The Great Return Theory
“Zionism is racism” is indeed a pernicious lie. Propagation of this lie has led to both random and organized violence against Jewish people and the marginalization of Jewish people in their respective nations, from the Soviet Union to Great Britain. Should the claim that Zionism is akin to racism, white nationalism, and Nazism penetrate mainstream American circles, it would spell a crisis for our community. Hatred against us would become justifiable, isolation from progressive movements would become encouraged, and our very status as protected citizens in the United States would become imperiled. We crossed into dangerous territory this week when journalist Peter Beinart and foreign policy advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders Matt Duss, two highly respected liberal commentators, publicly compared “The Great Replacement Theory” to opposition to the “right of return.” In doing so, they continue the legacy of the “Zionism is racism” libel and therefore deliberately contribute to antisemitism in the United States and around the world.
Anti-Zionism, not Zionism, is akin to white nationalism by its very definition, crafted explicitly with the desire to punch down at minorities and subjugate them once again.
The Great Replacement Theory, or GRT, is back in the news this month after a deranged shooter killed ten Black Americans in a parking lot in Buffalo. Like the shooters at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue and Chabad of Poway, the Buffalo assailant ascribed to a conspiratorial worldview that claims that an elite cabal of Jews are manipulating demographics in the United States — breeding out the white people and opening the borders to people of color to take their place. The theory is based on ideas of racial supremacy and ethnic hierarchy.
The “right of return” is a common policy initiative pushed by anti-Israel advocates. Its foundation lies in the 1948 War of Independence between the nascent State of Israel and surrounding Arab nations, which declared war on the Jewish people and swore to their annihilation. In the midst of battle, 750,000 Palestinians either fled or were expelled from their homes in Israel, along with upwards of 800,000 Jews from Muslim countries. Those who champion “the right of return” claim that the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and their descendants, who number close to seven million people worldwide, have a “right” enshrined in international law to return to the property inside of Israel’s borders. Not only is “return” not a right enshrined anywhere in international law, but Jews worldwide are strongly opposed to this idea, considering the resettlement of millions of Palestinians inside of Israel would render the Jewish people once again a minority in the region, would compromise their means of self-defense, and would turn Israel into Palestine from the river to the sea. This is the goal of the “right of return,” regardless of the language used to disguise it as justice or human rights.
After the Buffalo shooting, the Anti-Defamation League took to Twitter to condemn “The Great Replacement Theory” for the hateful venom it is. Beinart responded: “the Anti-Defamation League denounces in America the principles it advocates in Israel,” referring to the ADL’s strong opposition to white nationalist ideas in addition to their support for a Jewish state in the Middle East. Duss then tweeted: “In the Israeli-Palestinian context, ‘great replacement theory’ is expressed as opposition to the Palestinian right of return, which treats Palestinians as a ‘demographic threat.’” An irresistible narrative then developed in left-wing corners. It claimed that Zionism, by way of its intention to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel, is no different than the ideology that animated the antisemite who slaughtered innocents in Buffalo, and therefore that Jews around the world who support the existence of Israel are no different than the Nazis who have at many points tried to kill them.
Antisemitism has always been a politics of inversion.
Antisemitism has always been a politics of inversion. The alt-right and radical Islamists both revel in the delight of accusing the Jews of doing to others that which has been done to them. That Beinart and Duss would join this crusade is shameful. As I see it, their argument reinforces an abject lie, and it is of paramount importance that it is addressed as such.
White nationalism and Zionism could not be more distinct. White nationalists view all white people as just that, a nation deserving of their own self-determination, which they define as an exclusively white society that upholds “white” culture and values. It bears repeating that white people are not a nation. White people are not a peoplehood with a common history, language, culture, or attachment to a piece of land. The separation of “whites” from all other human beings is constructed purely on the pseudo-science of race, external characteristics, and a power dynamic of genetic supremacy that they themselves have imposed.
Zionism, on the other hand, is a liberation movement, seeking to grant sovereignty to an independent people. The Jewish people fall under every political definition of a nation, sharing our own history, language, culture and attachment to land. We encompass a vast array of races and ethnicities under the umbrella of the term “Jewish.” The founders of Zionism indeed called for a Jewish and democratic state, where equality for minorities was to be enshrined as explicitly as protection of Jewish values. Additionally, Jewish people are a perpetual minority who have collectively been made to bear the consequences of white supremacy and other forms of hatred that successfully exploited our lack of a state. The right of self-determination for independent nations is indeed universal. No left-wing commentator would ever accuse the Kurds, the Palestinians, or the Uighurs of ethnic supremacy in their demand for political independence. However, they recognize Zionism, the Jewish form of this demand, as immediately evil. This reveals a pathological bias as well as a distinct set of double standards against Jewish people.
Anti-Zionism, the ideology Beinart and Duss have seemingly espoused, the ideology at the core of “the right of return,” is closer to white nationalism than Zionism. Anti-Zionism rejects the concept of coexistence in the Middle East. It rejects that Jews have equal rights with non-Jews, and it rejects that the Jewish people are their own nation with the rights to defend themselves and to decide their own fate. This is not to say that racism does not exist in Israel. And this is definitely not to say that racists don’t hold any power in Israel. But it is to say that Anti-Zionism, not Zionism, is akin to white nationalism by its very definition, crafted explicitly with the desire to punch down at minorities and subjugate them once again. Zionism is an affirmative, the right of the Jewish people to a country, whereas anti-Zionism is a negation, the denial of this right.
It is therefore incumbent upon us to recognize when demands to eliminate Israel are wrapped in manipulating words. Just as white nationalists twist their true intentions by claiming they’re only concerned with immigration, with crime, or with “western civilization,” anti-Zionists are hell-bent on describing their cause as liberation, peace and freedom. The ramifications of both ideologies lead to disaster for the Jewish people. I therefore propose that we Jews begin to address calls for the “right of return” as the “Great Return Theory,” for they share the same goals and the same strategies to reach these goals as those who propagate white nationalist conspiracies.
Blake Flayton is New Media Director and columnist for the Jewish Journal.