Maligned, misunderstood, and derided, provocative, emotive and polarizing. Often condemned, just the mention of the word Zionism is enough to raise the blood pressure of many. This often results in both pro and anti-Israel activists engaging in a battle of words. Frighteningly, this battlefield has expanded way beyond the Social Network to university campuses and other congregating venues where Jews identifying as Zionist are at physical risk.
So, what is Zionism exactly and why is it such a hot-button issue?
Simply put, Zionism is the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of the rights of the Jewish people to organize themselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to ancient roots and love for Zion.
Zion is synonymous with city of God; the place that God loves – Jerusalem.
‘Mount Zion’ – on the southeast side of the Old City – is the high hill on which King David built a citadel. The word Zion occurs over 150 times in the Bible and essentially means “fortification” and has the idea of being “raised” as a “monument”.
Zion is described both as the City of David and the City of God.
The word Zion is embedded into Jewish religion and culture as it is embedded into the rock and masonry of Israel’s capital – Jerusalem.
The great American civil rights leader, Rev Dr Martin Luther King is rumoured to have described Zionism as “nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland”.
After thousands of years of being made aware that we are unwelcome in many countries, Jews have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland. The word Zion refers to those biblical ties since time immemorial. It is proof that Jews have “indigenous people’s rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, there is antiquity being discovered every day that supports this.
Israel’s detractors are quick to point out that Nelson Mandela, the father of democratic South Africa and the icon of the anti-Apartheid struggle’s support of Palestinians. What they neglect to conveniently mention is Madiba’s support for the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – Zionism.
Mandela has been quoted as saying
“As a movement, we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism,” he said in 1993. “We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders, but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”
There has been much debate, discussion and social media brouhaha over who is or what defines a Zionist. Zionism is not restricted to Jews, but many Christians, Druze and yes, even Muslims consider themselves Zionists. Supporting Jewish rights to self-determination in no way makes one anti-Palestinian. Sadly, so much misunderstanding about what constitutes Zionism has resulted in alienating people who have an emotional attachment to Israel. Too many would prefer that Zionism be relegated onto the pile of other unwanted “isms”.
Many thought that with the realisation of the modern state of Israel, antisemitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.
The world has emerged a hostile place for Zionists.
Ask the students on campus who are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops ransacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis, the UK Labor party with its ongoing accusations of institutionalized antisemitism and BDS supporters in Europe, South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.
The argument “I am not an antisemite, I just don’t like Zionists” is spurious.
Even the French President, Emmanuel Macron says anti-Zionism is “a new type of antisemitism.” He told the Israeli Prime Minister when speaking in Paris at an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Vel D’Hiv round-up, in which 13,152 French Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps that France will “not surrender” to anti-Israel rhetoric.
There are an estimated 50 Muslim countries in the world, and an estimated 30 countries that define themselves as Christian. There is only one Jewish state and yet, so many have an issue with its very existence?
Saying that the Jews have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is in fact, racism.
Is it politically correct to criticize Israel?
Criticising the government and its policies is the national sport of Israel.
Is Israel perfect? No. And it is perfectly okay and healthy to say so. However, saying that Jews have no right to national self-determination or that Israel has no right to exist is racist and antisemitic.
I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and improve. I believe that Zionism means that you want to see an exemplary Israel – a light unto the nations. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified, this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Jew, Christian, Muslim, as well as from left to right across the political spectrum.
These values are enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence:
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
I invite anyone who is somewhat skeptical or perhaps undecided about their views on Zionism to ask themselves how different it is to their national aspirations. Perhaps this will lead to a lot more understanding, a lot less maligning and hopefully an end to the rising violence that so many supporters of Israel are currently enduring.