Many Palestinians and Arabs speak of Zionism as synonymous with racism. Very few people aside from Jews know the history of the word. Zionism is the effort of Jews seeking to return to their homeland. In the Christian and Jewish bibles and the Islamic Qur’an, Abraham is the father of both the Jews and Islam, and so the land historically belongs to all three religions.
In 70 AD, Jews dispersed to the diaspora (literally, “the scattering”) when they were actively driven from the home where they had lived for over a millennium. In every land that the Jews tried to inhabit, for thousands of years, Jews have been persecuted, forcibly removed, and eradicated through brutality and mass murder. For thousands of years, Jews had no country for Jews. Zionism is the effort of Jews seeking a place where they cannot be removed by a host country. It is not based on racism, but on a desire for peace.
For Jews, all too familiar chants and actions are now taking place across Europe, especially in Germany and France. They include “Death to the Jews” at anti-Israeli demonstrations, bombing of synagogues, attacks on the street, hate mail, and anti-Semitic graffiti. In France, pro-Palestinian demonstrations over three consecutive weeks have led to an increase in such attacks across the country.
According to the World Jewish Congress, occurrences are coming not only from the neo-Nazis and leftists, who had previously been the chief offenders. Attacks are coming from ordinary people who are in the political center. According to the president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, Roger Cukierman, this is the worst violence seen in the past 15 years. He called it “a new wave” of anti-Semitism. In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, presidential candidate, has equated Israeli defense with aggression tantamount to that of Adolf Hitler.
For many Jews who live in Israel, this is a painful reminder of the past. For Jews, the birth of Israel is equated with a place for safety. It was three full years after the decimation of two-thirds of the Jews in Europe (6 million out of 9 million) that Israel was established as a Jewish homeland. Jews cultivated an uninhabitable land and fostered the growth of roses in the desert, learning to conserve water in a way that is imitated worldwide. Israel is now a land of innovation in medicine, science, and technology, which is globally revered.
The accusation that Zionism equals racism is a simplistic accusation in response to a complex historical situation. Indeed, there is prejudice on both sides: Israel and Palestine. Nevertheless, just as Muslim militant extremists do not speak for the peaceful majority of Muslims, those who are prejudiced are not the majority of Israelis. Most importantly, racism is not a concept of Zionism. There are many countries where peoples reside as second class citizens, which is a human rights issue of the strongest proportion. However, Israel exists as the only Jewish nation in the world, amidst 20 Arab nations that seek to nullify its existence. That, too, must be taken into consideration in the equation.
An important question revolves around the support of strong and wealthy Arab nations aiding the Palestinians who live in Gaza. To some, it appears that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, among others, have forsaken their own people. Their Arab allies seem absent. They have the capacity to build Palestinians an anti-missile deterrent device. They could convince Hamas to sign a ceasefire agreement. It begs the question of who holds responsibility for bombing in Gaza. What one nation calls Israel’s self-defense, others label as acts of terrorism. Anti-Jewish sentiment is pervasive. It creates double standards where Jews are expected not to defend themselves against attack.
At the same time, police and military brutality also raise important questions. The harm of others in the name of nationalism or religion has equal negative weight across the globe. Those families who have lost loved ones need the empathy of the world. Whenever one group has more power than another there is the risk of acts of cruelty. But this does not mean that the concept of Zionism is racist in its core. Just as Islam is peaceful in its core, so too is the principal of Jews needing a safe haven in the world.
Opinion by Fern Remedi-Brown
Previous articles by the author on the Holocaust:
Palestinian Empathy for Holocaust Victims Is Called Treason
Holocaust Denied Can Be Repeated
Part 1: Holocaust Survived 1944
Part 2: Holocaust Survived Through a Door in the Woods
Part 3: Holocaust Sole Survivor
Part 4: Holocaust Survivor Displaced
Part 5: Holocaust Survivor Beats Odds
Holocaust Lessons About Human Morality
The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Kristi Cereska, Leigh Haugh, and Isis Stevens.