Seattle author Alice Rothchild, in a recently published Op-Ed, described Zionism as “an ideology grounded in Jewish privilege and persecution of Palestinians.” We strongly disagree and find her Aug. 11 guest column a completely inaccurate characterization of the meaning and founding principles of Zionism.
Because of Rothchild’s misuse of the term “Zionism,” the rest of what follows in her article is lacking in the kind of nuance, context, and consequently, intellectual honesty that any discussion of this issue requires.
An honest treatment of Zionism and its relationship to Judaism must begin with the understanding that Zionism is not simply a late-19th-century movement calling for the creation of a Jewish political state. Rather, that movement was but one manifestation of the centuries-old yearning of the Jewish people for a collective return to Israel. This connection predates by millennia any notion of a modern state. Moreover, Rothchild’s framing of Jews as colonizers in Israel is a dehumanizing act of erasure. Israel is where the Jewish people became a nation, and where Jews ruled nearly continuously from 1,000 BCE to 70 CE. After 1,900 years of exile and oppression as a stateless minority across Europe and the Middle East, it is hard to imagine a people more deserving of freedom and independence in their ancestral home.
So, too, is it true that equating Zionism with the whole of Israeli policies and actions is a gross mischaracterization. Consequently, one may simultaneously identify as a Zionist — that is, someone who believes that the Jewish people enjoy a collective right of self-determination in their ancestral homeland — and legitimately take issue with any number of Israeli policies or actions. This is exactly the same as being a proud American, yet disagreeing with various American policies or actions.
Our issue with Rothchild’s self-determined definition of Zionism is not merely its inaccuracy, but also that such rhetoric can cause tangible harm. Many Jewish students on college campuses, for example, are effectively being asked to disavow Zionism in order to fully participate in certain events and discussions, despite the fact that Zionism is an integral part of their Jewish identity. Political litmus tests that separate “bad Jews” (Zionists) from “good Jews” (anti-Zionists) are a form of unabashed anti-Semitism and should not be tolerated in our society.
Words matter. Facts matter. It cannot go overlooked that Rothchild uses emotionally laden buzzwords like “colonialism,” “racism” and “genocide” to frame Israel’s mere existence as illegitimate. She repeats the lie that 750,000 Palestinians were expelled in 1948, when the truth is that most fled an active war zone. Her repetition of Palestinian grievances against Israel is not only one-sided, as it wholly ignores the numerous examples of terrorism and aggression against Israelis by Palestinian and Arab forces. It is also deeply misleading, because she omits the historical fact that many of the most controversial Israeli actions and policies were a direct result of wars and waves of brutal violence launched against Israel.
Rothchild’s anti-Zionism represents a tiny portion of world Jewish or mainstream American opinion. She does not speak for the vast majority of American Jews (as well as sizable majorities of Americans) who support the decades-long friendly alliance between the U.S. and Israel.
We can certainly agree that the Palestinian people have suffered for too long and deserve much better. However, if the goal is justice and peace for Palestinians and Israelis, demonizing Zionism is a surefire way to fail. Any discussion of how to achieve a better future must not only address Israel’s role but also acknowledge the responsibility of Palestinian leaders for promoting hate, financially rewarding violence, launching terrorist attacks against Israeli communities, and oppressing their own people. It must recognize the humanity and rights of Israelis, as well as the very real threats with which they must cope every day.