Francesca Albanese, the Italian lawyer who holds the United Nations position of “Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories,” is defensive when it comes to accusations of anti-Semitism. This is understandable, considering her own record of controversial statements. In 2014, she wrote that the United States tends to be pro-Israel because it is “subjugated by the Jewish lobby,” while Europe supports the Jewish state because of its “sense of guilt about the Holocaust.” In most places, revealing that you believe conspiracy theories about Jews controlling America would be disqualifying. At the United Nations, it earns you a promotion.

Albanese’s UN posting hasn’t made her any less sensitive to accusations of anti-Semitism. On social media, she responded to French President Emmanuel Macron’s denunciation of the October 7 pogrom as the “greatest antisemitic massacre of our century” by tut-tutting that “the victims of Oct. 7 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.” She later added that “explaining these crimes as antisemitism obscures their true cause.” At a February 12 virtual event hosted by Harvard, she clarified: “Saying that the motivation was antisemitism is wrong and dangerous. I’m not saying that people in Hamas are absolutely not anti-Semitic. . . . the argument is that this attack was launched as a way to break the occupation, against the apartheid.”

Such casuistic reasoning about the blatant anti-Semitism of Hamas and other radical groups is increasingly common. Israel-haters who previously railed against Israel’s treatment of Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza are coming clean about their real goals: eliminating the Jewish state “from the River to the Sea.” The UN itself, which treats Palestinian refugees with a different agency, different rules, and different goals than all other displaced groups, effectively maintains this position as well: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) confers intergenerational refugee status on Palestinians with the aim of ensuring their “right of return” rather than helping them settle and thrive where they have been for decades. This reinforces the view that Israel will eventually go the way of other occupying forces throughout history: out, or, as we Jews often hear, “back where you came from.”

Proponents of this view nonetheless wish to maintain that they do not hate Jews. They simply hate “the occupation,” an activity that would be meaningless if it didn’t also imply a subject—an “occupier.” Occupation of what? For years, we assumed the most defensible answer: the West Bank. But with the rise of maximalist rhetoric in anti-Israel demonstrations—“We don’t want two states! We want all of it!” they chanted at my alma mater, mixing in the Arabic version of “from the River to the Sea,” which translates to, “from water to water, Palestine is Arab”—maintaining that view is no longer possible. The occupation that Hamas is trying to undo is that of the territory on which Israel sits, which was called Palestine in between periods of Jewish sovereignty.

A naïve interlocuter might ask the throngs of young people clamoring for Palestinian liberation what makes Palestine “occupied.” There is only one answer: Jews are sovereign over it. Hamas and its cheerleaders want to liberate Palestine from Jewish control. Is there a difference between murdering Israelis because one hates Jews and doing so because one would sooner burn them alive than accept Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish ancestral homeland? 

Recognizing that this line of reasoning does not end well, most anti-Israel activists today have taken an additional step. They argue that removing Jewish sovereignty from Israel is not necessary because Jews are Jews, per se, but because Jews are not “indigenous” to the territory. Liberating Palestine is thus an anti-colonial struggle to restore property to its original national owner. Western students and progressive activists have increasingly adopted this position to deflect accusations of anti-Semitism.

This logic has many problems, too, but let’s focus on just one: If Jews are non-indigenous occupiers in the land that was once called Judea, where do they belong? Where are Jews indigenous? For those who refuse to say, “Israel,” the question yields only bad answers. The most common one is that Jews belong in Europe—a very bad answer indeed. Many Jews, including a majority of Jews in Israel, are Mizrahi or Sephardi, meaning that their forebears spent their diasporic millennia in the Middle East and North Africa. Most of these Jews never lived in Europe. Even Ashkenazi Jews have distinct genetic markers showing that we are quite similar genetically to Levantine Arabs.

What the indigeneity argument (or any other attempt to deny the Jewish connection to Israel) amounts to is a doubly unacceptable claim: first, that Jews are not a unified ethno-religious group that traces its ancestry to ancient Israel, as Jews claim; second, that today’s Jews are impostors who pretend to descend from the ancient Israelites so they can steal property from downtrodden natives.

If these excuses for so-called anti-Zionism end up sounding like the deranged rantings of a conspiracy theorist, that is no coincidence. After all, in some quarters—say, college campuses, the UN, or Hamas—advancing wild theories about the perfidious Jews duping the world is a sure road to advancing your career.

Photo: Houston Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images/Contributor


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