated to America; and some “turned to revolutionary socialism.” And some, it says disapprovingly, chose Zionism.

Two essential pieces are missing from this picture. First, of those who stayed in Europe for the sake of revolutionary socialism, a great many were murdered in the Holocaust—or, in smaller numbers, in Stalin’s purges. Many survivors or their descendants would emigrate to Israel.

Second, America shut its gates. The Johnson-Reed Act, enacted in 1924, set quotas for immigrants from each country, with deliberately low quotas for eastern and southern Europe. As Jia Lynn Yang writes in her 2020 book One Mighty and Irresistible Tide, the laws’ architects saw people from those areas as racially inferior.

If you’re an American Jew, you are probably descended from people who got in before that—people who won a fateful historical lottery.

This was also a turning point for Zionism. From 1924 on, ever more Jews migrated to British-ruled Palestine. For some, it was pragmatic: Tel Aviv was an option; New York wasn’t. Some were more ideologically Zionist. But America’s decision validated the Zionist view that only a national home would provide Jews a lasting refuge. And British decisions to limit entry to Palestine in the 1930s made it clear that the “national home”—formerly a politically vague concept—had to be an independent state to be a true haven.

For nearly all, that safety is due to historical luck.

Trapped in Europe, millions of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Jewish survivors made up part of the “last million”—author David Nasaw’s term for the displaced persons (DPs) who couldn’t return to their pre-war countries. In June 1948, Congress enacted a law to allow some DPs to come to the United States. Under the pretext of excluding Communists, the law was written to keep out most Jews. In 1950, a new law allowed in more Jewish DPs. By then, most survivors had found sanctuary in Israel. Only in 1965 did a new law significantly reopen America to immigration.

So again: If your parents or grandparents were survivors who got to the United States, you’re enjoying a benefit not of your making.

After Israel’s independence, Jewish immigration from the Middle East and North Africa climbed dramatically. That story is too complex to sum up here. But the anti-Zionist narrative that Israel shattered idyllic coexistence in Muslim countries is a myth. “Jews were always second-class citizens under Moslem [sic] rule,” as the renowned anti-colonial thinker Albert Memmi wrote, in his explanation of why he, as a Jew, left Tunisia. Newly independent Arab states, like newly independent Eastern European states before them, were inhospitable to Jews.

Some Mizrahi Jews found homes in the West, especially France. Many more, by choice or necessity, came to Israel. A smaller number reached America. If that’s your family, you too are holding a lottery ticket dealt by history.

I’m not suggesting that American Jews should feel guilt for being the heirs of what, so far, has been a safe haven. Guilt over historical good luck is silly. Nor do American Jews need to refrain from criticizing Israeli policies. Most Israelis are critical of the Israeli government these days; why shouldn’t American Jews be? If you believe that Israel should end the occupation of the West Bank and avoid the reoccupation of Gaza, from where I sit—in Jerusalem—it seems you have Israel’s best interests in mind.

On the other hand, claiming that Jews don’t need a state because you personally are doing fine outside that state is the ultimate in unthinking entitlement. It’s time to take a good hard look at your privilege, and learn some humility.

Gershom Gorenberg’s most recent book is War of Shadows: Codebreakers, Spies, and the Secret Struggle to Drive the Nazis from the Middle East.

Moment Magazine participates in the Amazon Associates program and earns money from qualifying purchases. 

8 thoughts on “Opinion | Jewish Anti-Zionists, Check Your Privilege

  1. Steven Podvoll says:

    Kol Hakavod!

    I pray more Jewish-American Princes and Princesses are starting to realize that anti-Zionism is antisemitism and that their own privileges are subject to revocation even if they appease the alt-Left or alt-Right.

  2. Jesica says:

    Is this article a joke? Zionists actively supported, welcomed and campaigned for the door to shut on Jewish immigration to the US in 1924. They did the same after the war, aggressively pushing for DPs to be sent to Israel and nowhere else despite the fact many wanted to go elsewhere. They did this for two reasons. One, they needed the settlers to populate the Jewish state, and two, to justify the state’s raison d’etre, they had to make sure there were no meaningful alternatives. And in not supporting alternatives, they have blood on their hands.

    1. Larry Scharf says:

      J: none of what you put out here is historically accurate, it is the Anti-Israel narrative. The article you call a joke is backed up by research from the British mandate and post-Holocaust reporting. You are entitled to your opinion but not to making things up to justify your deeply-held anti-colonialist ideas.

    2. Irv says:

      Is this comment a joke? Blood on their hands? What sources do you have that prove Zionist policies at the time led to the deaths of Jews? Millions of Jews alive today can attest to the fact of Zionism having been central to their parents’ and grandparents’ survival – and their own. Further, your hundred-year old argument suggests that hundreds, if not thousands of political and religious organizations and institutions no longer have validity because of the blood on their hands. Obvious examples: Christianity, Islam, The United States of America… Try to find one that doesn’t have blood on their hands at some point in history. Please distinguish between those that learn from their history and those do not.

    3. Michael Krause says:

      Where is your evidence that Zionists “actively supported, welcomed and campaigned for the door to shut on Jewish immigration to the US in 1924”? This act was written by and pushed through by eugenicists intent on restoring what they saw as the proper racial makeup of the country. Before you accuse others of making unsupported assertions (ignoring the support provided in the article), you ought to be willing to support your own.

  3. Jesica says:

    Zionists actively supported, welcomed and campaigned for the door to shut on Jewish immigration to the US in 1924. They did the same after the war, aggressively pushing for DPs to be sent to Israel and nowhere else despite the fact many wanted to go elsewhere. They did this for two reasons. One, they needed the settlers to populate the Jewish state, and two, to justify the state’s raison d’etre, they had to make sure there were no meaningful alternatives. And in not supporting alternatives, they have blood on their hands.

    1. Shalom says:

      @Jesica the only ration d’être for Israle is that fact that it has, for thousands of years been the indigenous homeland of the Jewish Nation. The antisemitism manifested in exiles, blood-libels (like the ones you made in your comment), forced conversions by Christians and Muslims, (who, ironically base their religions on the existence of Judaism and Jews), progroms, genocides, discrimination in the countries where they have fled (including the massive swatch’s populated by close to two billion Muslims) and now, again, in the “free” West of the Americas (Turtle Island) and, of course, Europe and Australia (not so west in geography) where apologists, propagandists, interlopers promote one of the bloodiest, most misogynistic, racist, anti-LGBTQI, anti-democratic sadistic ideologies of jihadism chant in favour of the genocide of Jews … again. That the savages they admire, dress up as, describe as righteous (Palestinian Jihadist terrorists) invaded the very legitimate and Jewish State of Israel and have gone on record (as well as the many group before them and around them and who support them) to say they intend to kill every Jew on the planet ALSO don’t care about their people (you can read it in the NYtimes, my dear …) should be evidence enough for you that the ones who have “blood on their hands” are the ones who make it a point to perpetually dominate, threaten, abuse, sacrifice and slaughter their own for the sin off working with Jewish peace activists like Canadian/Israeli/JewishVivian Silver (slaughtered on October 7, 2023). Your rage is misguided.
      But if you hate Jews and Zionists so much, then you may need to wean yourself off so many of the things that Jews and Zionists and Israelis have contributed to the world. Or, go be you in the many Muslim countries where Jews cannot live safely or even enter. Be sure to bring a lot of fabric so that you don’t end up in jail and condemned to torture, rape and death because a a single strand of your hair was peeking out.
      Let me be clear, Israel, like every other democratic country in the world is imperfect. By its very political nature, democracy will always be vulnerable to those who seek to undermine its belief that accountability, humanity and decency are worth striving for and those woh seek to undermine those values can come from within and from without. In Israel, citizens (Jewish, and non) have been able to demonstrate in the streets against Netanyahu without being jailed, mowed down by government-sanctioned gunfire or tanks. Remind when and where Muslims have been able to protest against their own leadership so openly and freely and in such large numbers in their Muslim governed countries. Let me know how many in Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Nigeria.Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. have been able to freely demonstrate against jihadism without fear of violent reprisal.

  4. Susanna Levin says:

    1) JVP is a Hamas front.
    2) You can’t say that the US is a haven for Jews. Once it certainly was. However, look at what’s going on around this country — antisemitic attacks have increased exponentially; the synagogue I attend (quiet suburban area) has 2 guards and a policeman (bless them all, they’re wonderful people) outside on shabbat, holidays, and whenever else there’s something going on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.