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BY-NC-ND 4.0 license Open Access Published by Academic Studies Press August 11, 2022

Durban Antizionism: Its Sources, Its Impact, and Its Relation to Older Anti-Jewish Ideologies

  • David Hirsh and Hilary Miller


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 recognizable 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 antiimperialist 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 “good people” oppose and that 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 twenty-first 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.

Published Online: 2022-08-11
Published in Print: 2022-03-01

© 2022 by Academic Studies Press

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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