A Broken Language, a Crippled
Debate, and the Gift of Art

New Definitions to Advance Discussion

Suggested here are provisional definitions for the two key terms under discussion. The first term is modern American anti-Semitism:

Modern American anti-Semitism is any irrational hostility directed towards Jewish people, either as individuals or as a collective. It is often acquired unconsciously. May be accompanied by bizarre and unfounded stereotypical beliefs as well as random or organized acts of economic, social, cultural, and political discrimination including violence or oppression. Considered a prosecutable hate crime by the federal government and most states. The object of modern American anti-Semitism is always to isolate, ostracize, intimidate, or humiliate Jewish individuals or communities. Sometimes practiced along with discrimination directed against African-Americans, gays and lesbians, Hispanics, Muslims, and foreigners, among other minorities. Considered a learned, treatable form of anti-social behavior. Not to be confused with anti-Zionism.

It is absolutely critical that we identify modern American anti-Semitism as (a) dysfunctional, (b) the product of a troubled mind, (c) a treatable disorder, and (d) distinct from anti-Zionism. It is, in essence, a public health issue to be dealt with the way other social pathologies are treated. The qualifier “modern American” is used to distinguish it from historical forms of European anti-Semitism that were religiously and economically based and that have little to do with the type of anti-Semitism prevalent in the United States.

Here is a provisional redefinition of Zionism:

Zionism is a modern irredentist ideology first organized and given substance by Theodor Herzl in the late 19th century as a Jewish response to centuries of anti-Semitic violence and persecution in Europe and elsewhere. Zionism was originally organized around the goal of creating a safe haven for the Jewish communities in diaspora (Hebrew: dispersal). The location of Palestine was one of several homelands considered, and it was the one ultimately chosen. Zionism was strengthened by the British government’s Balfour Declaration of 1917, which gave political legitimacy to the concept of Jewish nationalism. After 1948 and the establishment of the state of Israel, Zionism was seen as the expression of Jewish nationalism. A central myth of Zionism — that the land of Palestine was promised by God to the Jewish people — is vehemently rejected by the indigenous Palestinian people as well as by most Arab and Islamic nations. Zionism is also rejected by many secular Americans who oppose it on moral grounds as well as for its negative impact on Constitutionally-protected freedoms and rights. Not to be confused with anti-Semitism.

These definitions are imperfect. As argued before, the very word “anti-Semitism” needs to be replaced. The expression “anti-Zionist” is unacceptable to people who claim identity with the meaning behind the term but prefer to think of themselves as being for rather than against something. Visitors to this exhibit are invited to suggest neologisms for each term and to contribute to the process of developing more meaningful definitions for these important terms.

Palestine: Dying to Live (a ten-poster series)

Artist(s): Unattributed


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