Who're You Calling a "Zio"?

As news reports from Britain confirm, a new anti-Jewish slur is making the rounds. Where did it come from?


Observation
March 23 2016
About the author

Philologos, the renowned Jewish-language columnist, appears twice a month in Mosaic. Questions for him may be sent to his email address by clicking here.


Got a question for Philologos? Ask him directly at philologos@mosaicmagazine.com.

As if there weren’t enough words for Jews, we’ve now been informed by a news story from England that the people who don’t like them have a new one.

The story concerned the resignation of Alex Chalmers from his position as co-chair of the Oxford University Labor-party club after accusing it of widespread anti-Semitism. One expression of this anti-Semitism, Chalmers said, as reported by the February 16 Daily Mail among others, was “throwing around the term ‘Zio’ with abandon.” This, the Mail explained to its readers, is “a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by the Ku Klux Klan.”

Actually, the Klan, or at least the website WikiZio run by David Duke, its former grand wizard and recent endorser of Donald Trump, seems to prefer “Zio-” with a hyphen, as the first half of a compound word. “Zio-Communism,” “Zio-economics,” “Zio-history,” “Zio-supremacism,” and “Zio-occupied America” are but some of the choices that WikiZio offers browsers to click on. The lunatic fringe of the American right also sometimes uses Zio as an unhyphenated adjective, e.g., “He [Trump] has called out the needless Zio wars in Iraq and the Mideast.” Zio as a noun, however, appears to be more popular in the UK than in the KKK. This month it surfaced in yet another news story about a prestigious British university, the London School of Economics, where a candidate to head the students’ union called his opponents Zios and then apologized.

Nor did the compounded Zio start with the Klan. As far as I’ve been able to determine, its first recorded use was in the term “Zionazi,” which goes back to at least the late 1980s. An article in the 1990 American Jewish Year Book speaks of the word being sprayed on a wall of the SUNY campus in Binghamton, and it subsequently—almost surely the work of the radical left—appeared elsewhere in student graffiti. The introduction of the hyphen served to make Zio- joinable to anything else. Have I already mentioned “Zio-history”? There’s also “Zio-media control,” “Zio-psychology,” “Zio-origins,” and lots more.

“Zio-Nazi” has replaced the older “Judeo-Nazi,” which was, ironically, coined after the 1967 war by the Hebrew University professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz to describe Israeli rule over the occupied territories. It’s easy to see why it has done so, for the haters of Jews (a category, one is sorry to say, that also includes Leibowitz, an Orthodox Jew) have learned that while, both socially and legally, the defamation of Jews is publicly frowned upon, it is permissible when transferred to “Zionists.” “Zionazi,” writes a contributor on the website Urban Dictionary, “[is a] useful mix of the words ‘Zionist’ and ‘Nazi’ to compare the fascist mentality which has been passed down through the years by abuse of certain [sic!] religions. . . . Sound familiar zionazi? Of course[,] i’m not ‘anti-semitic.'”

Of course. The readers of Urban Dictionary, by the way, a site that reportedly averages 72 million visits a month, chose this entry as their “top definition” of the term.

 

Our dictionary man has nothing against Jews. He just hates Zios. Still, as a Zio myself, I must say that while I don’t like being hated, I don’t particularly mind being called one. Tell me I’m a sheenie or a kike and I’ll want to throw a punch at you. Call me a Zio and I’ll say (just as I would if you called me a Jew without qualifying it with “dirty” or “rotten”): “You’re damn right I am—and if you don’t like it, you can lump it.” Why be upset by a word that describes me correctly?

“Because,” I might be told, “it has a hidden qualifier. You’ve said yourself that it’s short for Zio-Nazi.”

Yes. But before that, it’s short for Zionist, which is what I am. It’s compounded with Nazi in someone else’s mind, not mine. I don’t connect Zionism with Nazism. I connect it with Jewish pride, with Jewish common sense, and with the Jewish national will to live. I don’t have to let someone who hates me tell me what to think of it. And I certainly don’t have to express my agreement that it’s a term of opprobrium by complaining about anyone’s use of it. I’m grateful for people like Alex Chalmers. But I’d be even more grateful if he had added, “For my part, the more Zios we have in the Labor party, the better.”

“But not all Jews feel the way you do,” you might say. “Jews who don’t think of themselves as Zionists are now being lumped together with you as Zios, too.”

Indeed, that’s the beauty of it. Call an assimilated Jew a kike to his face and he may realize that, no matter how non-Jewish he thinks he is, he has the same enemies that all Jews do. Call a non- or anti-Zionist Jew a Zio and one hopes he’d come to a similar conclusion. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Parisians went around for a day with signs and buttons saying, “We’re all Charlie.” It’s time Jews understood that, like it or not, they’re all Zios.

“Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house more than all the Jews,” says Mordecai to Esther. “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed.”

Happy Purim!

Got a question for Philologos? Ask him directly at philologos@mosaicmagazine.com.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, Ku Klux Klan, Labor Party (UK), UK