In 2002, Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, was said to have given a speech noting that the creation of the state of Israel had spared his followers the trouble of hunting down Jews at “the ends of the world.” The Lebanese terrorist group has prominent apologists in the West, and some of them rushed to claim that Nasrallah had uttered no such thing.
Except he had. Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies tracked down the original recording of the speech, in which Nasrallah carries on about “occupied Palestine” as the place appointed by Allah for the “final and decisive battle” with the Jews. By “occupied Palestine,” he wasn’t talking about the West Bank.
Sometimes anti-Zionists are — surprise! — homicidal anti-Semites, too.
That’s a thought that can’t be far from the mind of anyone living in northern Israel, where in recent days the Israeli Army has discovered at least three tunnels dug by Hezbollah and intended to infiltrate commandos under the border in the (increasingly likely) event of war. Given the breadth of Hezbollah’s capabilities, the depth of its fanaticism, and the experience of Hamas’s excavation projects in Gaza, it’s fair to assume other tunnels will be found.
What would Hezbollah do if it got its fighters across? In 1974, three Palestinian terrorists crossed the border from Lebanon and took 115 hostages at an elementary school in the town of Ma’alot. They murdered 25 of them, including 22 children.
Another infiltration from Lebanon in 1978 left 38 Israelis dead. Given Hezbollah’s long record of perpetrating massacres from Buenos Aires to Beirut to towns and cities across Syria, it’s a playbook it wouldn’t scruple to follow in a war for the Galilee.
All this is to say that Israelis experience anti-Zionism in a different way than, say, readers of The New York Review of Books: not as a bold sally in the world of ideas, but as a looming menace to their earthly existence, held at bay only through force of arms. It’s somewhat like the difference between discussing the effects of Marxism-Leninism in an undergraduate seminar at Reed College, circa 2018 — and experiencing them at closer range in West Berlin, circa 1961.
Actually, it’s worse than that, since the Soviets merely wanted to dominate or conquer their enemies and seize their property, not wipe them off the map and end their lives. Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state — details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it.
Note the distinction: Anti-Zionists are not advocating the reform of a state, as Japan was reformed after 1945. Nor are they calling for the adjustment of a state’s borders, as Canada’s border with the United States was periodically adjusted in the 19th century. They’re not talking about the birth of a separate state, either, as South Sudan was born out of Sudan in 2011. And they’re certainly not championing the partition of a multiethnic state into ethnically homogenous components, as Yugoslavia was partitioned after 1991.
Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse. When then-CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called last month for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and later claimed to be ignorant of what the slogan really meant, it was hard to tell in which category he fell.
Does this make someone with Hill’s views an anti-Semite? It’s like asking whether a person who believes in separate-but-equal must necessarily be a racist. In theory, no. In reality, another story. The typical aim of the anti-Semite is legal or social discrimination against some set of Jews. The explicit aim of the anti-Zionist is political or physical dispossession.
What’s worse: To be denied membership in a country club because you’re Jewish, or driven from your ancestral homeland and sovereign state for the same reason? If anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are meaningfully distinct (I think they are not), the human consequences of the latter are direr.
The good news is that the conversation about anti-Zionism remains mostly academic because Israelis haven’t succumbed to the fatal illusion that, if only they behaved better, their enemies would hate them less. To the extent that Israeli parents ever sleep soundly, it’s because they know what they are up against. And, to borrow Kipling’s line, they never make mock of uniforms that guard them while they sleep.
The same can’t be said for that class of scolds who excel in making excuses for the wicked and finding fault with the good. When you find yourself on the same side as Hassan Nasrallah, Louis Farrakhan and David Duke on the question of a country’s right to exist, it’s time to re-examine every opinion you hold.
Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post.