Durban antizionism: its sources, its impact, and its relation to older anti-Jewish ideologies

Hirsh, David and Miller, Hilary. 2022. Durban antizionism: its sources, its impact, and its relation to older anti-Jewish ideologies. Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism, 5(1), pp. 19-34. ISSN 2472-9906 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The antizionism that dominated the 2001 UN ‘World Conference against Racism’ was neither a completely ‘new antisemitism’ nor was it simply the latest manifestation of an ahistorical and eternal phenomenon. During the peace process in the late 80s and 90s, the intensifying focus on Israel as a key symbol of all that was bad in the world had been in remission, but at Durban, the 1970s ‘Zionism=Racism’ culture returned. Many participants internalized and embraced the reconfigured antizionism. Others failed to speak out, even when they witnessed the recognisable older antisemitic tropes with which it came intertwined. The proposal to agree that Zionism was the key symbolic form of racism in the world after the fall of apartheid offered unity across different movements and milieus: post-colonialism, human rights and humanitarian law; the women’s movement, anti-racism, much of the global left and NGOs; even oppressive governments if they positioned themselves as anti-imperialist or ‘Islamic’. Activists, diplomats, and UN personnel at Durban were not passively infected by this antizionist ideology, they chose actively to embrace it or to tolerate it. Based on elements of truth, exaggeration and invention, and made plausible by half visible fragments of older antisemitisms, Durban antizionism was attractive because it offered an emotionally potent way of imagining and communicating all that which ‘good people’ oppose and which they have difficulty facing rationally. It portrayed racism, and in the end oppression itself, with an Israeli face. Delegates brought this worldview home to where they lived and to the spheres in which they operated intellectually and politically. They worked to make Durban antizionism into the radical common sense of the 21st century. There were people at the conference and in anti-hegemonic spaces around the world who understood the dangers of a unity built around opposition to a universal Jewish threat, but they found themselves on the defensive against a self-confident, formidable and ostensibly coherent ideology or worldview.

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anti-Zionism; antizionism; anti-Semitism; antisemitism; Durban; United Nations; Nirenberg; Arendt; historicism; agency; responsibility; UN women’s conferences

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14 December 2021Accepted
April 2022Published

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20 Dec 2021 11:15

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17 Jan 2023 20:39

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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