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For more than 20 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, anti-Zionism was a regional phenomenon—a clash between Arab and Jewish national movements in the Middle East. In the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe the Soviets exploited antisemitism for political purposes, but it was rarely part of international debate until after the Six-Day War in 1967. By the end of the 1960s, and since 1975, anti-Zionism became international in scope. It first appeared in the universities in the West where the New Left, in cooperation with the Arab student associations, attacked Israeli policy. [1]  

 When the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 on November 10, 1975 and declared “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination,” it significantly expanded anti-Zionism into the sphere international non-governmental organizations and therefore into the Third World countries. This was done by an alliance of the Arabs and the Soviet Union. They endowed anti-Zionism with legitimacy and official recognition. [2]   

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 After the First World War, the Arabs expected Greater Syria—which included Palestine and Lebanon—to become a vast united and sovereign Arab empire. Instead the French and the British divided the area into what the Arabs considered “irrationally carved out” entities that became the present-day states of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Trans-Jordan (later Jordan), Iraq and Israel. They were outraged that a “non-Arab embryo state in Palestine” had been inserted into an area where they would never be accepted. They claimed that this shattered their dreams of unification and impeded their search for a common identity.  [3]   

 The Fight for “Dignity and Independence”  

The fight against a Jewish homeland became an integral part of their struggle “for dignity and independence.” Israel’s existence, they claimed, “implied that not only a part of the Arab patrimony, but also parts of Islam had been stolen. For a Moslem there was no greater shame than for that to happen.” The only way to eliminate this deeply felt affront—this “symbol of everything that had dominated them in the past”—was to rid the area of “imperialist domination.” [4]   

Zionists were the official enemy of the Arab national movement, but Arab governments have long been accused of using the Arab Israeli confrontation to divert attention from their own critical domestic social and economic problems. When confronted, they respond that if this were not a real concern, it would not resonate so strongly among the Arab masses. [5]  

The late Bernard Lewis, the dean of Middle Eastern scholars, said Arab preoccupation with Israel is the licensed grievance. In countries where people are becoming increasingly angry and frustrated at all the difficulties under which they live—the poverty, unemployment, oppression—having a grievance which they can express freely is an enormous psychological advantage.” [6]  

The Israeli-Arab conflict is the only local political grievance that can be openly discussed.  If the population were permitted freedom of speech, Lewis believed that the obsession with Israel would “become less exclusive and less important.” Like most people, Arabs are concerned about their own priorities. For the Palestinian Arabs, who view themselves as the permanent victims, the main issue is their struggle with Israel. If Arabs in other countries were permitted to focus on their own problems, they would do so. [7]   

Jacob Talmon, a professor of history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, viewed the attempt to blame Western imperialism as an excuse to attack Israel. “For decades the Arabs have been obsessed by memories of past glories and prophecies of future greatness, mocked by the injury and shame of having an alien and despised race injected into the nerve-centre of their promised pan-Arab empire, between its Asian and African halves, just at a time when the colonial powers had started their great retreat from their colonial possessions in Asia and Africa.” [8]   

To lessen their feelings of shame for losing every war against Israel, the Arabs attributed the success of Jewish settlement in Palestine and the Israeli military triumphs of 1948 and 1956 to Western imperialism. As the representative of the Great Powers, Israel became the Arab scapegoat whenever they became frustrated in their attempt to transcend “centuries of social, economic and cultural development, and catch up” with the West. Talmon believed this anti-Israel fixation precipitated a methodical “Manichean metaphysic, the focus of an entire philosophy of history, with the Jew as the devil incarnate from the days of patriarch Abraham himself till his assumption of the role of the lynchpin of an American-Imperialist-Zionist world-plot against the Arab world, the Socialist Commonwealth and all colonial peoples.” [9]   

The Six-Day War 

The crushing defeat of the Arabs in 1967 Six Day War shattered this fantasy and accentuated Arab humiliation since the Israelis won without the backing of any imperialist nations. [10]. Arab rage was exacerbated by the casualty rates in Israel’s favor—about 25 to 1—and by the number of prisoners of war Israel captured. At least 5,000 Egyptian soldiers, including 21 generals, 365 Syrians,30 of whom were officers), and 550 Jordanians were taken. Only 15 Israelis were held as POW’s. Arab military hardware losses cost billions of dollars—and most of it came from the Soviet Bloc countries. [11] 

Civilian casualties were minimal. Israelis estimate that 175,000 Arab noncombatants fled the West Bank to Jordan, and the Jordanians claim that number is 250,000. The Israelis did not initiate the Arab exodus and did not attempt to stop it. The refugees were not encouraged to return, but Moshe Dayan, the Israel’s Minister of Defense, stopped the practice of preventing them from crossing back to the West Bank a week after the war, after observing the ambushes and concluding that they were inhumane. [12] 

Israelis wanted to resolve the 1967 and 1948 refugee problem, to be determined when a comprehensive peace agreement would be negotiated. The Arabs rejected the offer, and insisted that the refugees be allowed to return, unconditionally, and receive compensation. Yet, in the summer of 1967, when Israel agreed to allow Arabs to come back to the West Bank, only a handful returned.[13]  

At the same time, the Arabs persecuted and tormented their own Jewish residents. Jews were attacked in Yemen, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Morocco. Synagogues were burned and Jews were arrested and detained. In Damascus and Baghdad, Jewish leaders were fined and imprisoned, and 7,000 Jews were expelled after their property and most of their belongings were confiscated. Eight hundred of Egypt’s 4,000 Jews were arrested, including the chief rabbis of Cairo and Alexandria. The UN and the Red Cross were unable to intervene on their behalf.[14] 

Yet the 1.2 million Arabs under the Israeli regime did not experience any systematic mistreatment. Looting and vandalism were reported in some areas, but the Israelis repaired whatever damage they found. Though Jordanians had destroyed synagogues in the Old City of Jerusalem and used the tombstones from the Jewish cemeteries on the Mount of Olives to pave roads and use in latrines, Moshe Dayan participated in the Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Perhaps the greatest trauma for the Arabs was that Israel had conquered 42,000 square miles— and was now three-and-a-half times larger in size than before the war.[15]        

The Yom Kippur War 

Anti-Zionism entered the international scene when Israel and Egypt reached political rapprochement after the Yom Kippur War by signing an interim agreement on September 1, 1975, that emphasized “The conflict between them and in the Middle East shall not be resolved by military force but by peaceful means.”[16] Concerned that this might lead to peace, the Soviets, Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization tried to exclude Israel from non-governmental international organizations, like UNESCO, “for having transgressed the United Nations Charter, and having failed to adopt its resolutions.” When this strategy failed, they began to question Israel’s legitimacy and discredit and condemn Zionism in the UN and to internationalize their propaganda against her. [17]    

Results of the Z=R Resolution 

The Z=R resolution initiated a new breed of international antisemitism. Although the resolution was abrogated in 1991, depriving it of legal status, the hostility against Israel it generated in most UN member nations—and in the UN’s own institutions—continues unabated. But things may be changing.  “Today, there is no UN resolution against Zionism. Although Zionism is still attacked in the UN and its fora, no coalition of states has been able to muster a majority to formally condemn Zionism and/or Israel. It took the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the death camps, commemorated at the UN in April 2005, for the UN to publicly condemn antisemitism.  From 1975 up to the end of the 1990s, such condemnation was prevented and deliberately blocked. [18] 

“A Declaration of War against Israel” 

From August 31 to September 8, 2001, more than1,500 Non-governmental agencies (NGOs) met at the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa. There they embraced a strategy for the total isolation of Israel through boycotts, divestment, and sanctions, “cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel.” They also asked for the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, and promoting Israel as “an apartheid regime,” based on the South African model, according to NGO Monitor founder and president and Bar-Ilan University Professor Emeritus Gerald M. Steinberg. [19] 

Israel was accused of committing “crimes against humanity,” “ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid,” and “genocide” against the Palestinian Arabs.  “Durban became the most potent symbol of organized hate against Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” Steinberg said. In their view, “Israel… is a modern extension of Western colonialism of the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s not just the issue of ‘occupied territories.’ The NGO community targets Israel per se as a Western implant in the Middle East. The Palestinians are not guilty of human rights violations because they’re victims by definition. That’s built-in to the NGO creed.” [20] 

Political Antisemitism 

 Irwin Cotler, the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, wrote “Traditional anti-Semitism was the denial of the right of individual Jews to live as equal members in a society. The new anti-Jewishness is the denial of the right of Jewish people to live as equal members in the family of nations… All that has happened is that we’ve moved from discrimination against the Jews as individuals to the discrimination against the Jews as a people.” [21]          

 Demonizing Israel has turned it into a physical target for terrorist organizations, and into a political target for left wing and reactionary forces. Whether there are fatwas (legal rulings by Muslim clerics issued to legitimize suicide terrorism) or there are organizations demanding divestment from Israeli corporations, destruction of Israel—physical, spiritual, or economic—is one of the mantras of the day. This is what Cotler calls political antisemitism. [22] 

 For the majority of the members in the UN, Israel is a locus of evil deserving of international condemnation—unlike many countries in the UN who practice ethnic cleansing, offer no rights to women or the poor, starve their own people for political reasons, and commit genocide.  

 These same nations, in the halls of an institution that was designed to prevent exactly this from happening, deny Israel her rights even in the courts of international law. Israel is the target of the majority of UN sanctions, is vilified by The Hague for defending herself and is singled out by the Geneva Convention as the utmost violator of human rights.  [23]  

 The late Ehud Sprinzak, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, suggested this deliberate delegitimization leads to gradual erosion of Israel’s stature and ultimately her right to exist. Those targeted are the last to recognize the transformation until the consequences of ostracism become evident. This occurs when remarks by the country’s spokesman are “perceived as irrelevant,” and when the leadership is no longer regarded as worthy of engaging in legitimate discourse with other countries.  [24]                  

Branding Israel as racist, portrays her as a country that harms civilian populations, oppresses minorities, establishes restrictive immigration laws and religious statutes as part of their ideological raison d’etre. Thus, Israel’s wars, its military response to terror and laws passed by the Knesset are racist. A significant danger to Israel is that if this charge becomes a new stereotype through popular culture, the media, literature, and daily speech, it will taint the Jewish state and become a part of the legacy of the West. [25]  

 No logical argument ever succeeded in disputing the blood libels or any other spurious allegation leveled against the Jews. Limited response to Z=R ensured that anti-Zionist resolutions continued to be passed. To counter the process of delegitimization, the charges have to be seen as a “corruption of language and thought,” a threat to freedom, and a campaign of disinformation orchestrated by the Arabs and the Soviet Union. [26]  

* Excerpt from Alex Grobman, Nations United: How The UN Undermines Israel and West (Noble Oklahoma: Balfour Books, 2006). 

Footnotes 

[1] Yohanan Manor, “Anti-Zionism,” (Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization, 1984), 8. 

[2] Ibid. 

[3] Saul Friedlander and Mahmoud Hussein, Arabs and Israelis: A Dialogue (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1975), 6, 18, 21. 

[4] Ibid.9, 34. 

[5] Ibid. 

[6] “Islam’s Interpreter.” The Atlantic (April 4, 2004). 

[7] Ibid; Friedlander and Hussein, op.cit.32-33, 36.    

[8] Jacob L. Talmon, Israel Among the Nations (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson), 169-170.   

[9] Ibid. 170.  

[10] Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 305-306.   

[11] Ibid. 306.  

[12] Ibid. 

[13] Ibid.  306-307. 

[14] Ibid. 

[15] Ibid.    

[16] Manor, op.cit. 9-10. 

[17] Ibid.10.  

[18] Communication from Yohanan Manor, (May 23, 2005). 

[19] Alan Rosenbaum, “Learning lessons from the antisemitic Durban conference,” The Jerusalem Post (July 1, 2021). 

[20] Ibid. 

[21] Irwin Cotler, “Why is Israel singled out?” The Jerusalem Post (January 16, 2002). 

[22] Ibid; Irwin Cotler, “Human Rights and the new Anti-Jewishness,” The Jerusalem Post (February 5, 2004); Irwin Cotler, “Durban’s Troubling Legacy One Year Later: Twisting the Cause of International Human Rights Against the Jewish People,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Volume 2, Number 5 (August 20, 2002); Irwin Cotler, “New Anti-Jewishness,” Alpert Papers The Jewish People Planning Institute (November 2002); “Prof. Irwin Cotler: Beyond Durban,” Jewish Agency For Israel (2001}; Irwin Cotler, “Human Rights at 50,” The Jerusalem Post (December 29, 1998); Irwin Cotler, “The Legitimacy of Israel,” Middle East Focus (January 1981): 10-11. 

[23] Ibid. 

[24] Ehud Sprinzak, “Anti-Zionism: From Delegitimation to Dehumanization,” Forum-53 (Fall 1984), 3-5. 

[25] Ibid.7-8. 

[26] Ibid. 9-10. 

Dr. Alex Grobman is senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. 

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Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew university of Jerusalem. He lives in Jerusalem.