Antiracism is the mahi. Anti-Zionism is a separate matter.

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Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Ralph Bunche, and Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Selma and Montgomery March, 1965. Photo by James H Karale

‘Anti-Zionism’ does not describe our experience of antisemitism in Aotearoa. We mustn’t be distracted from the real nature of anti-Jewish racism.

Too much discussion of antisemitism is dominated by a few accusing Zionist voices and the indignant response to them. That reduces and distorts the issue of antisemitism in three ways.

  1. The IHRA formula – anti-Zionism = antisemitism – politicises racism in the interest of Zionism. That definition impacts Palestinians and everyone who believes that Palestinians have equal personal and political rights in this world. Palestinian rights belong on every social justice agenda. But the IHRA’s political project is not a description of antisemitism.
  2. The IHRA strategy seeks to capture the machinery of regulation in order to prevent speech and make an issue unmentionable. That is a strategy which can be replicated by anyone who has enough influence to pull it off. Therefore any concession to the IHRA strategy threatens everyone’s right to vigorous political speech – but the work of opposing the IHRA definition is not the the work of opposing antisemitism.
  3. Anger at the IHRA definition further impacts the Jewish community. With their ceaseless hostility, a few Zionist organisations are positioning the Jewish community as an enemy of political speech and social justice protest. That ignores the antisemitism around us, and it deters Jews from taking our proper place in the shared mahi of antiracism.

AJV has repeatedly challenged those organisations’ mandate to speak as they do. Several of the most strident groups have strong Christian Zionist ties. They do not represent or act in the interest of the Jewish community. A majority of their directors are Christian Zionist and neoliberal: that is the configuration of the domestic Zionist project. (The NZ Jewish Council is Jewish, unelected and unrepresentative. Its Wellington arm has agreed to suspend operations because it lacks any community mandate.)

These are all important considerations, but none of them describes, reflects or responds to the real nature of the antisemitism that we witness in Aotearoa. Can we talk about the antisemitism, please?

Antisemitism burst our public imagination in the words written on one dusty ute at the Parliament occupation: ’help us stop Jewcinda.’ It was the most revolting antisemitic solicitation many of us had seen for New Zealand’s White supremacist worldview. Bring us your resentments, it invited. We’ve got a simple explanation for whatever you feel you have lost.

Among their many hatreds, the White / Right is antisemitic. It is integral to their beliefs. When a coalition of antiracists stands up to the White / Right, Jews belong in the front row of that coalition. Racism targets and affects us. We understand its harms. Antiracism is our mahi, too.

We, the Jewish community, have been missing in action. We are held back from commiting to a Jewish antiracism by our insular institutions which speak only of Jewish victimhood, in a disempowering monotone. The empowerment that comes from acting in solidarity, and the responsibility that comes with being actors in our own society’s racialised structures – Jews are not being given those messages.

We are additionally kept apart by the political project of the IHRA definition. The NZ Jewish Council’s recent IHRA-based survey of antisemitism spent its money labelling everyone who upholds basic assertions of human rights and democracy as antisemitic. In one go, they overlooked the real racist threat of the White / Right and vilified the antiracists who stand up to them.

MFAT’s unannounced move to join the IHRA organisation heightens the need to distinguish and tackle the two faces of antisemitism in Aotearoa: its White / Right reality and its politicised use by the IHRA.

We must cut through the politics of the IHRA’s distraction from real antisemitism. The IHRA definition has no standing in this country and we need to keep it that way if we wish to preserve our right to protest and speak of justice – including justice for Palestinians.

When the IHRA definition underlies accusations of antisemitism, we urge you not respond in the IHRA’s own terms. If we normalise those terms, we will allow the proponents of the IHRA definition to introduce it by stealth into our political discourse. It would be far wiser to name and refuse the IHRA’s distorted terms, and decide whether you are being accused of politics or antisemitism.

If the latter, then tell them: Antiracist is what I am, and antisemitism is anti-Jewish racism. In Aotearoa racism (including antisemitism) is spread primarily by White supremacists and the far Right. If you’re serious about opposing racism, join us in standing up to them.

… as Ōtepoti Dunedin does.

Image: Sina Brown-Davis, AntiFascist Ōtepoti

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

2 thoughts on “Antiracism is the mahi. Anti-Zionism is a separate matter.”

  1. Love your attitudes. Please read attached 3/4 of a page on a plea for pro-Palestinian orgs to collaborate and highlight the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and to do so consistently and frequently – relating (all) instances of abuse of Palestinians as part of the wider process of ethnic cleansing. Please help push this!

    Best Wishes, John Hall (UK)

    On Wed, Jul 6, 2022 at 9:34 PM Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices


  2. Please don’t forget that many Jews are not Zionists and the majority of Zionists are Christian. Anti-Zionism cannot be anti-semitism.


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