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Zionism and Racism

It would be a mistake to assume that Zionism is encompassed fully by the teachings of the likes of Ben Gurion, Jabotinsky or Benjamin Netanyahu. I have discovered, over the years, a number of Zionist thinkers that proclaim a type of Zionism that I find far more reasonable than the Zionism that is evident in Israel today. The version of Zionism put forth by Brit Shalom, a political movement created in Palestine in 1925, sought a peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews, to be achieved by renunciation of the Zionist aim of creating a Jewish state. This alternative vision of Zionism was to create a centre for Jewish cultural life in Palestine placing great emphasis on the ethical and cultural traditions of Judaism while remaining secular in outlook as a whole. Brit Shalom, literally meaning “covenant of peace”, advocated the concept of a Jewish Homeland rather than a Zionist State, the latter explicitly requiring a Jewish majority in Israel. Martin Buber was an advocate of the ideology of Brit Shalom and Albert Einstein was known to be highly sympathetic to those same values.

Unfortunately the voices of Brit Shalom advocates were few in number and became drowned out by the cries for Israeli nationalism. Professor Yakov Rabkin tells us that:

“Among the many tendencies within Zionism, the one that has triumphed set out to reach four principle objectives: 1) to transform the transnational Jewish identity centred on the Torah into a national identity, like the ones then common in Europe; 2) to develop a new national vernacular based on biblical and rabbinical Hebrew; 3) to transfer the Jews from their counties of origin to Palestine; and 4) to establish political and economic control over the “new old land” if need be by force” (Rabkin, 2006, p. 5).

Uriel Zimmer, an Orthodox Jew and former United Nations reporter for several newspapers, states the ultimate goal of Zionism:

“The real aim of Zionism is the one stated innumerable times by the various Zionist thinkers and ideologists from its earliest conception until this day. From the essays of Achad Haam to the speeches of Ben Gurion, we can hear definitions of one goal, in various versions and phrases but with never-changing content:

Zimmer’s words echo the criticisms of Orthodox Jews against Zionism that are articulated by anti-Zionist religious Jews like those found at Neturei Karta. Jewish Orthodox intellectual, Yesayahu Leibowitz, has this to say about the historical concept of Jewish identity.

“The historical Jewish people was defined neither as a race, nor as a people of this country or that, or of this political system or that, nor as a people that speaks the same language, but as a people of Torah Judaism and of its commandments, as the people of a specific way of life, both on the spiritual and the practical plane, a way of life that expresses the acceptance of the yoke of the Torah and of its commandments. This consciousness exercised its effect from within the people. It formed its national essence; it maintained itself down through the generations and was able to preserve its identity irrespective of times or circumstances. The words spoken by Saadia Gaon more than 1,000 years ago, “Our nation exists only in the Torah” had not only a normative but an empirical meaning. They testified to an historical fact whose power could be felt up until the nineteenth century. It was then that the fracture, which has not ceased to widen with time, first occurred: the break between Jewishness and Judaism. The human group recognised today as the Jewish people is no longer defined, from the factual viewpoint, as the people of historical Judaism, whether in the consciousness of the majority off its members, or in that of the non-Jews. There indeed exists within this people a substantial number of persons who strive, individually or collectively, to live the Judaic way of life. But the majority of Jews – while sincerely conscious of their Jewishness – not only does not accept Judaism, but abhors it” (cited in Rabkin, 2006, p.35).

Zionism’s attempt to change Jewish identity struck fear in the hearts of the Orthodox for many reasons. Its seeming agreement with ideas about Jewish identity held to by anti-Semites was a major one. Rabkin says:

“Zionists and the anti-Semites saw eye to eye on three key issues: 1) the Jews were not a religious group but a distinct nation; 2) the Jews could never integrate in to the country in which they lived; and 3) the sole solution to the Jewish problem was for them to leave” (2006, p. 82).

The concept of a Jewish race is not taught in scripture and has not been the reality for Jews over the last 2,000 years. Being Jewish was fundamentally a religious, not racial, identity. Zionism sought to change that. Jews are now not defined so much by their acceptance of the Torah, but far more by their adherence to Zionism and Israeli nationalism. Being Jewish is not primarily about one’s religion, but about one’s support for secular nationalism in Israel.

Zionism is, in a sense, a capitulation to anti-Semitism. It recognises the ultimate separateness of Jews and non-Jews, just as the Nazis had believed.
For Zionists, anti-Semitism is an evil, but an evil that is absolute in its reality and can never be eradicated from the mentality of gentiles. As such, Jews must find a place to live that is separate and safe from the inevitable tide of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism has no ultimate cure according to the ideology of Zionism: integration or assimilation are impossible. Hence many have claimed that Zionism itself is deeply racist.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, adopted on November 10, 1975 by a vote of 72 to 35 (with 32 abstentions), “determined that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. The resolution is often referenced in debates of Zionism and racism. Resolution 46/86 revoked the resolution on December 16, 1991. In the history of the UN, this is the only resolution that has ever been revoked. It was revoked as part of a deal to coax the Israelis back to the peace negotiations table.

Judaism as a faith embraces all peoples. The racist tag that Jewish people have had to wear over the past 60 years finds its origins far more in the ideology of Zionism than in the faith of Judaism which clearly reveals the Almighty’s concern for all peoples of the earth.

Rabkin, Y. (2006). A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition
to Zionism. Fernwood Publishing: Canada, Zed Books: London.
Zimmer, U. (1961). Torah-Judaism and the State of Israel. Jewish Post
Publications, London, England.

Craig Nielsen

Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict

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May 2023