The Fallacy of Zionism as Racism
The Fallacy of Jewish Colonialism and Zionism as Racism
The views expressed below are solely the views of the author, and do not represent the views of any organization.
On college campuses, Zionist used to be an uncontroversial adjective that almost all Jews were not only proud to apply to themselves, but also had a firm grasp of its meaning. Though many Jews continue to identify themselves with Zionism, many others distance themselves from the movement and see it in a negative light. In 1975, the United Nations adopted resolution 3379 which equated the Zionist outlook with racism. The charge of racism was closely tied to the idea that the Zionist movement is imperialist in nature. Due to how contested this issue is, it is perhaps appropriate to have a brief overview of Zionism’s history and meaning.
Before the Bar Kochba Revolt against the Roman Empire in 135 CE, most Jews resided in what is known as Israel and the disputed territories. After the Romans crushed the second revolt, they forced the majority of Jews into exile. Despite this, there remained a small population of Jews in key cities in Eretz Israel from that time to this day. Until the 19th Century, the idea of returning to Israel was viewed in more metaphorical terms, not because the Jews no longer wished to live in their homeland, it was rather a matter of practicality; moving halfway across the world is not easy now, and was certainly not a trivial task in the past.
The current manifestation of the Zionist movement was born out of an increase in anti-Semitism in 19th century Europe. Early Zionist thinkers sought to create an environment that would make possible the transformation of the weak, persecuted Jew into the “new Jew.” This “new Jew” as envisioned by these thinkers, was not some racially superior being. Rather, this Jew would be nothing but normal, like all the other peoples of the world; capable of defending himself/herself and working his/her own land. From this, one can see that Zionism was not centered on the belief of Jewish superiority. Nor was the movement made to degrade non-Jews.
Most early Zionist pioneers in what at the time was called Palestine (a name fist created by the Romans in an attempt to erase Jewish heritage after the second revolt) actually had a very harmonious if not utopian vision of how the Jewish community would interact with their Arab neighbors. For complex reasons, this utopian vision did not pan out and the newly born Jewish state found itself surrounded by a hostile group of countries unwilling to live with any Jewish presence in the Middle East lest the Jews give up all claims to land and live as second class citizens at their whim. And that’s the best possible outcome had the young state lost the war of independence. Many of the leaders who fought Israel in that war promised a war of extermination that would dwarf the Mongol massacres.
Now to address the notion that Zionism is a manifestation of European imperialism. It is true that many Jews who immigrated to the state of Israel came from Europe. Yet one must not forget that a significant potion of Israel’s population constitutes Jews that came from many countries in the orient. Even the Jews that came from Europe, however, cannot be seen as colonialists for two main reasons. The first is that a colonial power must have a base from which it sends its people to colonize a foreign land. Until Israel, the Jews had no country of their own. Secondly, it is not possible for a people to be foreigners in their own homeland where their people first emerged. Though I am religious myself, I do not take the Torah as proof that Jews originated in the land of Israel. Thankfully, archaeology and genetic testing has helped indicate two things. The first is that Jews lived in Israel in ancient times. The second being that today’s Jews, with a few exceptions, are the descendents of those ancient Jews.