Commentary | Zionism, the Jewish national movement

On November 10, 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed one of its most odious resolutions – which was later repealed in 1991 – determining that Zionism was a form of racism. Speaking before the General Assembly, Israel’s Ambassador Chaim Herzog responded: “Zionism is to the Jewish people what the liberation movements of Africa and Asia have been to their own people… The re-establishment of Jewish independence in Israel, after centuries of struggle to overcome foreign conquest and exile, is a vindication of the fundamental concepts of the equality of nations and of self-determination. To question the Jewish people’s right to national existence and freedom is not only to deny to the Jewish people the right accorded to every other people on this globe, but it is also to deny the central precepts of the United Nations.”  Unfortunately, it seems that Tadamon! in Don’t conflate Judaism and Zionism (January 12, Page 12) has not only ignored Herzog’s words but chosen to reiterate many distortions about Zionism and the State of Israel.

Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, the return to the land of Israel forming a crucial component of the Jewish collective consciousness for over two millennia. Ever since the Jews were first forced off of their land by imperialist powers in the first centuries of the common era, they have sought to reestablish themselves in their ancient homeland. Throughout the long centuries of dispersion, Jews always maintained a presence in the land of Israel, while Jews in the Diaspora continued to hope and long to return home. The hope was finally realized in 1948, when for the first time in two thousand years, the Jewish people were once again sovereign in the land of their ancestors.

When the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state in 1947, the Arabs rejected the proposal. Instead, they opted to invade the newly reestablished Jewish state with the goal of eliminating it. It was in this aggressive war launched by the Arab states that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs became refugees, in circumstances that historians differ about. However, many hundreds of thousands fled at the urging of the Arab High Command who promised that they would return once the Jews had been defeated. In his memoirs, Haled al Azm, Syrian Prime Minister during the war, admitted: “Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return.”

The Palestinian Arabs form one of two groups of refugees caused by the 1948 Arab–Israeli War – the second and larger being the over 800,000 Jews forced from their homes in Arab countries. These Jewish communities, most of them predating Islam by centuries, were utterly destroyed, with over $100 billion  of Jewish property confiscated, yet to be returned. It is estimated that the total Jewish land seized by the Arab states after 1948 is five times the size of the State of Israel . As well, the invading Arab armies displaced thousands of Jews from the lands that Jordan occupied in 1948 such as the Old City of Jerusalem and numerous other towns and villages. Amazingly, in 1948, the state of Israel was able to absorb over half a million penniless Jews from Arab countries who were recently made refugees, while the Arab states, with all of their resources, chose to enact discriminatory policies that kept the Palestinian Arabs in refugee camps for over six decades. Somehow, all of the millions of people displaced after WWII (the war ended three years before Israel’s establishment) have been resettled. Only the Palestinians languish in refugee camps, mainly to be used as pawns against the State of Israel. As stated by Sir Alexander Galloway, Former Head of the United Nations Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA) “The Arab States do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel.”

Israel is a democratic state in which its Arab citizens enjoy the same rights as its Jewish ones, under Israeli Constitutional Law. While social and economic gaps exist between Israeli Jews and Arabs, Israeli Arabs are among the most successful Arabs in the Middle-East. Numerous Arabs serve in Israel’s parliament and the level of free speech that they enjoy there is unthinkable in any Arab country. An Israeli Arab, Salim Joubran, currently sits on Israel’s Supreme Court. He is the second Arab to hold such a position. According to a 2011 survey carried out by Pechter polls, a majority of Arabs living in eastern Jerusalem would prefer to retain Israeli citizenship rather than Palestinian citizenship should a two-state solution be reached, with 40 per cent of respondents saying that they would move to a different home within Israel should their neighbourhood become part of Palestine.

Israel’s Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to any Jew, is one of the most basic expressions of Zionism and has its parallel in numerous countries. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has accepted thousands of ethnic Russians from the former republics.  Similarly, Germany has granted citizenship to the millions of ethnic Germans displaced after 1945 . Yet only Israel is attacked as racist for its Law of Return. Meanwhile, legal scholars have discussed “practice of Apartheid” in many Arab countries. Jordan legally bars Jews from citizenship, as do several other Arab countries  In addition, Judges in the Palestinian territory are allowed to sign the death penalty to individuals who have sold land to Israelis, on approval of the Palestinian Authority President.

Israel is by no means perfect. However, in the rapidly changing Middle-East, it remains an oasis of stability and human rights. Tadamon!’s members are certainly free to their own opinions, but not to distort the historical narrative and the current situation in the region.

Russell Sitrit-Leibovich is a U2 Political Science student. He can be reached at