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Israel and the Emergence of Anti-Zionism and “New Antisemitism”


Zionism is a poorly understood ideology. Its underlying philosophy and ideological tenets have been obscured due to the emergence of pervasive negative perceptions of Zionism following the establishment of Israel. These perceptions have intensified in the aftermath of wars as part of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Zionism can be defined as the “movement for national revival and independence of the Jewish people in 'Eretz Yisrael' [the biblical term referring to the Land of Israel]” (Rolef, 1993, p. 343). The ethno-national ideology lays claim to the Land of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people and provides both a historical and theological rationale for the establishment of the Jewish State. However, Zionism is understood in a multitude of ways – some recognise its status as an “ethnonational ideology” which posits that “Israel is the expression of the Jewish people's right to national self-determination” (Beller, 2007, p. 226), while others regard it as an expansionist ideology which aims to extend the borders of Israel and to usurp the land and resources of the Palestinians (and, in some cases, its Arab neighbours) (Corrigan, 2009). Given the multiple representations of Zionism, it becomes increasingly difficult to define anti-Zionism – how one defines this naturally depends upon what is being opposed. It can refer to the desire for the destruction of the State of Israel, to opposition to perceived Israeli expansionism, or the denial of the Jewish status of Israel, which is the stated policy of the Palestinian leadership (Jaspal and Coyle, 2014). In this book, antiZionism is defined as opposition to the ethnonational ideology which highlights the Jewish people's right to national self-determination. This chapter provides a brief historical sketch of the State of Israel and the consequential Israeli-Arab conflict, an overview of anti-Zionist representations and their action orientation and some insight into the debate concerning “new antisemitism”.

The Birth of Israel and the Israeli-Arab Conflict

For Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism, Zionism offered the only plausible solution to the dire, age-old problem of antisemitism (Kornberg, 1993). He recognised that Jews would continue to face enmity from outgroups but firmly believed that a Jewish homeland would provide the Jews with the
safety and security that they clearly lacked in the diaspora. Herzl had personally witnessed some of the antisemitism that was described in Chapter 1 and was acutely aware of its destructive action orientation. With the establishment of a Jewish homeland, antisemitism would continue to exist but not in the deadly form in which it had manifested itself in Europe. Gradually, the Jews would be “normalised” as their political status was normalised within their homeland. Although Herzl clearly favoured a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel, he also contemplated the establishment of a Jewish state in part of Argentina (Herzl, 1895/1946) and discussed the 1903 British proposal of creating a Jewish state in Uganda. After Herzl's death, these proposals were abandoned – the Jewish State was to be established in Palestine. Following the creation of Israel, however, antisemitism persisted and began to be manifested in a distinct guise – through the delegitimisation and demonisation of the Jewish State.

The Israeli-Arab conflict

Following various waves of Jewish immigration to the British Mandate of Palestine, which gave rise to a large Jewish population in the territory (Stillman, 1979), on 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181(II) which recommended the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. The so-called Plan of Partition with Economic Union was accepted by Jewish nationalists but unanimously rejected by the Arabs and soon after the vote civil war broke out (Karsh, 2002). On 14 May 1948, a day before the British Mandate over Palestine ended, Herzl's dream of a Jewish homeland was finally realised when David Ben-Gurion declared “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel”.1 The next day, the armies of Syria, Egypt, Transjordan and Iraq, collectively, invaded the newly established State of Israel, which began the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (Bregman, 2000). After almost 10 months of bloody armed conflict which claimed tens of thousands of lives, Israel emerged as the victor, retaining all of the land originally allotted to the Jewish state and capturing 50 per cent of the land allotted to the Arab state. Although the invading Arab nations and the Arab League, more generally, suffered a humiliating defeat, Egypt gained control of the Gaza Strip and Jordan controlled the West Bank (including East Jerusalem and the Holy City). As a result of the conflict, hundreds of thousands of Arabs were either expelled from, or fled, their homes in what had become Israel, giving rise to large Palestinian refugee communities (Karsh, 2011). At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Jews living in the surrounding Arab countries that had invaded Israel suddenly became the target of Arab persecution and reprisal attacks – in the three years following the 1948 War,

1  Declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel, 14 May 1948 of%20state%20of%20israel.aspx
some 700,000 Jews from Arab lands were either expelled or voluntarily migrated to Israel (Stillman, 1979).

In 1956 when Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal and closed it to Israeli shipping, Israel (with British and French support) invaded the Sinai Peninsula and captured the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. Under US pressure, Israel agreed to vacate Egyptian territory in return for freedom of navigation in the Straits of Tiran, which the Egyptian authorities granted. While the conflict was viewed as a political failure for Britain and France (Gorst and Johnman, 1996), Israel appeared to win yet another victory against the Arabs, resulting in further Arab humiliation. However, like the 1948 War, the 1956 Suez Crisis had negative implications for Jews in Arab countries – the war led to the expulsion of most of the remaining Jews in Egypt (Laskier, 1995).

On 5 June 1967 Israel launched a surprise attack on Egyptian airfields in response to the mobilisation of Egyptian troops on the Western border and then turned East to engage the Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi air forces (Bregman, 2000). After six days of armed conflict, Israel successfully defeated the Arab armies and captured the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan. The surface area of Israel tripled in size and hundreds of thousands of Arabs were now living under Israeli jurisdiction. The Six-Day War, as it came to be known, had major military and political consequences, but it also had cultural and psychological consequences – Israel had gained control of East Jerusalem which it later incorporated into Israeli territory and the Arab world suffered a major blow as it realised that Israel was militarily competent and able to defeat the Arab armies in a swift and co-ordinated manner (Louis and Shlaim, 2012). In 1973 what has become known as the Yom Kippur War was launched by a coalition of Arab countries led by Egypt and Syria, who wished to re-capture the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, respectively (Bregman, 2000). This was partly an attempt to restore self-confidence in the Arab world, following their military defeats in previous conflicts. Although the war concluded with a military victory for the Israelis, the invading army caught Israel by surprise by embarking upon hostilities on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Consequently, some initial military advances were made by the invading Arab armies, which served to ameliorate some of the cultural and psychological trauma that had been caused by previous conflicts. However, both the Sinai and the Golan Heights remained in Israeli hands.

Historians have claimed that Israel's image on the international stage changed radically following the 1967 Six-Day War, because it now came to be perceived as an occupying force, rather than the victim of foreign invasion (Sharon, 2009). In an emerging era of anti-colonialism, this was a deeply problematic position for Israel to occupy and it led to the widespread perception of Israel as a colonising, capitalist force in union with the US. However, attitudes towards Israel did not perpetually remain negative, as Israel did participate in peace negotiations with its Arab neighbours. Indeed, the 1973 Yom Kippur War paved the way for eventual peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt, and the two countries
signed an agreement in 1978 which led to Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai and to diplomatic relations between the two countries (Hurwitz and Medad, 2011). Similarly, in 1994, Jordan and Israel signed a peace agreement and established full diplomatic relations (Eisenberg and Caplan, 2003).

Israel's relations with its Arab neighbours have been fraught with confl ever since its establishment in 1948. In 1982, the Israeli Defence Forces invaded and occupied South Lebanon, following the Palestinian Abu Nidal Organisation's attempt to assassinate Israel's ambassador to the United Kingdom (Fisk, 2001). The aim was to uproot the Palestinian Liberation Organisation which was operating from within Lebanon. During the occupation, Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon was found to be “personally responsible” for a massacre that was perpetrated by Christian militiamen against Palestinian and Lebanese Shiite Muslim civilians in a refugee camp (Eisenberg and Caplan, 1998). This adversely affected Israel's image on the international stage but particularly in the Arab world where Sharon was referred to as “bloodthirsty” and a “butcher”. Israel unilaterally withdrew its forces from South Lebanon in 2000, but six years later was again at war with Lebanon after the Iranian-sponsored Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah launched rocket attacks against Israeli targets and crossed into Israeli territory, killing three soldiers and kidnapping two others. Although many Western governments reiterated Israel's right to defend itself against external threats, Western public opinion was generally opposed to Israel's military actions, which were viewed as excessive and heavyhanded. Media reporting and the anti-Israel campaigns which emerged during the confl overwhelmingly represented Israel as the aggressor and the Lebanese as the victims (see, for example, Dyszynski, 2010).

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