For most people, Zionism is either a word they can hardly explain or has become akin to a cuss word, but what is Zionism? In light of the recent 2022 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, it is essential to understand the term and its implications. Depending on our understanding of the term Zionism, our understanding of Israel’s right to exist will vary. We can look at the definition from the Jewish Virtual Library for Zionism as: “The national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. ” Yet, even with a definition, we must go back in history to track the progress made by Jewish people that lead to the birth of Zionism.
In the late 1700s, there was a movement in Europe known as the Haskalah (enlightenment) which ended in the 1880s. Its leaders promoted a movement based on liberalism and freedom of choice in the hope of seeing the beginning of the emancipation of European Jews as well as their equality wherever they lived…It failed! Then in the late 1800s, came the pogroms (government-sponsored riots) against Eastern European Jews. Leo Pinsker, one of the leaders of the haskalah, got very discouraged. In his 1882 book “Auto-Emancipation” he wrote, “Indeed, what a pitiful figure we cut! We are not counted among the nations, neither have we a voice in their councils, even when the affairs concern us. Our fatherland–the other man’s country; our unity-dispersion; our solidarity – the battle against us; our weapon – humility; our defense – flight; our individuality – adaptability; our future – the next day. What a miserable role for a nation which descends from the Maccabees! … Happily, matters stand somewhat differently now. The events of the last few years in enlightened Germany, in Romania, in Hungary, and especially in Russia have effected what the far bloodiest persecutions of the Middle Ages could not. The national consciousness which until then had lain dormant in sterile martyrdom awoke the masses of the Russian and Romanian Jews and took form in an irresistible movement toward Palestine.”
Within 15 years came the Dreyfus Affair of 1894. French Captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason, stripped of his rank, was imprisoned on Devil’s Island, but eventually vindicated and reinstated. The Jewish journalist from Austria, Theodor Herzl covered the trial in Paris and became rapidly convinced that Dreyfus had been framed and that Jews had no future in Europe. Two years later he published “Der Judenstaadt” (The Jewish State) in which he wrote, “The idea I have developed in this pamphlet is an ancient one: It is the restoration of the Jewish State. . . The decisive factor is our propelling force. And what is that force? The plight of the Jews. . . I am profoundly convinced that I am right, though I doubt whether I shall live to see myself proved so. Those who today inaugurate this movement are unlikely to live to see its glorious culmination. But the very inauguration is enough to inspire in them a high pride and the joy of an inner liberation of their existence.”
In 1897, the First Jewish Congress was convened in Basel, Switzerland. Theodore Herzl expressed something that some have called prophetic. He said, “At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.” Fifty years after the First Zionist Congress was November 29, 1947, when the UN General Assembly voted in favor of partitioning Palestine, putting in motion the re-birth of the modern state of Israel that took place on May 14, 1948. In the decade following Herzl’s death, the Zionist influx continued in the Holy Land, and about 100,000 pioneers lived there. Times were hard, workdays were long, and poverty was rampant, but the spirit of hope kept Zionism alive. On the eve of World War One, Zionism had become a reality, a fragile one, but a reality, nonetheless.
Then, in 1917, the Balfour declaration was another milestone in the process of the re-birth of Israel, followed by one of the best-kept secrets in the history of the Jewish people, the San Remo Conference of 1920, when a legal precedent was made and the rights to Palestine were given to the Jewish people. It also gave the rights to the rest of the Middle East to the Arabs. It established an international legal precedent that superseded any later declaration, even the United Nations didn’t have the right to change it in 1947 had they wanted to. Eventually, on May 14, 1948, Israel was reborn as a modern nation. Even with all this, there is a growing faction of people seeing Zionism as colonialism which according to the dictionary is, “domination of a people or area by a foreign state or nation: the practice of extending and maintaining a nation’s political and economic control over another people or area.” There are several reasons why Zionism is not colonialism or occupation historically speaking:
• The Land of Palestine is the land of Israel with a different name: It is time for people to accept the fact that the word Palestine was simply a name change forced on Israel by Roman emperor Hadrian to further humiliate them after the failed Bar Kochba revolt of A.D. 135. IT IS NOT STOLEN LAND! The stamps, coins, newspapers, passports and other things that said “Palestine” prior to 1948 all had the initials of the two Hebrew words “Eretz” (land) and “Yisrael” (Israel) stamped on them. Nobody argued about Palestine being another name for the geographical area of Israel until Yasir Arafat came onto the political scene and created displaced people with stolen land. Please people, do your homework!
• Israel is not committing ethnic cleansing: Ethnic cleansing or genocide is intentional organized mass murder to eradicate a people group. The Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust qualify as ethnic cleansing. In 1947 there were about 1.2 MM Arabs in British Mandate Palestine. Today, there are more than 6 MM Arabs in the whole land, including about 2 MM in Israel alone. There are more Arabs in Israel today than before 1947. This is the opposite of ethnic cleansing. On the other hand, there are still fewer Jewish people in 2022 than there were prior to the Holocaust.
• Israel is not an apartheid state: Apartheid was South Africa’s way of keeping blacks and whites separated, and as such, it forbade blacks to eat in white restaurants or cafes, attend white schools or universities, be treated in white hospitals, live in white neighborhoods and serve in the white government. Israeli Arabs are full citizens who do not experience any of the restrictions that were known to South Africa. The only difference is with citizens of Gaza and the West Bank, but THEY do not want to be Israeli citizens.
There are also several reasons why Zionism is not colonialism or occupation biblically speaking:
• The land ultimately belongs to God: “The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me. (LEVITICUS 25:23)
• God gave the land to the Jewish people with very specific boundaries not to be abused: “You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn north, and command the people, saying, “You will pass through the territory of your brothers the sons of Esau who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful; do not provoke them, for I will not give you any of their land, even as little as a footstep because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession.” (Deuteronomy 2:3-5; 16-19).
• God Covenanted with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for the land: “Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:18-21; 26:2-4; 28:13)
• God told Israel to conquer the land: “Know therefore today that it is the Lord your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the Lord has spoken to you. “Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 9:3-5)
Under Zionism, Arabs who live in Israel are treated equally and with respect, so to be a Zionist doesn’t require being anti-Palestinian, or anti-Arab to be more precise since the Palestinian people are all Arabs dressed in a false “Palestinian” cloak of oppressed victims. Israel welcomes Arabs in all sectors of society, from public servants to doctors to Knesset members. Why won’t Palestinians do likewise? Zionism is not a dirty word; it is the essence of Jewish resilience in light of centuries of persecution. As for me, I would rather be on God’s side and since God was the first Zionist, so will I be, so pick your side and accept the consequences!