David Ben-Gurion proclaiming Israel’s statehood beneath Theodor Herzl’s portrai

Zionism needs anti-Semitism

John Hagee’s turn as a key speaker caused much liberal consternation - he is, after all, a notorious anti‑Semite. Daniel Lazare comments on the aftermath of the huge pro-Israel demonstration in Washington DC

Zionism says it is laying waste to Gaza and killing thousands of Palestinians in order to save Jews from the scourge of anti-Semitism in the form of Hamas. But at the same time it is delivering Jews over to another scourge of anti-Semitism in the shape of Christian fundamentalism.

Zionist hypocrisy has never been in sharper display than in Washington DC on November 14, when as many as 200,000 people took part in a ‘Rally for Israel’ on the National Mall.1 Organised by a coalition of synagogues and community groups known as the Jewish Federations of North America, the demonstration billed itself as a march on behalf of the Jewish state, a manifestation of support for the 240 hostages taken by Hamas, and a protest against a rising tide of anti-Semitism. Yet one of the featured speakers was a Texas televangelist named John Hagee, whose own anti-Semitism is so pronounced that he was once regarded as beyond the pale of respectable American politics.

Like most evangelicals, Hagee preaches a ‘rapture’ theology in which an ingathering of the Jews is supposedly the necessary precondition for the second coming of Christ. God needs Jews to return to the promised land so that the end-times can go into motion, and that is therefore what they must do. Although most evangelists contend that Jews will have to convert in order not to be cast into hell on judgment day, Hagee argues that conversion is unnecessary, because “Jews already have a covenant with god ... that has never been replaced by Christianity”.

This may sound relatively benign as far as Christian fundamentalism goes. But Hagee tosses in other elements that are not. He describes the Antichrist as a “blasphemer and a homosexual” who “is at least going to be partially Jewish, as was Adolph Hitler, as was Karl Marx” (Hitler had no Jewish forbears in fact, while Marx came from an old rabbinic family in Trier, Germany). He says that the semi-Jewish Antichrist will “slaughter one-third of the earth’s population” and so “make Adolph Hitler look like a choirboy”.2 He says that god ordered the holocaust to take place, so that Jews would realise that they had no alternative other than to move to Palestine and establish a separate state of their own.

Six million

“Why did it happen?” Hagee asked in a sermon in the late 1990s. “Because god said, ‘My top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel’.”3 God ordered the death of six million people, so that he could reign on earth as in heaven above.

Hagee tosses in other opinions that are also straight out of the loony American right - which, unfortunately, is not so loony, now that the bourgeois political framework is shifting in its direction. These include the idea that the US Federal Reserve is controlled by the Rothschilds; that hurricane Katrina, which killed nearly 2,000 people in 2005, “was the judgment of god on the city of New Orleans” for hosting a gay-pride parade; that America has become “the new Sodom and Gomorrah” ever since legalising gay marriage; that Muslims “who live by the Qur’an have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews”, and so on.4

But it is his anti-Semitism that has gotten him into trouble. It is what led John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, to repudiate Hagee’s endorsement and declare that he no longer wanted anything to do with the San Antonio preacher.

This turned Hagee into a political outcast - or, rather, should have turned him into an outcast if he had not taken over an obscure outfit called Christians United For Israel (CUFI) and turned it into a political behemoth with more than 10 million members. Now that Hagee has emerged as a powerhouse of the ultra-right, Israel is welcoming him back with open arms. He is once again respectable - and, thanks to Zionism, so is the anti-Semitism he represents.

This is why the Jewish Federations chose him to address its Washington rally - because, while he may be an anti-Semite, he is a pro-Zionist anti-Semite, and therefore A-OK. It is why the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - the most prominent pro-Israeli lobbying group in Washington - invited him to address one of its meetings and why the late Elie Wiesel returned the favour by addressing a CUFI convention in Texas. When the US opened a new embassy in Jerusalem in 2018, Hagee was one of two Christian fundamentalists chosen to give the opening benediction.5 Evidently, the Trump administration thought people like Hagee represent America. Benjamin Netanyahu did not disagree.

Hagee kept his more outrageous opinions to himself on November 14, confining himself to standard-fare pro-Israel militancy. He drew a roar by telling the crowd that the world must choose between Israel and Hamas: “There is no middle ground in this conflict,” he said. “You’re either for the Jewish people or you’re not.”

When “Israel’s enemies ... speak of Israel passing away with a sudden storm, you’re only speaking of your own demise,” he went on. “Where are the nations that have persecuted the Jewish people? They are historic footnotes in the boneyard of human history.” More cheers ensued, along with chants of “No ceasefire, no ceasefire”.6


The appearance nonetheless triggered a firestorm among liberals appalled that the Jewish establishment would foist an ultra-rightist on an otherwise progressive-minded community. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an organisation that has taken on the hopeless task of rescuing the two-state solution from oblivion, tweeted that it is impossible to “build broad coalitions” with someone “who promotes an apocalyptic, anti-Semitic worldview rooted in hate against LGBTQ, Muslim and other communities”.

“We completely agree,” added J Street, another liberal pro-Zionist group. “A dangerous bigot like Hagee should not be welcomed anywhere in our community. Period.”7

The result is reminiscent of a scandal two months earlier, when the entire Canadian parliament rose to its feet to applaud “a Ukrainian Canadian war veteran from World War II who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians and continues to support the troops today, even at his age of 98” - without mentioning, of course, that the veteran, Yaroslav Hunka, had done so as a member of the Waffen SS. If the effect was to shed new light on Nato’s proxy war in Ukraine, Hagee’s appearance does roughly the same with regard to the war on Gaza. It shows that it is less a battle of good versus evil and more an old-fashioned imperial rampage with increasingly fascist overtones.


But wait a second - the Jewish state is in league with anti-Jewish hatred? How can this be? Is not Zionism the antithesis of anti-Semitism?

The answer is that it is not, for the simple reason that reality is more complex, more contradictory, more dialectical than liberals realise. Even when nationalists are at each other’s throats, they still have more in common ideologically than they may understand. Among Jews, the gap between nationalists and internationalists has been growing ever since the Dreyfus affair - the case of a Jewish military officer railroaded on trumped-up treason charges - erupted in France in 1894. Where Dreyfus became a cause célèbre for the left, he became the opposite for the right, which is to say an excuse to abandon the struggle against anti-Semitism and opt for mass emigration instead.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, was an example of the latter. While billing himself as a Dreyfusard, he never mentioned the case until years later and, as Paris correspondent for an Austrian newspaper, assured readers at the time that “everything led” to the conclusion that the guilty verdict was correct.8

Where socialist internationalists adopted a policy of strict opposition, Jewish nationalism gravitated toward something more ambiguous: a ‘pro-anti’ policy, in which anti-Semitism was opposed to the degree it caused physical suffering, but supported to the degree it persuaded Jews to pack up and leave.

“Great exertions will hardly be necessary to spur on the movement,” Theodor Herzl wrote in his 1896 pamphlet, The Jewish state, published little more than a year after Dreyfus’s conviction. “Anti-Semites provide the requisite impetus. They need only do what they did before, and then they will create a desire to emigrate where it did not previously exist, and strengthen it where it existed before.”9

While anti-Semitism might harm individual Jews, it would benefit the nation as a whole. A few months later, Herzl sent an offer to Abdul Hamid II, the Ottoman sultan notorious for anti-Armenian massacres, to use Jewish influence to improve his public image in exchange for Jewish settlement rights in Ottoman-controlled Palestine. The proposal outraged a leading Dreyfusard named Bernard Lazare, who accused Herzl and his supporters of sending “their blessing to the worst of murderers”. Zionist racism was thus on full display. Following a government-instigated anti-Jewish pogrom in Kishinev (now Chisinau, Moldova) in 1902, Herzl approached the tsarist ministers, Sergei Witte and Vyacheslav von Plehve, with an offer to encourage Jewish emigration so as to reduce revolutionary pressures at home. (Witte and von Plehve readily agreed, although the idea ended up going nowhere.)

“The harsher the affliction, the greater the strength of Zionism,” declared David Ben-Gurion some four decades later. Oppression was beneficial to the degree it undermined the diaspora and all that went with it - integration, assimilation, socialism, secularisation, etc. “Like every Jew, I am interested in saving every Jew wherever possible, but nothing takes precedence over saving the Hebrew nation in its land,” Ben-Gurion wrote in 1938. “If I knew that it was possible to save all the children in Germany by transporting them to England, but only half of them by transporting them to Palestine,” he said, “I would choose the second - because we face not only the reckoning of these children, but the historical reckoning of the Jewish people.”10

Zionism sought to complete anti-Semitism’s work by destroying the diaspora in toto. In 1942, a Zionist conference at New York’s Biltmore Hotel demanded that the doors of Palestine be opened to Jewish refugees, but that those of other Allied countries - the United States first and foremost - remain shut.11 Jews were desperate to escape Nazi clutches. But Zionists wanted to shut down an all-important escape route, so that they would go to the Middle East instead.

The scandal of John Hagee is not that his appearance represents something new, but that it is simply the latest manifestation of a trend going back more than a century. Netanyahu no doubt sees Hagee, with his loud suits, absurd logic and rolling cadences, as an idiot. But he sees him as a useful idiot whom Israel can enlist for its own purposes. As an ex-senior US official once noted, Netanyahu “has told many of his own ministers that American Jews were not so important, that they were not going to remain Jewish in another generation or two, and that there was more to be gained by cultivating a relationship with evangelicals”.

Where American Jews have gone soft when it comes to the plight of the Palestinians, Hagee continues carrying on the good work of anti-Semitism that Zionism requires. And Netanyahu needs Hagee, because the two men are brothers under the skin.

  1. www.haaretz.com/us-news/2023-11-14/ty-article/.premium/around-200-000-rally-in-washington-d-c-in-support-of-israel-in-wake-of-october-7-attack/0000018b-cf64-df9a-ab8b-dfec6acb0000.↩︎

  2. vimeo.com/9278679.↩︎

  3. www.nytimes.com/2008/05/23/us/politics/23hagee.html.↩︎

  4. See www.youtube.com/watch?v=3__4ajZKRHg&t=268s, starting at 4:27 and www.npr.org/2006/09/18/6097362/pastor-john-hagee-on-christian-zionism at 14:15 and 23:10. See also www.motherjones.com/politics/2023/11/john-hagee-hitler-israel-rally-christian-zionist.↩︎

  5. forward.com/culture/569725/john-hagee-march-for-israel.↩︎

  6. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7uWgDOFRSs&t=304s.↩︎

  7. twitter.com/jstreetdotorg/status/1724449825913991383.↩︎

  8. J Kornberg Theodor Herzl: from assimilation to Zionism Bloomington 1993, p197.↩︎

  9. T Herzl The Jewish state New York 1988, p129.↩︎

  10. G Achcar The Arabs and the holocaust: the Arab-Israeli war of narratives New York 2010, pp13-14.↩︎

  11. Ibid pp15-16.↩︎