Does anti-Zionism fan anti-Semitism

During a panel discussion at last weekend’s Kindertransport conference in Burlingame, speakers gave divergent views on what it means to be anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic.

Martin Goldman, director of survivor affairs for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, began his talk by telling a Holocaust joke that portrayed Jews as fearful and weak.

“That’s what people thought about the Jews until June 1967,” Goldman said. “When the Jews proved they knew how to fight. But then the world found another way to be anti-Semitic, and that is to be anti-Zionist.”

Goldman said the anti-Israeli views of the European public indicate that anti-Semitism is on the rise. He cited a 2003 European Union survey in which most respondents cited Israel as the nation posing the greatest threat to world peace, ahead of Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq.

He also suggested that the blame for the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process lay squarely on the Palestinian side.

“I see that if the Palestinians put down their weapons, we would have peace,” he said. “If Israel put down its weapons, we would be destroyed.”

Another speaker, Terry Fletcher, disagreed with Goldman. She said anti-Zionism is not always equivalent to anti-Semitism.

“I have an Israeli soldier friend who would like to see Israel as a country of all its citizens, with all its people living together,” said Fletcher, a Berkeley teacher. “He sees that as against Zionism. So, I’ve met people who are not Zionists who like the Jewish people.”

When dealing with anti-Zionists, Fletcher asks them “to acknowledge that Jews are an oppressed people, and that the policies they are criticizing come from that oppression.”

Fletcher, who is also the child of a Kindertransport survivor, said that it’s important for survivors and their families not to have a “cookie-cutter” response to any act of anti-Semitism. She told a story of a friend who, faced with a mild anti-Semitic remark, immediately brought up Hitler and the Holocaust in response.

“As survivors and children of survivors, we have a lot of emotion around this issue,” she said. “Sometimes we lose our ability to discern the difference.”

A third speaker, Kindertransport refugee Margarete Goldberger, talked about activist groups that mix opposition to Israel with opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She used the group International ANSWER as an example.

“This group specifically raises money for two causes,” she said. “They are anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and by the way, anti-war.”

Later the conference attendees divided into small groups to discuss their thoughts about anti-Semitism in a session led by Professor Victor Silverman of Pomona College.

A woman in one group said she thought the Jews she had met from California, and their children, were insufficiently pro-Israel.

“What the Jews of the left don’t realize is that as long as Israel is strong we can lift our heads up,” said another woman in the group.

Attitudes in other groups differed. As spokespeople rose to describe their groups’ thoughts, one man reminded the audience that criticism of Israel was sometimes valid and was not tantamount to anti-Semitism. Another suggested that the contrast in conditions between Palestinian refugees on the one hand and a prosperous Israel on the other had swayed world opinion against Israel.

“Jews are very good people, and very kind people,” said one man. “It hasn’t gotten us too far.”


Pain of broken childhood