Commentary  Don’t conflate Judaism and Zionism

Jewish Tadamon! members reject Zionism

Since the Zionist movement was founded in the late 19th century, many Jews have rejected this ideology and struggled continuously against the conflation of Judaism and Zionism. We have seen this conflation in campus debates surrounding QPIRG McGill. We stand with Palestinians against Israeli apartheid, and give support to Tadamon! and Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW).

The Daily published the piece “Open the door to QPIRG” (November 14, Commentary, Page 10), in which Lily Hoffman Simon and Elaina Kauffman expressed their support for QPIRG McGill but also their “discomfort” with Tadamon!’s status as a QPIRG working group, and with QPIRG’s support for IAW. They feel that these two projects are at odds with their “Jewish and Zionist identities.”

We are Jewish members of Tadamon!, two of whom are McGill alumni and all of whom have been active members of QPIRG McGill for several years. We are among the many people who were happy to see QPIRG McGill’s mandate renewed via this year’s referendum, as we recognize the valuable contribution that it and its working groups make to the McGill community.

We must point out that Simon and Kauffman’s criticism of QPIRG is not necessarily shared by all Jewish students. Despite acknowledging the strong historical tradition of critical thought and discourse in Jewish communities, the authors seem to conflate Judaism and Zionism.

Zionism is a nationalist ideology founded on the principle that Jews require a state of their own. In order to make this a reality,  the Israeli military systematically expelled 700,000 Palestinians and murdered hundreds of others when they founded the State of Israel in 1947-1948. The Israeli army further annexed Palestinian territory in the war of 1967, and Jewish settlers continue to occupy it illegally today.

Although Simon and Kauffman’s argument would have us believe otherwise, not all Jewish people are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jewish (see Christian fundamentalists in the USA and Europe, including virulently anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders). Simon and Kauffman would like us to believe an old lie: that the Israeli/Palestine conflict is primarily about religion.

This conflict is about land. It is about colonialism. And it is about apartheid.

From the very beginnings of the Zionist movement in the late 1800s, there were many Jews who disagreed with this ideology. This critical, anti-Zionist Jewish viewpoint continues to be shared by many Jews around the world, including the authors of this article.

Today, this critical tradition of anti-Zionism is also found within Israel itself, where organizations such as Zochrot, an Israeli NGO, seek to educate Jewish Israelis about the Palestinian perspective on the events of 1947-48, which Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or catastrophe. We also find movements of Jewish Israelis who oppose Israel’s apartheid system, such as Boycott from Within and Israeli Queers for Palestine. Prominent Israeli scholars such as Uri Davis and Ilan Pappe also speak out against Israeli apartheid, as do North American Jews such as queer theorist Judith Butler and writer and journalist Naomi Klein.

From a similar position, we stand with Palestinians against Israeli apartheid. The United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines apartheid as inhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them:

Standing with Palestinians against Israeli apartheid means standing up against apartheid laws like the Law of Return (1948) and the Nationality/Citizenship Law (1952), which together grant automatic citizenship to any Jewish immigrant to Israel, regardless of whether or not they have any connection to Israel, while ignoring the right of return of the thousands of Palestinian refugees who were forcibly expelled from Palestine in 1948.

Against the Land Acquisition Law (1953), which confiscated the land of more than 400 Palestinian villages and permitted their use for military purposes and for Jewish-only settlements.

Against roads designated specifically for Jews-only and for Palestinians-only in the West Bank.

And against government policies within Israel itself which, for example, designate an average of US $1,097 per year per Jewish student versus US $191 per year per Palestinian student.

These are just a few examples of the Israeli apartheid system. We refuse to stand silently by while such laws and policies are used to oppress Palestinians in our name.

We would also like to ask: how alienated and uncomfortable do Palestinian or other Arab students feel when their school takes overtly Zionist positions? How does a student from Gaza feel when McGill formalizes an exchange program with Technion University? This Israeli university worked with weapons manufacturer Rafael and the Israeli military to create technology for unmanned aircrafts used in the 2009 invasion of Gaza.

Simon and Kauffman assert that we should not use the term apartheid because it “alienates” people. We would like to draw a distinction between the system of Israeli apartheid itself, on the one hand, and people’s emotions ,about Israeli apartheid on the other.

We do not argue with the fact that Simon and Kauffman feel uncomfortable with or alienated by the term apartheid – this seems to be normal for someone who identifies as Zionist. But this doesn’t change the fact that Israel is an apartheid state.

Signed by Tadamon! Collective members Sam Bick, Amy Darwish, Freda Guttman, and Claire Hurtig, along with McGill Students in Solidarity Daniel Wolfe, Micha Stettin, and Niko Block.