Who is a Zionist?
By Rolene Marks
There has been a lot of debate, discussion and social media brouhaha lately over who is or what defines a Zionist.
In simple terms Zionism is nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland. The great civil rights leader, Rev Dr Martin Luther King, was rumoured to have coined this definition of Zionism and I reckon he knew quite a bit about human rights. And he was a Zionist! And he wasn’t Jewish!!
The reason that I am writing about this is important.
After thousands of years of being made well aware that we are unwelcome in many countries, we have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland. The word Zion refers to those biblical times since time immemorial. It is proof that Jews have “indigenous peoples rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, there is antiquity being discovered every day that supports this.
Zionism is also the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of our rights to organize ourselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to our ancient roots and love for Zion. Many thought that with the realization of the modern state of Israel, antisemitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.
I think that saying that the Jews have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is racism. And many agree with me and that is why we have a phenomenal support base that includes many Christians who work tirelessly in support of the Jewish state and Muslims, some of whom put their lives at risk to support Israel.
This has rattled some who believe that only Jews can be Zionists. It is like we belong to a secret group that requires a secret handshake and meets in a treehouse. This philosophy is exclusionary and I find it deeply offensive.
I am a card carrying, loud spoken, flag carrying, Hatikvah singing Zionist. I don’t care much for labels or wings but take exceptional pride in the fact that our beautiful flawed democracy, The State of Israel, is brilliantly multicultural and allows for divergent opinions. Robust discussion and debate is a point of pride in a neighbourhood where you can be killed for disagreeing with the leaders or following a different religion. Are we all not heartbroken by the visuals coming out of Syria or news of Christians being slaughtered in our region?
Is Israel perfect? No – sometimes we are guilty of an epic fail or many but I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and self-correct. I believe that Zionism means you want to see an exemplary Israel. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified, this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Christian, Muslim, left and right.
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
Who are we to behave or treat our supporters differently?
One of my concerns right now as a proud Zionist is the propensity for some to say that Christians cannot be Zionists and if they are they must be on a mission to convert us. This kind of paranoia is dangerous and deeply insulting to our millions of Christian friends who support us whole heartedly. If you are strong in your identity and conviction nobody would be able to convert you anyway so please, stop with the paranoia!!!
I am proud of the many Arab, Druze, Christian and other minority groups who proudly serve in our diplomatic corps and IDF, laying their lives on the line every day for our safety. The rights of minorities while not always respected (and this must be corrected) are enshrined in our Declaration of Independence.
The world is becoming a hostile place for Zionists. Ask the students on campus who are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops ransacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis and BDS supporters in Europe or South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.
We should be opening our arms to our friends of all faiths. Our Christian, Muslim, Hindu and other friends who march defiantly, waving their blue and white proudly, the friends who have come here to Israel to see the facts on the ground for themselves and are loudly proclaiming their support. The friends who at great cost to their safety make the case for Israel in institutions and government buildings where we have been accused of the most vile tomes. On social media and in houses of worship, where some preach hate and incite to kill, there are others who speak of tolerance, peace and their love for the Jewish people.
So if you ask me who is a Zionist, I say I am. And my arms are wide open and hands outstretched to those who say Am Yisrael Chai!
To deny them entry into an exclusive club or doubt their motives is intolerant, discriminatory and downright rude. It smacks of horrible stereotypes and treatment that we have received throughout our history.
It was the dream of another great Zionist who while addressing civil rights in America in the 1960’s, voiced a sentiment that is universal and as relevant today as it was then when he said:
“We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.We cannot turn back.”