Recently, it seems that there has been an interesting question reverberating through the walls of the American Jewish Zionist community: Are anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism the same thing? In stereotypical Jewish fashion, in a room of ten people, there are likely to be at least eleven answers to this question. And yet, regardless of whether there is consensus on this topic, there seems to be widespread agreement that the follow-up question is always “Why?” Whether we are examining the hatred of Jews or the hatred of Israel, we all want to know: “Why does the world hate us?”

There are countless answers to this question, and most of them deal with the topic of anti-Semitism. To name just a few examples: the world needs a scapegoat for its problems the Jews are an easy – if arbitrary – target; Jewish people have been too successful and influential in Hollywood; Jews have become too wealthy as doctors and lawyers and bankers; and, of course, there is the idea that the Jews killed Jesus Christ. In answering the “why” of anti-Zionism, many people seem to link it inseparably to the “why” of anti-Semitism, saying that Israel-hatred is either a natural association or an expected outgrowth of Jew-hatred. One of the few explanations offered for anti-Zionism that is not related to anti-Semitism is that Israel is hated because of her occupation – occupation of the disputed territories, and also of the land of Israel itself.

PANO_20150625_104336 (1)Rabbi Daniel Gordis shared with the CAMERA student leaders a different answer – one that is neither connected to religion nor to the land in question. Daniel Gordis explained to us that following World War II, the world stood firmly in opposition to two concepts: strong ideological nation states, and the use of force. The United Nations, and later the European Union, were welcomed into the family of nations because they unified countries, as opposed to encouraging them to each stand alone. By contrast, Israel stood by herself, as a strong nation state. Israel was born as a state where the majority of people held similar, if not the same, beliefs, and a state that, within hours of her existence, showed the world that she was not afraid to use force, and could do so competently. In Gordis’ view, it was for these two reasons that the world was against Israel from the moment of her creation.

These worldwide fears of nation-states and the use of force did not lessen during the years immediately following WWII. Fear of the Cold War gripped countries around the world for many years. People in America were afraid of Russia growing even stronger and taking over more land. The space race was of concern to many individuals. The buildup of nuclear arms petrified even more. Democracies were opposed to Communist and Fascist nations. The post-war mindset was that nation states were at the root of much of the world’s problems, especially if they could only be maintained through the use of force. The nations of the word essentially wanted safety and stability, and they were therefore willingly prepared to vilify any country that did not epitomize those objectives.

John Lennon, whom Gordis called “the prophet of the 60s,” sang:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

Imagine all the people living life in peace

This song “Imagine” was emblematic of the “Great America”’ of the 1960s, and was also representative of the European point of view. This was a sentiment that everyone agreed on. And what did Israel stand for? Standing apart as its own country – a Jewish country, pressured by hostilities on every side – it was exactly contrary to the two ideas that had most of the world’s support.

As one of the CAMERA student leaders, I found Gordis’ analysis to be an interesting addition to the conversation about why the world hates us. I don’t think that anyone knows the answer to this question as a certainty and, to be sure, there are many plausible answers. At this point, however, the question that needs to be posed is where to go from here. Human beings are trained to look backwards, and try to understand history so as not to repeat it. In fact, we go so far as to say that “hindsight is 20/20” – as though by finding reasons for past atrocities, we can prevent them in the future. It is not natural for us to accept that we don’t have conclusive reasons for something and move on. With that said, we need to stop arguing amongst ourselves over the “whys,” as interesting as they are to consider. We need to accept that that there is anti-Semitism and there is anti-Zionism. We need to join together so that we can appropriately answer any and all of the reasons that are proposed. And, lest we forget, we need to force the other side to answer for its own false statements and aggressive tactics, and to finally come to the table prepared to work with us for peace.


This piece was contributed by, Hayley Nagelberg, the CAMERA Fellow at the University of Illinois. Hayley participated in the 2015 CAMERA Student Leadership/Advocacy Training Trip to Israel.

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