I used to believe that Zionism was ingrained in Judaism. Every Jewish group I interacted with seemed to be pro-Zionist. It’s logical: people are inclined to support their homeland. I am Jewish, therefore I support the state of Israel.
My first interaction with anti-Zionist Jews came at a pro-Israel rally. I saw a couple of Neturei Karta men holding a virulently anti-Israel sign. I rationalized this with the knowledge that they were a fringe group. I knew that anti-Zionism was the current manifestation of antisemitism and Jewish people could not be antisemites – or could they? When I began university, I was appalled to discover that fellow Jews shied away from ardent Zionism and astounded to see some of them condemn Israel outright. While I appreciated the open discourse, I believed it was sheer arrogance to see Jewish students in North America making recommendations for the Israeli government. Especially since they probably lacked the nuanced intricate knowledge of running a country in such a precarious situation and given the likelihood that these kids were privileged enough to have never had to deal with the threat of jihad.
What I never expected to face, however, was blatant antisemitism coming from fellow Jewish students. Jewish students have credibility when they proclaim something is not antisemitic and are lauded by the opposing side as the voice of the “real” Jewish people.
The first time I experienced Jewish antisemitism was about a year ago when I was with a (now former and non-Jewish) friend and her very secular Jewish boyfriend. They described going out to a nightclub on Shabbat, dressed up as ultra-Orthodox Jews. I was livid and promptly proclaimed that was antisemitic. My non-Jewish friend was profusely apologetic, having not understood the implication of her actions. Her boyfriend said, “I’m more Jewish than you and I don’t think it’s antisemitic.” Later on, I learned this miscreant had later spread blatant falsehoods about Israel.
I know a non-Zionist parent of a staunch Zionist, who married a Jewish antisemite that espoused views implying that Israel should not exist, called a pro-Israel Jewish student a terrorist, perpetuated and spread the libel that Jewish people are smelly and mocked Jews for praying. Now she too can claim that she's not antisemitic because she is the wife of a Jew and the stepmother of a proud Jew and an unapologetic Zionist.
These are not isolated instances. There are Jewish student groups that turn a blind eye to Jewish antisemitism or even help propagate it. These groups consider themselves “progressive” in order to “tell the other side of the story.” They say they’re the real Jews and whomever disagrees and supports Israel’s existence is a right-wing fringe radical.
Unfortunately, it seems their methods have been effective with the university and millennial population. Students want to be considered “middle-ground” and “liberal” and they consider being “right-wing” to be social suicide. This leads to Jewish students condemning Israel in order to fit in. And as the old adage goes, “If you repeat a lie enough, you believe it to be true.” This sadly leads to a vicious cycle of increased anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism among Jews on campus.
I’m not sure how to fix this. But I know that keeping people informed is a start.
A few weeks ago I went to a talk hosted by Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR) on the topic. It was very informative but I was the youngest person there by at least 30 years. It is pertinent that students understand the brevity of the situation. So I ask of my fellow students, join me in condemning racism and bigotry in all its forms. Maybe we can even find a solution to this together.
Aedan O’Connor is in her third year at Ryerson University, studying pre-medicine. She is VP-Programming of Students Supporting Israel at Ryerson and the Social Justice Chair on the Hillel-Ryerson Board.