Editor's note: University of California, Irvine history professor Mark LeVine posted the following in the comments section for the Kenneth Stern op-ed, "Should a Major University System Have a Particular Definition of anti-Semitism?" at the Jewish Journal. It appears unedited and in its entirety:
I appreciate the author's attempt to bring nuance to this charged debate. However, the definition he helped create is fundamentally flawed, as evidenced by his own description of what constitutes anti-Semitism: He writes, "There is no doubt that many of the proponents of BDS have an antisemitic [sic] agenda: they want to deny Jews the right of self-determination in a land of their own, the same right they champion for Palestinians. In essence, they want to undo events of 1948, not just those of 1967."
I am Jewish, and I have lived in Israel, speak Hebrew fluently and have numerous family and friends there. Yet by this account, I am anti-Semitic. "Championing" a "land for their own" for Jews is fundamentally not the same as doing so for Palestinians in the context of this conflict because Palestinians were the indigenous inhabitants when Jews immigrated or returned to Palestine/Eretz Yisrael with a nationalist agenda. Zionism, whatever it's democratic and progressive pretentions, was in the words of pioneering Israeli sociologist Gershon Shafir, a "settler colonial" and then "militant nationalist movement" almost from the moment it arrived in the country. It was realized largely and tragically through the dispossession of hundreds of thousands and ultimately millions of Palestinians. This is a fact of history that can no more be argued by serious people than can climate change or evolution. To this very day, in particular during a generation of an Oslo peace process that was supposed to produce a Palestinian state that was territorially and economically viable, successive Israeli governments--Labor as well as Likud--doubled the number of settlers and in every imaginable way tightened Israel's control over and presence in the West Bank. Oslo has shown the reality that Zionism from the start and till today has been about settlement, not security. If it was about security, Israel could have maintained a military occupation to this very day while remaining under the framework of int'l law. More than half a million settlers and hundreds of settlements and outposts later, and innumerable statements by most every major politician that they have no plans to give up the West Bank, and it's clear that the Israeli state and the majority of the people are not willing to give Palestinians any kind of independence and want to maintain and permanentize [sic] the Occupation.
To those of us who study Zionism, this was never surprising, because Israeli/Zionist nationalist has from the start been exlcusivist [sic] and built upon denying the same rights to Palestinians. It is in this context that the vast majority of supporters of BDS, including the rapidly growing number of Jewish and Israeli supporters, oppose not merely Israeli policy but the Isareli [sic] state as its presently conceived of and acts--as an ethnocratic, exclusivist state built upon decades of occupation and no willingness to relinquish these claims.
I want to "undo the events of 1948," but not because I hate Israel or am anti-Semitic. Rather, it's because I stay true to the Prophetic Judaism that has always been the core of my identity and the ideals of human rights and democracy for all that they demand. There are many alternatives to the present Israeli political system--confederation, parallel states, binationalism. Advocating for them, and even for the end of a Zionist state cannot be equated with anti-Semitism. The fact that someone as thoughtful as the author so uncritically assumes they do shows how problemetic [sic] this definition of anti-Semitism remains and why, as Mr. Stern advocates, it's not appropriate--not merely for universities, but for any use at all.
Mark LeVine, PhD
Dept of History, UC Irvine
Member, Academic Advisory Board, Jewish Voices for Peace