If the theme of the fall semester was “All White People Are Racist” (à la sophomore Eneale Pickett’s controversial hoodie), then today’s slogan has to be “All Gentiles Are Anti-Semitic.” At least, this is the attitude the campus’ Zionist community has taken in the wake of a contentious resolution recently passed by the Associated Students of Madison.
The resolution calls for the University of Wisconsin Foundation to be more transparent in its investment policy and to divest from ethically problematic corporations. Of particular concern are those companies that, as the resolution puts it, “profit from the destruction of Black, Brown, and Indigenous Lives.” The majority of the resolution, which was passed unanimously, has escaped controversy. But some on campus have taken issue with language expressing solidarity with “those lives in Palestine who continue to suffer under Israeli military occupation.”
In an astonishing twist of logic, some campus commentators, Chancellor Rebecca Blank among them, have claimed this passing criticism of Israeli policy constitutes an act of anti-Semitism. This is ridiculous. Taking Israel to task for its violent apartheid policies is a challenge to the Zionist ideology, not an insult to the Jewish faith.
The distinction is crucial. Judaism is a religion, practiced by a substantial minority of Americans. Like folks from other minority groups, many Jewish people living in America do suffer from an unacceptable degree of discrimination — we on the UW campus have seen several hate crimes against Jewish students in the past couple of years.
Zionism, on the other hand, is a political ideology, one calling for the establishment and defense of a Jewish state along the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. With support from the British, Zionists founded the state of Israel in 1948, violently displacing the Palestinian people native to the area and establishing an apartheid state that persists to this day.
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Since its founding, Israel has enjoyed a preferential relationship with the U.S. government, who enjoys military access to their ally’s strategic position. This relationship has only grown stronger with time. Indeed, the Zionist cause has come to dominate American foreign policy.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most influential lobbies in American politics, sinks millions of dollars into pro-Israel causes each year. Through tireless and well-funded lobbying, AIPAC has helped forge an iron-clad relationship between the U.S. and Israel. In fact, last year the Congressional Research Service labeled Israel “the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II.” The vast majority of this aid goes to military use, which in turn helps maintain a decades-old, brutal military occupation of Palestinian lands.
Since Israel is a Jewish state, Zionists will often claim criticism of Israel is rooted in anti-Semitism. It’s true some white supremacists channel their bigotry into Israel-bashing.
But not all anti-Semites are anti-Israel. For instance, President Donald Trump, who has made disturbing overtures to both anti-Semitism and white supremacy, is a supporter of Israeli policy.
Not all Jewish Americans think of themselves as Zionists. Indeed, the Madison affiliate of Jewish Voices for Peace, a national organization that is outspoken in its criticism of Israel, was one of the co-sponsors of the ASM resolution. Judaism and Zionism are two different phenomena — attempting to tie them together is opportunistic and dishonest.
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The campus Zionist community needs to be more careful with their language. Concern for the well-being and human rights of Palestinians springs from compassion, not hate.
This resolution aims merely to lend a symbolic hand of support to a people living in harm’s way, not to discriminate against UW’s Jewish students. The resolution itself affirms it “aims neither to condemn a country, a people, nor a community, nor to determine a political solution, but is solely aimed at ending our University’s support of corporations that profit from human rights violations.” Claiming this ASM resolution is rooted in bigotry cheapens the meaning of the word.
So, if Zionists want to tie their identity to a repressive theocracy halfway across the world, fine. If they want to cry foul every time Israeli policy receives some well-deserved criticism, then it is their right to do so. But the broader public, the chancellor included, should not give their claims of discrimination any credence.
Wilder Deitz ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in social welfare and French.