The above caveat is often spoken by many Malaysians as a way of distancing themselves from the charge of anti-Semitism. Even Kua Kia Soong wrote recently that it’s important to distinguish between Zionists and Jews; the former is, according to Kua, a ‘racist nationalist movement’ promoting the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, and not all Jews identify with Zionism.
But here, in my opinion, Kua has moved too fast and not carefully enough.
Because what does Zionism really mean?
At its core, the word refers to the movement or drive for Jews to return to─and be sovereign in─the ‘land of Israel’. This movement, originating in the 19th century, was spurred by the fact of the abnormal existence of Diaspora Jews and, of course, aggravated by the numerous pogroms and persecution of Jews in Europe (with Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ being the ultimate one). For centuries, the Jews have lived as persecuted minorities in a land they could never call their own, facing continuous discrimination, insecurity, oppression and violence, or what historian Elie Kedourie called the ‘deep insult of diaspora life’.
Fast forward to 1948 and the creation of the State of Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, a state borne of strife and war. This is a state which wouldn’t exist if not for Zionist ideology and leadership, Zionist networking and organisation, Zionist sacrifice and hardship.
So if I am ‘against Zionism’, that’s really to say that I am against the existence of the state of Israel, which is to say that I do not believe that the Jews have the right to a sovereign state in their ancestral homeland in Palestine (see note 1). How is this at all different from discriminating against the Jews? Why can’t the Jews be given their own state in their ancestral homeland?
[Perhaps a more accurate thing to say is that one is against ‘extremist’ Zionists, especially the kind who would demand more settlements in the disputed territories or those would assassinated their own leaders for daring to trade land for peace with the Palestinians (Rabin’s death comes to mind here). If so, then very rightly we would be challenging extremism and NOT Zionism per se.]
Finally, on the issue of Israel being a racist (or apartheid) state, most people who make this accusation neglect the fact that that no Jew would ever be given equal rights in any Arab-Muslim country. Indeed, all the Islamic states in the Middle-East discriminate against non-Muslims (and especially Jews), with Jordan even having a law explicitly prohibiting Jews from becoming citizens (see note 2). Also, between 1920 and 1970, almost a million Jews were expelled from Muslim countries around the globe.
Is there any surprise, therefore, if Israel’s policies tend to favour the Jews, given the discrimination Jews face in Arab nations?
Then again, Israeli Arabs sit in the Knesset (or the Israeli Parliament), serve on the Israeli Supreme Court, have equal voting rights, head university departments, serve as chief surgeons in leading Israel hospitals and even lead brigades in the Israeli army. Non-Jews may also seek citizenship in Israel with all the rights accorded to Jewish citizens. Quite strange for an ‘apartheid’ state, don’t you think?
Furthermore, if we can accept the existence of Islamic Republics (of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, etc.) with laws which clearly favour Muslims, what is so bad about an explicitly Jewish state which privileges Jews?
Note 1: This, by the way, is what is inscribed within the Palestinian National Charter: The rejection of the state of Israel as illegal regardless of the passage of time.
Note 2: A little known fact is that the area of Jordan constitutes 80% of the original land of Palestine, and that therefore the territory assigned to both Jews and Arabs under the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan─i.e. the portion over which a dozen or so wars have been fought over─was only a fifth of Palestine. Put simply, in 1921 the British already gave four-fifths of Palestine to the Arabs/Jordanians, who then chased out the Jews.