Wednesday, February 8th | 17 Shevat 5783

April 25, 2022 1:20 pm

Don’t Believe the Lies: Zionism Is a Movement of Peace

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avatar by Joshua Beylinson


Theodor Herzl in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

One of the biggest lies ever told about Zionism is that the supposed subjugation or oppression of the Palestinians is somehow a central tenet of the movement.

Jewish Voice for Peace — an anti-Zionist organization with chapters at several universities — posits that “the Zionism that took hold and stands today is a settler-colonial movement, establishing an apartheid state where Jews have more rights than others,” and that “Palestinian dispossession and occupation are by design. Zionism has meant profound trauma for generations, systematically separating Palestinians from their homes, land, and each other.”

These claims are also spread by chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on campuses all over the US, including recently at the University of Chicago and John Jay College. At UChicago, the local SJP chapter called for a boycott of all Jewish groups remotely affiliated with Israel, including the ADL and Visions for Peace classes, which discuss peacemaking in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At John Jay, SJP went even further and labeled terrorism against Israeli citizens as justified “resistance.”

But Zionism has nothing to do with Palestinians. For over two millennia, Jewish communities across the Diaspora have maintained strong ties to the land of Israel, and there has always been a Jewish presence there. For example, in the first half of the 19th century, many Jews lived in Jerusalem, long before the emergence of political Zionism.

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Political Zionists like Theodor Herzl were concerned with the plight of Jews in Europe and across the world; they sought a safe haven for Jews who were being persecuted and murdered. They never envisioned oppressing anyone — but hoped Jews could live in peace with their neighbors.

After Herzl first defined political Zionism, it branched off into numerous different ideologies. These included Labor Zionism, which sought to blend Zionism with socialism. Religious Zionism saw the rebirth of the State of Israel as part of the process of bringing about the messianic era. Another branch, cultural Zionism, emphasized creating a new national culture for Jews, such as learning the revived language of Hebrew.

When the Israeli Declaration of Independence was penned, the founders of the state swore that it would “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.”

While Israel is certainly not a perfect nation, it has usually lived up to these principles; and when it hasn’t, it has tried to do better.

Zionists accepted an Arab state alongside Israel in 1948; the Palestinians and Arab states didn’t, and launched a war of extermination against the Jews there. That is the reason there is no Palestinian state today, along with the rejection of countless peace offers since, and numerous wars launched by the Palestinians and Arab states to destroy Israel, rather than live in peace with it. It was this violence and terrorism that forced Israel to be active in some of the disputed territories today.

It is wrong to say that Israel seeks to oppress Palestinians as a matter of national policy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Zionism only concerns itself with establishing a sovereign Jewish state. Ask any Zionist today, and they will tell you why they are proud of Israel, and why they think Israel is important. They will speak of the Jewish people’s special bond, our history in the Levant, and how Israel has saved hundreds of thousands of Jews from persecution, and a possible future genocide.

The idea behind CAMERA on Campus’ “This is What a Zionist Looks Like” campaign is to show people how diverse Zionism is, and how Zionism is a positive movement that seeks to protect Jews, and all people in the region.

While Zionism is a modern political movement, the Jewish people’s bond with the land of Israel is ancient, and there has always been a Jewish presence there. We want Jews to be proud Zionists and not feel ashamed of saying it publicly, as Zionism is an intrinsic part of being Jewish. You can help elevate the movement by sharing the #ThisIsWhatAZionistLooksLike hashtag and similar material online.

Joshua Beylinson is a Campus Advisor at CAMERA on Campus.

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