From ploughshares to swords: Zionism is an attack on Judaism

In 2017, when three students formed a chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace — now Students for Justice in Palestine — here at Tulane, they were reprimanded for anti-Semitism by several Undergraduate Student Government senators. 

Since then, Letters to the Editor and our events have continuously been met with allegations from students and parents that we seek only to disparage Judaism and to make life difficult for Jewish students on campus. 

Ashley Chen | Production Manager

As Jews invested in fighting for Palestinian human rights, we consider this narrative to be an abhorrent form of knee-jerk reactionary propaganda. The association between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism serves to diminish the violence that the Israeli government has enacted against non-Ashkenazi Jews around the world, and it paints human rights as somehow in conflict with Judaism. 

We counter this discourse with our own stories as anti-Zionist Jews. To do so, we rely on an honest portrait of the history of anti-Semitic violence that has been enacted by individuals and governments who have adopted Zionism as a political movement.

Miranda Teresa Fitzpatrick 

As a non-Ashkenazi, mixed-race, Hispanic Jew, I was raised on two sides of a spectrum. I was expected to love Israel as a homeland, but my racial identity showed me that the nation was a place that fundamentally rejected my existence. 

The state questions my ability to claim Judaism as my own, to be able to feel validated in the same space as European Ashkenazi Jews. I have to prove the validity of my existence in a place that, in theory, was made for me. 

I have come to realize that this dilemma is not only my own, but that it is rooted in a history of Zionist violence toward Mizrachim and Hispanic Jews.

In order to force Arab Jews to emigrate from Israel in the 1950s, Israeli intelligence officials and underground Zionist militants planted bombs in synagogues and public places in Baghdad, and they planned to bomb public places and U.S. institutions in Cairo and Alexandria. These false flag operations created the impression that the Arab world was dangerous for Jews when, in reality, the Jewish state was bombing houses of worship.

This violent form of Israeli anti-Semitism was arguably not even the worst attack on non-Ashkenazi Jews. During the 1950s, between 1,000 and 4,500 babies from predominantly Yemeni Jewish families went missing, allegedly in order to be sold to Ashkenazim. Until at least 2013, the Israeli government was systematically sterilizing Ethiopian Jewish women by giving them birth control without their consent. When it comes to non-Ashkenazim, Zionism has not been a beneficent movement, but rather a violently racist ideology. 

When I look to the experiences of fellow Jews in Latin America, Zionist anti-Semitism again rears its ugly head. In the early 1980s, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sold fighter jets and weapons to the Galtieri military regime in Argentina. This brutal dictator idolized Hitler and targeted Jews so explicitly that they represented more than 12 percent of “disappearances” despite the fact that only 1% of the Argentinian population was Jewish.

Israel was never truly meant for all Jews; it was meant for White European Ashkenazim. Ethno-states have been and always will be rooted in white supremacy, and Israel is no exception.

Shay Meredith

At the beginning of the summer of 2014, I was a 16-year-old fervent Zionist who wanted to move to Israel for college. That summer, the country I saw as a beacon of liberalism and equality murdered innocent people on land it was illegally occupying. 

I looked to my Jewish principles to understand how a state that claimed to speak for me was turning ploughshares into swords and aiming them at the neck of Palestine. Israel was not created as a place of hope and rebuilding for the Jewish people: it was created to subjugate Palestinians and non-white Jews, to militarize a faith rooted in love and to spread white supremacy to the Middle East.

I realized the stories I had been told about my supposed “homeland” were based on, at best, a rose-colored view of history. Worst of all, this violence continues today. Israel has fashioned a hyper-militarized economy that relies on eternal war. It is the seventh largest arms exporter in the world, and it markets its weapons as battle-tested on civilians in Gaza. One of its clients is the Ukrainian neo-Nazi militia Azov.

Recognizing these facts does not diminish the struggles of my ancestors: it builds on their yearning for a safe and just world. As a Jew informed by my history, it is my responsibility to condemn Zionism in the same breath as I speak out against anti-Semitism.

Cliff Soloway 

When my great-grandmother arrived in Israel for the first time, her children and grandchildren helped her to her knees so that she could kiss the tarmac. I can imagine her there, a mix of Hebrew and Yiddish slipping from her lips as she touched her forehead to the earth upon which she believed her Jewish home was being built.

I can picture her, and I can feel her longing for a homeland in my chest, but her joy does not resonate with me. There can be no salvation on stolen land; there can be no safety born out of ethnic cleansing.

The generations of my family who looked to Israel as their promised land were not evil, and to identify myself as an anti-Zionist cannot mean that I am against them. Rather, I am an anti-Zionist precisely because I recognize that Israel will never keep my family safe. 

When my great-grandmother landed in Tel Aviv, she thought she was supporting a Zionist movement that had always protected Jews around the world. She was wrong. 

Since its earliest years as a political movement, Zionism has maintained a disturbingly intimate relationship with anti-Semitism. Theodore Herzl, the father of political Zionism, put it best when he wrote “the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.”

This bizarre alliance bore fruit for Zionists at the expense of Jews in Eastern Europe and Russia. In 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, who had introduced legislation banning Eastern European Jewish immigration to England, publicly pledged British support for a Jewish state in Palestine. Three years later Winston Churchill defended Zionism by describing it as the movement of “good Jews” against the international Jewish “conspiracy” of Bolshevism. These men were virulently anti-Semitic, but they saw in Zionism a way to contain working-class movements and eventually remove the Jews from Europe. 

But there were much more dangerous anti-Semites who would come to power in the 1930s, and the Zionist movement immediately sought their support. In 1933, Zionists in Palestine signed the Haavara Agreement, which allowed the Nazis to export German goods to Palestine for every Jew who emigrated there, breaking an international boycott against Hitler’s government. Between 1933 and 1939, 60% of foreign capital invested in Jewish colonies came from Nazi Germany. 

Zionism will not build safety for Jews because it owes its allegiance to the same governments and ideologies that have always put their heels on our necks. Instead, we will build our homeland alongside the oppressed people of the world. If our ancestors teach us anything, let it be that our strength comes from solidarity, not ethno-nationalism. Let it be that we can still plant our vine and fig tree, but only when its shade extends over a free and undivided Palestine.

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