Has Zionism failed?

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U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman has stirred up
a bit of a tempest with remarks suggesting that Israeli actions may be
contributing to the growth of anti-Semitism in the world. Speaking
November 30 at a Conference on Fighting Anti-Semitism in Europe, he
described two types of anti-Semitism: classic anti-Jewish bigotry and
what has arisen from the ongoing Israeli-Palestian conflict.

Throughout the Muslim communities that I visit, and indeed
throughout Europe, there is significant anger and resentment and, yes,
perhaps sometimes hatred and indeed sometimes an all-too-growing
intimidation and violence directed at Jews generally as a result of the
continuing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories and
other Arab neighbors in the Middle East…

It is the area where every new
settlement announced in Israel, every rocket shot over a border or
suicide bomber on a bus, and every retaliatory military strike
exacerbates the problem and provides a setback here in Europe for those
fighting hatred and bigotry here in Europe.

Mitt Romney
and Newt Gingrich have called for the firing of Gutman, a Jew whose
father survived the Holocaust. The Children of Jewish Holocaust
survivors criticized Gutman’s “wild theories.” The Wiesenthal Center
demanded a rebuke from President Obama. Gutman and the White House have
made conciliatory noises. Let’s take a deep breath.

One of the current axioms of Jewish conservatives is that anti-Zionism is, in historian Robert Wistrich’s words,
“the most dangerous and effective form of anti-Semitism in our time.”
And they’ve got a point. It follows, then, that what increases hostility
to the state of Israel–the Zionist project–increases prejudice
against Jews.

Classic anti-Semitism was the product of religious
antipathy toward a
minority group that had little power in the societies where it resided.
Blaming the Jews for such antipathy is a classic example of blaming the
victim. Gutman’s point is precisely that Israel, the Jewish State, has
agency–acting in the world as Jewish communities couldn’t for two
millennia and thereby, as the Zionist founders intended, reshaping the
world’s perception of the Jewish people.

Does Israel in fact have no more power to counter anti-Zionism than the Jews of old did to counter classic anti-Jewish bigotry? Do Romney, Gingrich, and Gutman’s Jewish
critics mean to suggest that, to that extent, the Zionist project has failed?

  • Seth L. Sanders

    This is a striking, and rather weird point: we now take for granted that Zionism changed nothing essential about the dynamic between “the Jews” (or really the idea of the Jews) and “the world.” And yes, if that wasn’t the original goal, what was?