Unhelpful Labels: Semitism and Zionism
Probably the most contentious issue in the world today is the Middle East conflict between Israel and its neighbours. It is difficult to find someone who does not have a passionate view of who is right or wrong here.
But what has always irritated and confounded me in confronting this subject is the proliferation of meaningless labels.
If you, in some way or another, support Israel or the Jews, you are labeled a Zionist. (The other irritating thing is the frequent assumption that Israel is equivalent to those of Jewish heritage and/or those who practice the Jewish faith.)
On the other hand, if you sympathise with the Palestinians or otherwise criticise something Israel does, you are labeled an anti-Semite.
These labels cloud the issue because they force you to take a stand: are you with us or against us? (The us being Israel or the Palestinians, depending on who you are talking with.)
I just cannot see how any reasonable person can agree with either side 100% of the time. As far as I'm concerned, you would have to be insane to be either a Zionist or an anti-Semite.
It's certainly arguable that it was a mistake to create a Jewish state where Israel is today. It is probably indisputable that how this creation took place was horribly carried out, with far-reaching consequences till the present. Likewise, it is impossible to argue that Israel has been entirely or even mostly innocent of human rights violations.
But at the same time, how easy is it to back up the assertion that the Palestinian leadership has been sincere in its desire for peace? How easy is it to avoid the fact that the Palestinians have themselves resorted to violence against Israelis, many of them often innocent?
Is it impossible to support two co-existing states for the Israelis and Palestinians? Must the only solution be to either drive the Israelis or Palestinians into the sea?
The rational person answers both these questions with an emphatic "No!" But to resort to labeling of people as anti-Semites or Zionists, when both these terms have very loaded definitions in common usage, is to answer one or both with a "Yes!"
If you can set the rules of engagement, you already have over half the battle won. By using these loaded terms with their dichotomous definitions, we effectively guarantee that we will never be able to come to a consensus on this divisive issue, because we have set it so that only one side — our side — can and must come on top unequivocally.
In an issue such as this, we know there has to be compromise. But how can we compromise when we continue to call one sideor the other Zionists or anti-Semites?