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Why Anti-Zionism Is Antisemitism

23-year-old German-Israeli Shani Louk, who was murdered by Hamas on October 7, 2023. (Photo: Instagram)

The late Elie Wiesel recounted a stirring Hasidic legend to illustrate the insidious and ever-mutating scourge of antisemitism. The evocative story unfolds in a dimly lit inn late one night, where two revered Hasidic masters, Rebbe Elimelekh of Lizhensk, and his brother, Reb Zushya of Anipoli, are both immersed in their Torah studies, their faces illuminated by flickering candlelight as they delve into the sacred texts.

This tranquil scene is shattered when a group of drunken antisemites burst in. Their raucous laughter and uncouth conversation suddenly goes quiet as they spot the two rabbis studying quietly in the corner. Without warning, they unleash their fury on the hapless Reb Zushya, who is subjected to a vicious and relentless beating.

The attack is unexpected and brutal, but Reb Zushya endures it in stoic silence, until he eventually collapses unconscious on the floor, and the assailants momentarily go off to find another drink, their craving for violence temporarily satiated.

In these few fleeting moments of respite, Rebbe Elimelekh, moved by a profound sense of empathy and brotherly love, gently shifts his brother to where he had been sitting at the table and positions himself in Reb Zushya’s place on the floor, so that he will bear the burden of suffering on his brother’s behalf when the antisemites return.

But his act of self-sacrifice goes unnoticed by the returning drunkards. In their alcohol-fueled daze, they fail to recognize the switch, and once again direct their cruelty towards Reb Zushya — who is now seated at the table — thinking that he is the other rabbi, and inflicting yet further pain on the innocent sage.

Wiesel, with his unique brand of irony and insight, observes that this tale is emblematic of the broader narrative of Jewish history, serving as a potent metaphor for the relentless and often irrational nature of antisemitism. The story poignantly underscores the futility faced by Jews as they attempt to evade persecution, revealing how, despite efforts to change and adapt in order to protect themselves, they have historically been confronted with persistent hostility and violence in whatever guise they have chosen.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this story over the past few weeks, in particular because one of the most prominent aspirations behind the establishment of a Jewish state was to forge a sanctuary that could offer security and protection from persecution, not just in Israel but for Jews all over the world.

The idea was that a new reality — namely, a country Jews could call their own after 2000 years of dispersion — would precipitate a change in Jewish fortunes. A strong, independent Israel would place the Jewish people on an equal footing with other peoples, fostering a sense of global parity and, ideally, mitigating the scourge of antisemitism. “Never Again!” became the slogan associated with a strong and secure Israel firmly within the family of nations.

But, as it turned out, even though Reb Zushya moved from his spot on the floor to a seat at the table, he still got beaten up. Rather than this monumental change for Jews being the game-changer that neutralized antisemitism, Israel’s existence and actions have been leveraged by those who are drunk with antisemitism as the new justification for their prejudice, and for unleashing more violence against Jews — now called Zionists.

In fact, a critical aspect that is often overlooked in the discourse surrounding Israel and antisemitism is the conflation of the Israeli state’s actions with Jews. I don’t recall, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, that Russians living in the West, along with descendants of Russian immigrants, were targeted by protesters sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause, and nor do I recall Russian Orthodox churches being daubed with swastikas — despite the frequent reports of horrific scenes of death and destruction in Ukraine.

And yet Jews are targeted, vilified, attacked, intimidated, ostracized, threatened with death, and accused of being murderers — British Jews in London, Australian Jews in Sydney, American Jews in New York, and French Jews in Paris — all because Israel is engaged in a war with Hamas in Gaza (after the war was initiated by Hamas attacking Israel).

The facts speak for themselves: criticism of Israel’s policies and military strategy has quickly morphed into undisguised antisemitic rhetoric that employs age-old stereotypes and conspiracy theories, and which calls for Israel’s existence to be undone.

And again, I don’t hear any calls for Russia to be undone as a country, or Syria, or Myanmar, or Zimbabwe, or Sudan — and the list goes on and on — even after tough images emerge from each of these countries, or countries of their foes, because of actions they have taken. Only Israel suffers the indignity of being called illegitimate. This means that the line between political critique and ugly bigotry has become dangerously blurred.

The argument that “Anti-Zionism is Not Antisemitism” is a cornerstone mantra of many anti-Israel groups, who insist that all criticism of Israeli policies and Zionist ideology is entirely separate from antisemitic sentiments.

But surely this distinction is undermined when we witness a marked increase in antisemitic incidents following the October 7 massacre. It all suggests that anti-Zionism either contributes to, or indeed serves as a pretext for, antisemitic attitudes and actions, challenging the clear-cut separation that anti-Israel groups claim to uphold.

Then there is the shocking lack of reaction by progressive groups to allegations of violence against Israeli women by Hamas on October 7, compared to their vocal support for victims of sexual violence during the #MeToo moment. Where was the outrage for Israeli women? And how can that lack of outrage be explained as not being antisemitic? The answer is: it can’t.

And who can fail to be struck by the inconsistency among academics and progressives, always eager to recognize and address microaggressions and prevent subtle forms of discrimination — a diligence that conveniently lapsed when it came to overt aggression and discrimination against Jews after October 7, particularly but not exclusively in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Is this not blatant antisemitism? The answer is: yes, it is.

The humanitarian outcry over the treatment of children in conflict zones, such as the concern for migrant children at the US border, and the regular reminders regarding Palestinian children killed and injured by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, contrasts sharply with the complete lack of interest in Israeli children murdered by Hamas on October 7, and in the kidnapped children held by Hamas in dank underground tunnels with almost no food and water. Are Jewish children less important than non-Jewish children? It would appear so.

This week it was revealed that UNICEF — whose role it is to look after all children in need, wherever they are around the world — has no fund in place for Israeli children affected by the Hamas attacks. This, despite the fact that so many have been orphaned, and thousands are displaced and severely traumatized.

No less striking is the irreconcilable contradictions in the narratives propagated by those who condemn Israel. On the one hand, the October 7 massacre never happened say Hamas spokesmen and their Western supporters, while on the other hand, Hamas leaders promise that October 7 massacres against Israelis (and Jews) will be repeated again many times in the future.

Hamas spokesmen and their Western supporters claim that nobody was beheaded on October 7, but then we see videos taken by Hamas operatives showing them beheading people.

We are told that all the victims on October 7 were killed by IDF “friendly fire”– but the videos clearly show Hamas terrorists shooting Israeli victims dead. And so it goes on. Lie after lie. Inconsistency after inconsistency. It is so incredibly infuriating, and it never seems to end.

A remarkable Midrash on Parshat Vayigash reflects on the moment when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. This Midrash draws a profound lesson about judgment and rebuke from the dramatic Biblical scene, declaring “Woe to us from the day of judgment, woe to us from the day of rebuke,” after noting that when Joseph revealed his true identity, his brothers are struck with fear and were unable to respond. If such was the reaction to Joseph’s revelation, says the Midrash, how much more intense will be the ultimate Divine rebuke, when every individual is confronted with the truth of their actions?

The celebrated mussar giant, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman, explores a puzzling question arising out of this Midrash: What exactly was the rebuke that Joseph gave his brothers? On the surface, Joseph appears to comfort and reassure his brothers, not rebuke them.

Rabbi Chasman explains that the very act of Joseph revealing himself and saying “I am Joseph” was itself a profound and terrifying rebuke. It forced the brothers to come face to face with the error of their ways over the past 22 years, from their initial irrational jealousy of Joseph, to the sale into slavery, to the pain they caused their father — and all because they had fallen into the trap of unjustified bias, which resulted in them embracing a false narrative and perpetuating self-serving lies. In that moment of Joseph’s revelation, their misjudgments and mistakes were laid bare, as they realized that their actions had not been driven by righteousness, but by hatred and prejudice.

In Rabbi Chasman’s reading, the Midrash reveals an eternal truth — that hatred hiding behind feigned righteous virtue will ultimately be exposed for what it is: hatred, pure and simple. Just as Joseph’s brothers were eventually forced to confront the reality of their own bigotry when Joseph told them who he was, so too, in the fullness of time, all Jew-hating bigots who claim to oppose Israel for humanitarian reasons will be confronted with the harsh truths of their warped beliefs and their immoral actions.

The author is a rabbi in Beverly Hills, California.

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Powerful Play Questions Whether a Jewish Father Gave Secrets to Russia

Charlotte Cohn and Roger Hendrick Simon as Alina and her father Hillel with her husband Moses (Simon Feil) behind. Photo: Steven Pisano.

“I’m a Jew,” an elderly man named Hillel declares to an unknown voice in This Is Not a Time of Peace at Manhattan’s Theatre Row on 42nd Street.

Roger Hendricks Simon delivers a fine performance as Hillel, a man with anxiety, guilt, and memory problems, yet who is still cogent much of the time. The audience wants to know whether or not he betrayed America by giving away secrets to a Russian man named Daniil, who stayed at his home one night.

Charlotte Cohn stars as his daughter, Alina, and gets things moving with a powerful opening monologue. She wants to help her father find out the truth and she wonders if he was a communist, though it shouldn’t matter. Cohn is excellent in depicting a woman who has insight into her actions, but struggles to fight her temptations.

One of the most shocking elements of this play is not only that the infamous Joseph McCarthy is a character, but that actor Steven Rattazzi is able to depict the senator so well, with the proper cadence, diction, and oratory gusto. He is mesmerizing. I wanted to get on stage and hit him, but an actor in the show takes care of that.

“It gave me such pleasure to write that,” playwright Deb Margolin told me in an interview.

The play is a fictional account based on some true tribulations that Margolin’s father, Harold, had — namely that he was accused of being a communist later in life. He was defended pro-bono by famed attorney Adolf Berle, a chief speechwriter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“My father died at 100, less than a year ago,” Margolin said. “He knew I was writing this play.”

McCarthy’s hearings led to many being blacklisted, and he pressured people to offer up names of communists. Here, Hillel begrudgingly reveals a list, but what’s on it is quite surprising.

Alina claims to love her husband, Moses (Simon Feil), but is having an affair with Martin (Ken King), who says he loves her. Feil is masterful as a cocksure man who is not always emotionally available to his wife and hasn’t bothered to read her article in Harper’s Bazaar. King, besides providing eye candy when he shows off his muscular physique, is on point as a lover willing to dastardly tell Alina he will give her secret documents she has been seeking, if she gives him what he wants. Alina wears a Magen David necklace, and isn’t sure if her father betrayed his country, but she’s sure she betrayed her husband.

Richard Hollis adds a jolt of electricity as Daniil, who shocks Hillel by explaining that if he doesn’t get the required information, he will be “terminated.” It is impossible to watch this and not think of Alexei Navalny, who survived being poisoned, but flew back to Russia, knowing the worst could happen to him. And as we found out last week, it did.

The technique of having characters sit on the stage the entire time, but sometimes motionless and in the dark when the focus is on others, is a metaphor for the fact that evil inclinations may sit dormant and pop up after years. We must be prepared to confront them.

This Is Not a Time of Peace is also timely, as Oppenheimer, a film that spends a good deal of time showing J. Robert Oppenheimer being questioned for his communist connections, will likely win the Oscar for Best Picture on March 10.

Directed by Jerry Heymann and written by Margolin, this show will make you think about the things we take for granted. Alina utters the play’s title once, and it comes from the words of McCarthy.

“Hitler said the problem is from within, McCarthy said it, and we’re seeing the same thing today,” Margolin said.

This Is Not A Time of Peace is a timely and compelling slow burn with a powerful payoff. It runs through March 16.

The author is a writer based in New York.

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Journalists Using Israel-Hamas War as a Pretext for Claiming Tel Aviv Is Israel’s Capital

Illustrative: A general view shows the plenum at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

More than a decade ago, HonestReporting achieved significant success in changing the way that The Guardian reports on Israel, setting a journalistic precedent in the UK.

Following a complaint to the then-UK media regulatory body, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) — which included launching legal action to pressure the PCC to enforce its own rules — The Guardian officially acknowledged that Tel Aviv is not the capital of Israel.

While it was, sadly, a stretch too far for The Guardian to recognize Jerusalem’s status, the newspaper nevertheless updated its style guide. Since then, we have only had to complain to Guardian editors on a handful of occasions when a reporter has erroneously stated that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital in news copy (see here and here).

It is a similar story with other international media outlets that, depending on their editorial policies, normally either refer to Jerusalem as the capital or avoid mentioning Israel’s capital city at all.

However, since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of publications “mistakenly” describing Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital.

Since October 7, media organizations including CNN, The New York Times, The Daily Mail, The Times of London, The Independent, and The Telegraph have all made this error. Worryingly, several of them have failed to issue corrections, citing specious grounds.

Thank you, @washingtonpost for amending your text in response to our request.

Tel Aviv should never be used as a synonym for Israel’s capital.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) February 21, 2024

Although the majority of outlets have swiftly responded to HonestReporting’s request for a correction, The Daily Mail was one of the publications that refused to amend several of its pieces, arguing that Israel’s military headquarters are based in Tel Aviv, which is where decisions relating to the war have been made.

This is the very definition of a publication getting off on a technicality: the IDF’s headquarters is physically located in Tel Aviv.

So even though Israel’s war cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, frequently convenes in Jerusalem and the holy city remains Israel’s capital, some journalists have asserted their use of “Tel Aviv” as a synonym for Jerusalem strictly refers to from where military decisions are emanating.

“But the ask, according to this reporting, may be too big for Tel Aviv to agree to.”

No, @CNN, Tel Aviv won’t be agreeing to anything because political decisions are made in Israel’s capital Jerusalem.


— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) February 7, 2024

Of course, HonestReporting has disputed this point and secured numerous corrections in the process.

Concerning British media outlets, we have referred to the fact that the United Kingdom does not recognize Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital, while the United States officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital city in 2017.

In addition, no United Nations resolution has ever determined that Tel Aviv is, or should be, the capital of Israel.

The reality is that Jerusalem has always been Israel’s capital and the city is home to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), the Supreme Court of Israel, the Prime Minister and President’s official residences, the Bank of Israel, and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Capital cities are chosen by sovereign states — as is their right. They are not determined by interfering outsiders who think they can simply reimagine Israel’s geography.

It would be both baffling and inaccurate if Israeli journalists suddenly started referring to New York as the US capital in news stories, or used Manchester as a synonym for London when writing about British politics.

Why, then, do some journalists find it acceptable to make similar errors with Israel?

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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They Shouldn’t Ban Shechita, But Sure They Can

European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, in this file picture taken October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

One Shabbat, during the time I was studying for a Master’s degree in International Law and Human Rights, I mentioned the courses I was taking to a rabbi. He looked perplexed, then gestured towards his synagogue bookshelf loaded with thick books of Talmud and codes of Jewish law. “Human rights is all here,” he protested. “Why would you go to a university?”

Human rights and Jewish values often overlap. But unfortunately, sometimes they don’t. This was on stark display earlier this month, as the European Court of Human Rights upheld a ban on shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter) which was recently imposed by the governments of two regions of Belgium. The Belgium law requires that all animals be anaesthetized or stunned before slaughter, which according to Halacha, renders the meat not kosher.

Jewish and Muslim groups both protested that this requirement violates their human rights. In particular, they cited their right to freedom of religion, claiming that a ban on kosher slaughter interferes with their ability to live according to their faith. Many Jewish spokesmen were livid with the court, with the European Jewish Congress even releasing a statement saying that coupled with rising acts of antisemitism, this decision called into question whether there is a future for Jews in Europe.

The court’s ruling, however, was well grounded in human rights principles. It was based on two findings. First, preventing unnecessary pain and suffering to animals falls under a category of government responsibility known as preserving public morals. This makes ensuring humane slaughter a legitimate government interest. Second, this requirement that animals be stunned before slaughter was a narrowly tailored and proportionate method of achieving the goal of making slaughter more humane.

But what about the difficulty this causes for Jews and Muslims trying to observe their religious dietary laws? The court decided that the fact that this law interferes with some citizens’ religious observance isn’t enough to block it. The reason is that freedom of religion does not extend to situations where religious practice violates other human rights.

The right to religious freedom consists of the right to choose one’s own beliefs, and to practice those beliefs only in ways that do not violate the rights and freedoms of others. This includes the right of people to live in a society that upholds what they consider to be basic morals, such as not causing unnecessary pain and suffering for animals. So the right to freedom of religion does not protect religious practices that go against this principle. In the extreme, imagine a hypothetical religious ritual that requires torturing an animal. In such a case, the government could forbid it no matter how ancient, solemn, or important the ritual might be to members of whatever faith wants to continue the practice.

In practical terms, the Jewish community has a good argument to overturn the ban on shechita. We can maintain that shechita is humane, and causes no more suffering to the animal than what’s done in non-Jewish slaughterhouses with stunning. As long as our ancient method of slaughter is still within the parameters of what’s currently considered moral, there is no reason for governments to disallow it. While the court was right about the law, it may have the facts wrong about shechita in this case.

But protesting that we’ve been doing shechita for thousands of years — and therefore we must have the right to continue — isn’t a winning argument. Opponents will point to countless religious teachings, ranging from regulations regarding how women must dress, to unequal treatment of women in divorce, and to acceptance of polygamy and slavery in the Bible, as examples of deeply rooted religious practices that must now be banned in the name of human rights.

The rabbi I mentioned earlier was partially correct in pointing to his Jewish bookshelf. The Jewish tradition does contain many teachings that are in keeping with human rights. But in fundamental ways, the two are vastly different.

We regard Jewish values as ancient, timeless, and perhaps even emanating from God. Human rights were only conceived of within the last century, and come from our ever-evolving vision of how to make the world more free and equitable for all members of the human race. Since their sources are so different, it’s inevitable that Judaism and human rights will sometimes clash.

If we are committed to both Judaism and human rights, we need to take these conflicts seriously. The Belgium law may have exaggerated the suffering caused by ritual slaughter, and therefore given us grounds to oppose it. But how we deal with other intractable conflicts between human rights and Jewish values is a key question that each person committed to both must struggle to answer.

Rabbi Shlomo Levin is the author of The Human Rights Haggadah, which highlights modern human rights issues in this classic Jewish text.

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