In this inaugural opening of the Student-Faculty Corner of Ha’Am, I would like to elaborate on an idea that I advocated in my interview two weeks ago. The idea is simple: From my observations of campus life in the past few years, it seems clear that we are losing the moral fight against BDS and its cronies. It’s also clear to me that we will continue to lose unless we assert our moral stature clearly, unabashedly and effectively by using the magic word “Zionophobia” — the irrational fear of Zionism coupled with an obsessive commitment to undermine the right of Israel to exist.
We do not have another word that describes the moral pathology of those who deny us statehood or even peoplehood. The word “anti-Semitism,” despite the State Department definition and despite its common usage by Israel’s defenders, lost its punch 20 years ago.
Every time we label an attack against Israel “anti-Semitic” I see people yawning: “Here we are, the Jews are using this ‘cry-wolf’ card again — how boring.” Every time we label an attack against Israel “anti-Semitic” I see hordes of BDS cronies volunteering to fight for the right of Jewish students to have a Kosher cafeteria, to pray three times a day, and to wear Yarmulke in public. And they truly mean it, as long as the Yarmulke is not decorated with blue and white Magen David.
Every time we label an attack against Israel “anti-Semitic” I hear our enemies cheering: “I am a Semite too!” or “Don’t conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism” or “Some of our board members are Jewish” or “Even a prominent Jewish professor in UCLA’s history department wrote that anti-Zionism is normative in Jewish thinking.” In short, every time we label an attack against Israel “anti-Semitic” we lose the high moral ground and the conversation drifts to where we cannot win.
How about the word “anti-Zionism?”
This word, unfortunately, has ceased to be an indictment of bad taste and has become a badge of honor, even in some respectable circles. “Anti-Zionism” or even “anti-Israelism” sounds like a legitimate political position, like anti-tax-reform or anti-Republican. Worse yet, our ineffectiveness in winning the BDS debate has turned Zionism into a dirty word — so dirty that even Jews are sometimes hesitant to use it without some qualification. [I personally counted the number of Jewish professors at a reception in the Center for Jewish Studies who uttered the words “I am a Zionist” without fear or apology. The count is frightening].
There remains only one fighting word: Zionophobia.
Zionophobia describes precisely the ideology promoted by BDS activists on campus. More importantly it rhymes with Islamophobia — the cardinal sin in liberal circles. It has an element of irrationality and an element of bigotry. In short, Zionophobia has all the foul flavors that are normally attributed to Islamophobia and that Israel’s enemies are trying to stick to Zionism.
My experience in debating hard core Zionophobes has taught me that the mere mention of the word Zionophobia, creates an immediate and drastic change of conversation, from the standard accusations against Israel’s policies to the moral core of the dispute — Jews’ right to a homeland versus the bigotry of those who deny them that right.
I read what goes on at neighboring campuses and my heart goes to the students who need to defend themselves with cotton bullets. For example, at Cal Poly-tech, a registered student group demanded that the university raise all student cultural clubs’ budgets “except those aligned with Zionist ideology.” I read the reactions of the Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, including Hillel of San Luis Obispo, Chabad of Cal Poly, and others. “We are innocent,” they all plead; “Zionism is not guilty,” they beg; “We are hurt,” they bemoan; “It is anti-Semitic,” some complain; “It is illegal,” others note.
The one word I am not hearing is “Zionophobia,” the word that can turn this whole circus into a match among equals. It is a word that shames the excluder for moral deformity as severely and universally as Islamophobia.
BDS’s new tactics of isolating and excluding Jewish students “aligned with Zionist ideology” has also infected NYU’s campus, and it is approaching UCLA despite the strength of our community.
In February this year, I happened to enter the Green Room in Schoenberg Hall, where BFI leaders met with Fareed Zecharia and described to him some of their difficulties as Jews on campus. The student I heard speak described the social isolation that Hillel students face when they try to collaborate with other campus groups. To paraphrase: “The rejection persists” the student said, “even when you have nothing to do with Israel, even when you criticize Israel or disavow any connection to Israel.”
I do not know the name of that student, and I did not hear Fareed Zecharia’s response, but one thing I do know: People will start respecting you when you are assertive about your rights, and a litmus test of your assertiveness is your readiness to challenge the moral standing of your abusers.
Zionist students will be respected when they stop accusing their abusers for bigotry they conveniently deny — ant-Semitism – and start indict them for a bigotry they cannot deny — Zionophobia.
You have your fighting word, use it.