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Is Zionism Racism?

A Palestinian friend shared (he wasn't the originator) the following photo and caption:


Some of my friends, neighbors and colleagues consider themselves to be Zionists.  Some declare themselves anti-Zionists, and many others don't wake up at night wondering about it at all.

I'm not going to start looking up "Zionism" in Wikipedia, but as I understand it, in its broadest sense, it mainly expresses the aspiration by some Jews to "return" to the "promised land". Of course others (both pro-and anti-) have attempted to define that further, such as by saying that Zionism holds that the land of Israel belongs exclusively to the Jews. But if we take it in the broadest sense, I wouldn't say that Zionism necessarily equates to racism. Zionism has certainly been used as a motivation for racism at many levels, including racist policies towards Palestinians by the State of Israel. By the same token, many other ideologies and religions (perhaps all of them) have been used as a motivation for reprehensible and often genocidal policies. I'm not positive that Zionism is demonstrably more tainted than other isms.

The aspiration of Jews to "return" to the land of Israel is not necessarily something evil. People all around the world, now and in the past, have been expressing the aspiration to go to other places.  The entire history of the human race has been one continuous migration of peoples across continents, and sometimes these migrations have been back to perceived homelands or promised lands. There is no doubt that many mass migrations have been responsible for the displacement or extermination of indigenous peoples.

Did the newly United Nations in the 1940s understand that by sanctioning the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine this would entail both the birth of a decades long conflict and the birth of a state that embodies racist policies towards its non-Jewish population? Maybe, but I prefer to think, regarding the latter, that they had higher expectations from a people who had just suffered their own holocaust. The European states that are Christian in character do not necessarily treat non-Christians as second-class citizens. A state that is Jewish in character need not necessarily treat its Palestinian citizens, or refugees from other places, badly. That's only a choice that it makes. It isn't or needn't be inherent in the fact that the state has a Jewish character, or is founded on Zionist principles, if this only means that the state has decided that from its own perspective it is "Jewish" and will preserve an option for all Jews to live here in their "homeland". It could maintain a similar option for Palestinians and place limits on both. It could proclaim itself entirely secular while still being the "homeland for the Jewish people". The existence of Jews in a Jewish homeland does not necessarily preclude that others can see it as their homeland too, and that everyone can live in peace together. In the same way, no reasonable person disputes that Jerusalem is sacred to three religions: its sacredness to one religion does not preclude its sacredness to the others.

When we talk about entities such as "the Jewish people" or "the Palestinian people" we are actually only giving credence to myth. That is not important. People are what they believe themselves to be. They are the illusions they cling to, and the affiliations by which their enemies know them too.  Those who see the myth, do so only because they are outsiders or have somehow managed to break free of it. Probably they are clinging just as strongly to other illusions or delusions from which they are unable to extricate themselves.

To return to the picture of the children with the flags, the question is not whether the Israeli flag, or all flags should be burned. They won't be. People will always keep their flags. Flags are not racist.  They are only symbols drawn upon fabric. We humans decide for ourselves what the symbols mean.  The swastika has meant one thing, over millenia, to Hindus and meant something entirely different for Nazis (and their victims).

I look forward to the day when the Israeli flag will not mean that the land of Israel belongs only to Jews, and when it and the Palestinian flag can fly together, or even be merged as they are in this optimistic picture. For that to happen will require an arduous struggle. May it be waged humanely and nonviolently, so that these children and other children will not have their hopes dashed.