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Social media is full of people decrying the evils of zionism and zionists. But I had always understood zionism to mean the Jewish wish for a homeland. This clearly isn't what the anti-zionists mean by the word. What do they mean?

I have tried asking them but they never reply directly to the question.

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    Similar question. What is antisemitism? politics.stackexchange.com/questions/82790/what-is-antisemitism/… Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 21:56
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    @άνθρωπος Whether they are similar or not is the topic of this question :)
    – Simd
    Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 22:05
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    @Simd: It's usually handy and useful to suggest similar questions, most of the time it helps people who are doing further research.
    – صالح
    Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 23:55
  • Here is a definition of Zionism from the mouth of Kwame Ture, a well known anti-Zionist. Note that he references Theodor Herzl, supporting the answers below that claim that the definition of Zionism used by Zionists and anti-Zionists is more or less the same.
    – Ben Cohen
    Commented Jan 4 at 21:58

4 Answers 4

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anti-zionism is a broad movement, and their definitions of zionism vary. Most do reject the idea that Jews have a right to national self-determination (at the very least in the levant).

Zionist/Zio as shorthand for Jew

Oftentimes, Zionism is just a placeholder for world Jewry.

The far right often uses Zio/Zionist as a shorthand for Jew/Jewish. It uses the same antisemitic conspiracy theories, but attributes them to "Zionist" instead of Jews, to make their antisemitism more palatable to the mainstream. They use the exact same ideas, but just copy-replace Jews to Zionists.

David Duke is one example, using age-old antisemitic canards of an all-powerful cabal which secretly controls the world. Not attributing it to Jews, but Zionists. The ADL has collected a lot of examples of this as well.

Part of the far left have taken up this meaning as well, and Zionist / Jew are often used interchangeably in the Arab-speaking world.

Zionism as Jewish nationalism

Especially left-wing, Jewish anti-zionists define Zionism as Jewish nationalism. They differentiate between political, religious, and cultural zionism. But they reject all forms.

Zionism as settler-colonialism

Some on the left define Zionism as a form of settler-colonialism. The antisemitic BDS movement for example defines Zionism as an Ideology 'which holds that the “Jewish nation” has an inherent right to the land of Palestine', which they consider to be settler-colonialism.

Zionism as form of racism

The - since revoked - UN resolution 3379 defined zionism as a form of racism & a threat to world peace.

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    Suggest further explanation of the BDS movement, as initial reading suggests that while Israel calls them anti-semitic, they want to draw the line between anti-semitic and anti-zionist. Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 23:22
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    @SomeoneSomewhereSupportsMonica - Most groups don't want to be called nasty things, and try to draw a line between what they think and any "-ism," including cases where the description is actually apt. Personally, I think that while there is evidently nothing inherently anti-Semitic about calling for sanctions on Israel—more or less the criterion for being part of the "BDS movement"—certain groups associated with the movement have absolutely occasionally veered into providing an uncritical space for anti-Semitic members or even into making anti-Semitic statements.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 0:10
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    @Obie2.0 Yeah, re-reading this, I'd mostly just want a non-Israeli-Government source attached to calling them antisemitic. Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 0:48
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    @SomeoneSomewhereSupportsMonica The German parliament has declared BDS antisemitic & reminiscent of the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.
    – tim
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 8:19
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    @tim A declaration from Germany (or the USA) counts as a Israeli-Government source, I'm afraid.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Dec 28, 2023 at 10:55
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Anti-Zionists do not define Zionism. They repeat what Zionists have defined and have done and are doing.

Dr. Gabor Maté: (physician, author and trauma expert) a former Zionist that now supports the people of Palestine. In an interview with Piers Morgan:

I used to be a Zionist, as you mentioned. I’m a Holocaust survivor. Zionism was very important for me as the salvation of the Jewish people until I found out that the state was founded based on the extirpation, expulsion, and multiple massacres of the local population. And that’s not historically controversial. So, I’m taking a long review of this, and I’m saying that the present situation cannot be understood without looking at the historical context. Nor can we move forward if the present occupation and the suppression of the Palestinians continue. Sharon, your previous guest talked about the fragile coexistence. There was no coexistence; there was oppression, periodic massacres, land occupation in the West Bank—the continuous expulsion of the population from their homes. I visited the occupied territories three times now. The first time, back during the first Intifada, I cried every day for two weeks at what I saw. So, this cannot go on. I saw the news about the Elgin Marbles being returned and how you changed your mind about that. Well, how about returning the land that’s been stolen from the Palestinians? I’m not talking about the state of Israel; I’m not talking about 1948. I’m talking about since ’67 and what’s going on right now. So, there’s got to be some stop to what’s going on, and that’s how I understand it. This is for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians.

One who visited the Palestine: (YouTube)

If we don't stop Zionism, some day we will all be Palestinians. Someday we'll all be in a refugee camp and we'll all be ruled by Zionists.

In their Own words:

I don't mind if after the job is done you put me in front of a Nuremberg Trial and then jail me for life. Hang me if you want, as a war criminal. What you don't understand is that the dirty work of Zionism is not finished yet, far from it. (Ariel Sharon to Amos Oz, editor of Davar, Dec. 17, 1982)

"It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonization or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands." (Yoram Bar Porath, Yediot Aahronot, of 14 July 1972.)

The letter of Theodor Herzl, founder of the World Zionist:

"Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment... Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly." (Theodor Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, speaking of the Arabs of Palestine, Complete Diaries, June 12, 1895 entry.)

Gideon Levy – Speech at the Olof Palme Prize reception ceremony 29 jan 2016:

I’ll just give the three principles which enable us Israelis to live so easily with this brutal reality. A) Most of the Israelis, if not all of them, deeply believe that we are the chosen people. And if we are the chosen people, we have the right to do whatever we want. B) There were more brutal occupations in history. There were even longer occupations in history, even though the Israeli occupation gets to quite a nice record. But there was never in history an occupation in which the occupier presented himself as the victim—not only the victim, but the only victim around. This also enables any Israeli to live in peace, because we are the victims.

...

But the third set of values is the most dangerous one. This is the systematic de-humanization of the Palestinians, which enables us Israelis to live in peace with everything, because if they are not human beings like us, then there is not really a question of human rights.

And if you scratch under the skin of almost every Israeli, you will find it there. Almost no one will treat the Palestinians as equal human beings like us. I once wrote that we treat the Palestinians like animals.

I can cite over 50 quotes from Zionists who describe themselves as such and state this publicly.

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    @lr0 - OK. As a constructive suggestion, I suggest rewriting the answer to remove the incorrect statement (obviously, some self-identified anti-Zionists do in fact work from certain definitions or conceptions of Zionism), and edit the answer to add some examples of that. Removing some of the current quotations could also be helpful: only some of them tangentially define Zionism, and it's not clearly whether all of them are even from people who would describe themselves as anti-Zionists.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 0:03
  • Agreed with the above. I think only the quotes by Herzl and Levy make sense here, the others seem like a distraction from the question that was asked. For example, the quotes by Sharon and Bar Porath are the words of Zionists defining themselves. Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 0:12
  • For the record; Most of the quotes are from ardent anti-Zionists or extreme leftists, although Jewish. We can't get the whole context from Ariel Sharon's quote, cause the only witness is Amos Oz a board member of B'tzelem.
    – Jacob3
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 11:12
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    @C.F.G, Menahem Begin
    – Jacob3
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 12:00
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    @shadowtalker, I disagree. C.F.G's claim is that anti-Zionists use the same definition as Zionists do, so the words of Zionists are relevant.
    – Ben Cohen
    Commented Jan 2 at 21:08
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For context, see this question about how "anti-feminists" define "feminism".. The line I want to use from an answer to that question is that for 'anti-feminists', "Feminist' [is] merely the banner cr[y] of [a] competing power bloc".

There may be groups who advance a definition of "Feminism" but the actual use of the word is merely a tag for the perceived wrongs done by or in the name of women against "us". Likewise the actual use of "Zionism" is just a tag or a label.

In this context "Zionist" doesn't have any useful definition beyond a rallying cry referring to the perceived wrongs done by Israelis and their supporters. Any real or imagined misdeed can be called "Zionist". So "Zionism" refers to restrictions on free movement, discriminatory treatment of Arabic Israelis, policies that restrict the "right to return" of non-Jewish refugees, inequitable funding of districts with a large Arabic population, unequal treatment of Arabic speakers in education, etc. etc. etc. It matters little if these are real or imagined.

Just as calling someone a "Feminist" labels them for members of your group of "anti-feminists", and saves them the trouble of having to think. Labelling someone as "Zionist" means that your "anti-zionist" supporters don't need to analyse any subtle issues of politics.

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  • since zionists "wrong-doings" are almost universally connected to "palestinians", you should update your answer. so the wrong-doings are not against Arabic Israelis [how does this differ from Israelis Arabs, btw?].
    – dEmigOd
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 14:38
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    "Arabic Israeli" is a better term, it follows the convention of "Black British" or "Native American" of placing the legal citizenship as the noun, and the ethnic identity as the adjective. "Israeli Arabs" suggests (in my language) a person who is legally an Arab, but has Israeli ethnicity, which is not correct. I've written the answer quite carefully. It matters not if any of these examples are true! And I've said that. What matters is that people believe they are true, and use the tag "Zionist". Once the tag is established it becomes a simple dog whistle.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 15:10
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    This seems like a stretch. The term "Zionism" might be stretched and adapted to mean a variety of things, but to argue that the term is a meaningless designation for a competing power bloc seems like an overgeneralization. Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 0:07
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Tl,dr; Zionists believe that all Jews have the right to live in a Jewish state in historical Palestine (aka Land of Israel). Anti-Zionists believe the opposite.

There are at least two brands of anti-Zionism; religious and secular. Religious anti-Zionists believe that the establishment of Israel displeased God and violated the Jewish people’s oath of political quietism. Based on exegesis, they argue that Jews should wait until the coming of messiah. An example of a religious anti-Zionist group is Neturei Karta, depicted below:

Neturei Karta members posing

Secular anti-Zionists believe that Zionism is Jewish settler colonialism. Two prominent secular anti-Zionist groups are Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the BDS movement. Both have written extensively on their views on anti-Zionism (see previous links), which I'll summarize here.

Settler colonialism is the process during which one group of people wrestle control over land from the hands of the indigenous population. They remove or eliminate the indigenous people, erase their culture, and replace it with their own economy and system of governance. Examples of states created through settler colonialism are New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South Africa, the United States, and Israel. In each case indigenous people and culture was replaced with a more powerful foreign people and associated culture. The main difference between the colonization of Palestine and other regions, they argue, is that the colonization of Palestine is ongoing as the process began relatively late. In 1948 when Israel was declared, European settlers had already supplanted the indigenous populations in the Americas. BDS uses the following map which purports to show how Zionist settlers have usurped more and more Palestinian land:

Maximum land with minimul Palestinians

Similarly, former JVP Deputy Director Cecilie Surasky in her speech Settler colonialism, white supremacy, and the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel argues that Zionism is not unique, but should be analyzed in a broader historical context:

I have seen these views manifest in the movement for Palestinian liberation: sometimes people chant “2-4-6-8 Israel is a racist state”, or decry the disappearance 400 Palestinian villages when Israel was created, without even a hint of irony or self-reflection that one is literally standing on land built on slavery and the (still happening) genocide of indigenous peoples.

Her point is that anti-Zionism is about the indigenous Palestinians' rights, but indigenous peoples' rights in other parts of the world are equally important.

Back to your question:

But I had always understood zionism to mean the Jewish wish for a homeland. This clearly isn't what the anti-zionists mean by the word. What do they mean?

If you add "Jewish wish for a Jewish homeland in Palestine" then that sure is what they mean. Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, writes:

A Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically.

Just as we would oppose a "Muslim state" or a "Christian state" or any kind of exclusionary state, definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sellout Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.

His alternative is a state with equal citizenship:

Accepting modern-day Jewish-Israelis as equal citizens and full partners in building and developing a new shared society, free from all colonial subjugation and discrimination, as called for in the democratic state model, is the most magnanimous, rational offer any oppressed indigenous population can present to its oppressors. So don't ask for more.

This is an offer all Zionists reject. A democratic state with no privileges for Jews, where Jews wouldn't even be a majority, would end the Zionist project.

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    Since Palestinians were not a thing in 1917 and 1948, you are probably talking about Arabs. I'm pretty sure that Israeli Arabs can do whatever Israili Jews can, so the land is accessible to both groups in the same way now, so WHITE on the 1967 and Today are actually places that are inaccessible for JEWS. Please update the image, so it will be understood, where Jews can use then and now.
    – dEmigOd
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 9:33
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    The Map is a total distraction. In 1917 There was no sovereign Israel or Palestine, there were Jews and Arabs living between The Sinai desert and Syria. The evolving map shows it all as Arab, including empty land and Jewish cities, besides huge pieces of land bought by the JNF. According to the census of 1864, Jerusalem was by then mostly Jewish blog.eretzyisrael.org/post/59442719489/…, in the map it is shown as totaly Arab.
    – Jacob3
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 10:31
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    Bringing up an esoteric fringe group, under the guise of showing evidence that Jews oppose Zionism, is nothing but buttressing of tropes. "Next year in Jerusalem" is how Passover Seder and and Yom Kippur service ends and how it has ended for hundreds of years. The phrase itself dates to 6th century BC. Its utterance is a well-accepted practice in Judaism. And it says NEXT YEAR, not at the end of times. Zionism as a political philosophy is nothing but a restatement of many of Judaism's religious precepts. This answer, as such, is woefully misleading.
    – wrod
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 10:34
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    You are all missing the point. The question is about the anti-Zionist position on Zionism - not about whether that position is correct or not. Answer doesn't claim that Neturei Karta and related groups are not fringe, but they need to be covered in an answer about anti-Zionism since their opposition to Zionism is radically different from other groups. Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 11:21
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    Weird that an accurate answer has gathered so many down votes. Whether you agree or not with the anti-Zionist views of these groups did not make any difference to whether they hold these views. Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 11:13

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