Rep. Jerry Nadler is very upset that Republicans are forcefully condemning all forms of anti-Semitism. During the Dec. 5 House vote on a GOP-led resolution denouncing anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, the 15-term congressman from New York displayed an unusual level of ignorance of Jewish history—especially for someone with a yeshiva education.
“If they were at all familiar with Jewish history and culture, [the resolution’s authors] should know about Jewish anti-Zionism that was, and is, expressly not antisemitic,” Nadler fumed. He, along with Jamie Raskin, Gregory Meeks, Dan Goldman and others, voted “present” and encouraged other Democrats to do likewise. Ninety-three of them did so. Therein hangs a tale.
There was indeed such a thing as Jewish anti-Zionism that was not anti-Semitic back before the establishment of the state of Israel. The key words there are “before the establishment of the state of Israel.” Jews fearful of anti-Semitism in those years engaged in a serious and decades-long debate about whether Jewish energy would be better spent on the pursuit of national self-determination rather than on changing hearts and minds in the societies in which they lived. At the same time, some Orthodox Jews believed it was heretical to establish sovereignty in the land of Israel itself before the Messiah’s arrival. (A miniscule number of anti-Zionists today fall into this last category.)
The fact of Jewish statehood in 1948 made most of the debate moot. Pre-1948 anti-Zionism opposed the struggle for Jewish statehood as a practical matter, not because they believed such a thing was bad in and of itself. But now that there is a Jewish state, anti-Zionism by definition requires the erasure of that state. So here’s the thing: The Jewish anti-Zionism Nadler appears to be citing with some approval was in no way animated by a desire to see the mass slaughter or mass exile of fellow Jews, which is precisely what the result of a “successful” anti-Zionism would be today.
Pre-1948 anti-Zionists were just wrong. Post-1948 anti-Zionists seek the destruction of the Jewish nation. The two are not the same, and equating them is revolting.
So what does Nadler consider a proper form of anti-Zionism today? “Under this resolution, those who love Israel deeply but criticize some of its policy approaches could be considered anti-Zionist,” Nadler said. “That could make every Democratic Jewish member of this body, because they all criticized the recent Israeli judicial reform package, de facto antisemites. Might that be the author’s intention?”
This is nonsense on stilts. There is already a term for criticism of Israeli policies, and that term is “criticism.” Nadler’s use of the judicial reform controversy in this context is insane. The resolution says nothing about it. The only way it would be relevant is if the act of criticizing judicial reform could be construed as anti-Zionist. According to Nadler, “every Democratic Jewish member of this body” did criticize it in that way. Were they accused of anti-Zionism for it by their peers? No.
In other words, as evidence that simple criticism of the Israeli government will be misconstrued as anti-Zionism, Nadler chose an example of criticism that lots of people made—none of whom were accused of anti-Zionism for doing so. Indeed, according to one Israeli poll, 54 percent of Israelis themselves opposed judicial reform. He offered a test case that had already disproved his point.
Nadler also complained that backers of the resolution were “unserious” about fighting anti-Semitism. But a lot of Nadler’s fellow Democrats actually voted for the resolution. Is that Nadler’s opinion of Steny Hoyer? That he’s “unserious” about fighting anti-Semitism? How about Rep. Kathy Manning of North Carolina, who also happens to be the former chair of the Jewish Federations of North America? Does Nadler consider her “unserious”?
Those voting explicitly against the resolution were the usual cast of characters: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Jamaal Bowman, Pramila Jayapal, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush. And let’s not forget the execrable clown Thomas Massie, the one Republican who reliably votes against anything that will help our allies. This afternoon Massie posted a tweet portraying American patriotism and Zionism as mutually exclusive.
Nadler’s bizarre statement seemed motivated in large measure by his anger that it was being proposed by Republicans trying to put Democrats on the spot. He actually accuses the resolution of “weaponizing Jewish pain.” But the danger here is not that everything will be considered anti-Semitic, which is what Nadler seems to fear, but that nothing will be. If that becomes the accepted wisdom, the current wave of anti-Jewish agitation will seem downright pleasant compared to what would come next—and the peculiar rhetoric of the member of Congress with the second-largest Jewish constituency in the nation will have played a small but historically relevant part in that.