These are deeply disturbing times.
On our campuses, students hear speeches vilifying the word “Zionists.” They are shocked to hear “Zionist” said with such venom and that “Zionism is racism.” They are most shocked when they discover that such accusations are often made by Jews themselves. Many students have no idea how to respond.
UC-Irvine is a case in point. Last spring, the Muslim Student Union hosted a rally at which one speaker encouraged rally-goers to “purge your religious or your political circle from any effects of Zionism, and the world will be a better place for all of us.” Another speaker said, “I feel sorry for Jewish students on this campus, and I feel sorry for all Jewish people throughout history, that their religion got hijacked by the Zionism.” (These speeches can be seen and heard on the www.StandWithUs.com website.) While these speakers seem to make a distinction between Zionists and Jews, their rhetoric is hate speech that incites hostility against Jews. It is simply thinly veiled anti-Semitism.
The world doesn’t distinguish between Jews and Zionists. Most Jews identify with and support the existence of the Jewish state, even when they may sharply disagree with Israeli government policies. This in effect, makes them Zionists. Zionism is the belief that Jews have a right to a nation state. Zionists support the rebirth and continued existence of Israel in the area where Judaism was born and thrived for millennia. The charge that Zionism is racism maligns the Jewish right to self-determination, a right enshrined in international law for all other peoples. The accusation that Zionists are racists is, in effect, an accusation that Jews are racists.
Fair-minded people should not permit this burgeoning anti-Semitism to go unchallenged. Our response should be strong and clear, but people across the political spectrum remain confused about how to respond and so do nothing.
The consequences of inaction on our university campuses are especially grave. University administrations that turn a deaf ear to hate speech against Zionism fail at their educational mission. They fail to teach students the difference between demagoguery and responsible criticism, between fact and fiction. When they don’t ensure that lectures and speaker panels about the Middle East conflict are balanced, they implicitly endorse hate speech against Jews and tolerance for hatred against Jews. When they allow speakers to single out the Jewish minority on their campuses for vilification, they ignore that minority’s safety concerns and leave many Jewish students and faculty feeling understandably uncomfortable.
All good people must act. We must stop ignoring defamatory attacks on Zionism. We must make it clear that the very phrase “Zionism is racism” is an absurdity. We must make it clear that support for Israel is support for the values of social justice and human rights. We must never miss an opportunity to teach people, even our Jewish accusers, elementary facts about Jews, Israel, and the world around it.
- Israel has 15 officially recognized religions.
- Israel’s over 1.2 million Arab citizens have Arab-Israeli political parties and Arab-Israelis representing them in the Knesset.
- Arabic is an officially recognized language in Israel, along with Hebrew.
- Though Arabs make up 20 percent of the Israeli population and live as full citizens inside Israel, the future Palestinian state refuses to allow any Jews. The Palestinian Authority wants all Jewish communities currently in the territories to be transferred out of the future Palestinian State so that the areas will become Judenrein (the Nazi term for Jew-free), like many other Arab countries.
- Jews have always been active humanitarians on the frontlines of most civil rights causes. Israel’s humanitarian record continues the tradition of coming to the aid of countries in need. As we know, Israel took in the Vietnamese boat people when the world ignored them. Israeli-Arabs have full civil rights in Israel they do not have anywhere in the Arab world, including women’s and gay rights.
- Very few nations or peoples have come to the aid of Jews during the many disastrous times in our own history, when they were chosen for extermination or deportation. Zionism and the rebirth of Israel are part of the Jewish answer to such tragic helplessness.
- There are more than 50 Muslim countries in the world. Jews cannot safely live in any of them. Today, many Jews feel unsafe even in some European countries.
Fair-minded people support Israel’s right to exist. Friends, that is the definition of Zionism. Israel is democratic, moral, and fighting for her life in a neighborhood that wants her elimination. Zionism, the ideal that made Israel possible, deserves our overt support. So it’s time to face the ugly accusations. It’s time for every fair-minded person, Jew and non-Jew, to stand up and say, “I am proud to be a Zionist.”