It’s time to reclaim Zionism and the Jewish narrative

It’s still Israel Apartheid Week Month Year Always and the worst word one can throw at someone at these events and in those circles is the epithet “Zionist”. It’s the modern equivalent of “fascist”, “racist”, “imperialist”, “colonialist”, and even “Nazi”. How this happened is a matter of speculation though there is a strong case for the blame being put at the feet of the Soviets.

But we’ve had enough! It’s time to reclaim the word Zionism from the antisemites says Tom Harris (who as far as I know is not Jewish) in the Daily Telegraph (via OP):

Throughout the country, and particularly on our university campuses, it is being suggested that, in moral terms, nothing separates the appalling white supremacist apartheid regime of South Africa with the Israeli state.

It’s an old trick frequently used by the hard of thinking: think of a country or person you don’t like; think of another, entirely separate, country or person that everyone dislikes, then say that country or person A is the same as country or person B.

Perhaps the protesters and poster-putters-up are too young to remember when apartheid was actually a thing – … But being young is no excuse for ignorance of the facts, which are that Israel isn’t just a democracy – it’s a social democracy, where women enjoy equal rights, where there exists a flourishing LGBT community, where trade unions are well organised and strong and where the press is unfettered and critical of the government.

But there’s no need to take my word for it – why don’t you ask Arab citizens of Israel which Middle Eastern country they would rather live in? The answer given by 77 per cent in one recent survey was (drum roll, please) Israel.

My, those comparisons with apartheid South Africa just keep on coming, don’t they?

But while such lazy analysis can be easily dismissed as evidence that universities really aren’t giving their students enough coursework to keep them busy, the onslaught against Israel from the broader Left of British politics is real, aggressive and worrying.

Michael Dugher, the former Shadow Culture Secretary who was recently sacked by Jeremy Corbyn, made a speech to a Labour Friends of Israel meeting last year in which he declared: “I am proud to call myself a friend of Israel. I am proud to call myself a Zionist.”

Even I, a long-term member of Labour Friends of Israel, did a double-take when I read that last line; not because I felt Michael shouldn’t have said what he said, but because it was an act of political courage rarely seen on the national stage in this modern era of safety-first soundbite politics. A Zionist, you say? Well, I mean, I support Israel and everything, but isn’t that going just a bit too far…?

No, it’s not.

The Left (and some on the Right, but mostly the Left) have succeeded in persuading us that the term refers to West Bank settlers, Israeli imperialists and Palestinian-haters. If you’re a Zionist you’re a hair’s breadth away from a National Front thug, the far Left would have us believe. And here, as in so many areas of life, they are entirely wrong.

Zionism is no more than the movement to re-establish and then protect the state of Israel. A Zionist is someone who defends Israel’s right to exist. The Labour Party has a long and proud tradition of supporting Zionism, through luminaries such as Richard Crossman and Ian Mikardo up to the present generation. But attempts to redefine Zionism and corrupt its true meaning were always dangerous and threatening to the progressive cause, simply because – inevitably – such moves would be exploited by genuine anti-Semites.

Yet that hasn’t stopped many in the leadership of both the Labour Party and its student movement from associating with such individuals.

Are we really that surprised? Isn’t such behaviour already being passively approved by the national leadership of the Labour Party? Not only do we have a leader who can’t even bring himself to utter the word “Israel” when he’s attending a reception organised by Labour Friends of You Know Where. But we also have a leader who calls the terrorist, anti-semitic fanatics of Hamas his “friends”.

So is it really that surprising that in the days following the revelation of obscene bigotry and what appears to be anti-semitism among Labour members at Oxford, not a single Labour front bencher uttered a word about it?

I hope the term “Zionist” can be retrieved from the lexicon of the hate-spreaders, the ignorant and the anti-semitic.

And I hope, one day, someone unashamed to describe themselves as such will take his or her place at the head of my party.

Tom Harris’s stirring words ought to be a wake-up call not only for the British Left and the Labour Party, but for normal decent people everywhere. You don’t even need to be a particularly strong supporter of Israel to realize that the word Zionist is not a rude word or an insult, and that Zionism is a legitimate political movement for Jewish indigenous rights in Israel.

A similar call-to-arms from an Israel perspective, written by blogger and teacher  Hila Hershovitz in the Times of Israel promotes the Jewish Narrative (via Ryan Bellerose):

My name is Hila. I live here, in Israel, and the fact that I am native to this land has always been something I have taken for granted. The reason I know myself as native to this land is not because I was born here, although I was, but rather because this is the ancestral homeland of the people I am part of. This is the land in which my people had two kingdoms and centuries of political sovereignty, it is the land of our national origin, our indigenous culture, language, and the only land we have ever called home.

Indeed, it was only due to a series of historic injustices committed against us by Assyrian, Babylonian, and Roman Empires, that our land was ravished and our people dispossessed. And it was only due to the colonization of our land, that our people were forced to preserve our Semitic Hebrew culture in the cold winters of Europe or in other lands foreign to our native way of life.

Both sides of my family – those who returned from Morocco and those who returned from Romania, participated in the process of the ingathering of the exiles when the fragments of our scattered tribes returned back and reunited on our native soil. But the return to the land was not a simple task. Both sides of my family had to fight their way in.

For us, that meant the beginning of a correction of an historic injustice, that for so long not only inflicted upon us much suffering, but stood in the way of us achieving self-determination, that held us back from fulfilling our collective mission and national aspirations.

And so these are the essentials of the story of my people: We lived here as a sovereign people, we lost our sovereignty, scattered, many of us assimilated, but the descendants of those of us who held on to our culture with whatever remnants of strength we were able to dig out from the despair, returned home, fought and bled to liberate our land.

However, in recent years, our narrative has been corrupted. Our story has been completely turned upside down. According to the international community and to other voices across the world, I am somehow a colonialist in my own land.

I am a Jew, I was born in Israel, not on April but on Adar Bet (a leap year on the Hebrew calendar), I maternally descend from the tribe of Levi (my maternal great grandfather, Saba Refael, was a Levite), the males in my family still wrap t’fillin identical to the ancient second Temple t’fillin found in Qumran, like the ones used by our ancestors, and every year I celebrate the Judean revolt for independence in our historic homeland on Hanukkah, which has been for us a national festival for over two thousand years. Even after hearing it for the millionth time, I cringe every time a Jew refers to our beloved Judean soil – soaked with the blood, sweat, and tears of my people for thousands of years – as the “West Bank” and I can literally burst into tears when hearing the unbearable words “a divided Jerusalem.” And yet despite all this, I am regarded by the international community as a white colonial occupier, a western foreign settler… have I missed any other words?

But the reality is that the notion of us being foreign to our land is so strange to us that most Israelis are not even aware that this claim is being raised. And those who are aware of it find it too ridiculous to even address. So we talk about security and Israeli innovation and forget to state the obvious because we assume everybody is on board with us – of course this is our land, we’re Jews and this Judea.

In fact it is noteworthy to mention, that this instinctive indigenous self-identification our people possess so naturally is not only the real reason we were able to force out the British and to liberate so many parts of our homeland in 67, but also why Hamas and other terrorist organizations are so unsuccessful with their tactics. Terrorism, which is an anti-colonial tactic used to drive away real colonialists, doesn’t work on indigenous peoples. In fact, when anti-colonial tactics are used against natives, it generally achieves the very opposite results. When indigenous people feel threatened, feel they are getting pushed off their land, feel themselves under attack, they only fight harder. This can be seen in every part of Israeli society as we speak. Our love for and connection to a sense of belonging here transforms the shadows of threat and fear into a passion for our homeland and an urgency to set out into battle.

Furthermore, the anti-Israeli accusations depicting me and my people as colonialists are not only ridiculous, they are deeply offensive. Nobody has the right to call me a foreigner in the land of my forefathers. Nobody has to redefine my people’s ancient identity for political or theological reasons. Nobody has the right to tell me not to live, breath, walk and if I have to – fight and bleed for Yerushalayim. And I will fight and bleed for Yerushalayim if I have to.

And so we should clarify to all those that are still in doubt: This is our ancestral homeland. It’s simple. It’s clear. We are its natural inhabitants. We are Semites and not Europeans, Hebrews and not whites, Middle Easterners and not Westerners, we are a people and not a religion. We are indigenous to Judea and to Jerusalem and not to Germany or Sweden. We have a right, an unapologetic right, a proud right, and a just right, to live in all parts of our ancient homeland – especially in places like Hebron, Shkhem and Beit El, places where every grain of dirt tells the story of our people.

We are nation, and like every nation we are entitled to self-determination in our ancestral homeland. We cannot and will not give up that right.

Young Hila Hershkovitz should go very far indeed with that attitude. I wish she would enter politics or diplomacy and improve our standing from within and towards the outside world.

But for now let her words strengthen our own Zionism and keep reminding us of our indigenous rights to Israel. Let no one take these away from us!

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