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  • Kate Iida

Rethinking Narratives

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

For Israeli Apartheid Week, Professor Joseph Massad draws connections between Zionism and anti-Semitism.

By Kate Iida

More than eighty people squeezed into a small lecture room on the fourth floor of the Mathematics building Tuesday night to listen to a lecture by Columbia Professor Joseph Massad entitled “Pro-Zionism and Anti-Semitism.”

The lecture occurred on the second day of “Israeli Apartheid Week,” a weeklong series of events co-sponsored by the organizations Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voice for Peace, and Columbia University Apartheid Divest. Lecture attendees filled the seats, lined the walls of the room, and stood waiting in the hallway for a chance to listen to Massad’s lecture.

This lecture came just three weeks after the Columbia College Student Council, following four hours of intense debate, voted down a referendum that would poll student support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The referendum was voted on in a secret ballot, and the result caused controversy among the student body.

Massad began by elucidating the main argument of his lecture: that both historically and currently, pro- Zionist groups have allied themselves closely with anti-Semitic groups. Massad discussed several historical examples of this, specifically most prominently examples of the anti-Semitism exhibited by Arthur Balfour, author of the 1917 Balfour Declaration which first stated the British government’s support of the British government for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. He then went on to give more recent examples of anti-Semitism exhibited by pro-Israel groups. He argued that equating Israel with all Jewish people, and therefore labeling anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, was an intentional strategy on the part of the Israeli government in order to encourage more support for the state of Israel.

Illustration by Sahra Denner

“The strategy of inventing something called the New anti-Semitism, which equates anti- Zionism with anti-Semitism, is in fact a strategy to conceal and distract from the very real … anti-Semitism that was always pro- Zionist and allied with the Zionist movement,” Massad said.

Massad brought up many examples of modern supporters of the state of Israel who are also anti-Semitic. One of the most prominent examples he mentioned is American Neo-Nazi and white supremacist Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right.” Spencer has stated that he wants to create “an Aryan homeland in North America,” according to Massad, and he quoted Spencer as saying that Israel “is the most important and perhaps most revolutionary ethno-state.” Massad used Spencer’s quotes and his support of the state of Israel as evidence in support of his argument that “…anti-Semitism, pro-Zionism, racism, and pro-colonialism are inseparable companions.”

At the end of the lecture, Massad took questions from the audience. The questions covered a wide range of topics, including some about the historical figures mentioned earlier in the lecture,; the reasons why such a large percentage of Jews now live in Israel,; and more personal questions about Massad's perspective on the viability of a two-state solution.

Despite the moderator's insistence that there be no back- and- forth discussion between Massad and the audience, several audience members did attempt to engage Massad in debate. One audience member in particular questioned the ethics of Massad discussing the topic of Zionism without a Jewish Zionist present. Massad responded that he was not representing Jews or Zionists in his lecture. “I am a scholar who is speaking about and is concerned about the inordinate amount of attention paid to anti-Semitism among the left and among anti-Zionists, and I’m very concerned that there’s so much anti-Semitism on the pro-Zionist side that goes unmentioned, in fact that it was always forgiven. It is much more dangerous.”


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