One of the most shameful episodes in United Nations history was when Yasser Arafat threatened the United Nations: (after removing the gun from his holster) “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” That threat bullied the United Nations into granting the Palestinians observer status at the United Nations. One year later the United Nations passed resolution 3379, stating “Zionism is racism.” 75 countries agreed with this sentiment about Zionism. Ultimately the resolution was revoked, but the stigma against Zionism remained.
While not all anti-Zionism is based in antisemitism, it’s difficult to divorce the two from each other. The IHRA principles of antisemitism include, “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” Zionism is a political movement that aims to achieve and protect the Jewish right to self-determination. When one objects to Zionism, they object to the right of self-determination for the Jewish people – which is antisemitic. It’s no coincidence that a report on antisemitism from ADL’s Center on Extremism found anti-Israel groups on US college and university campuses frequently demean and ostracizes pro-Israel Jewish students, and occasionally descend into antisemitism.
The most prevalent motivator of anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Thousands of years of research has offered a myriad of theories to the causes of antisemitism, but no definitive cause has been demonstrated. In an ironic twist, some of the theories are themselves antisemitic! People who hate Jews – for whatever reason – obviously don’t want the Jewish people to have their own state on their own land. Antisemitism often presents itself as anti-Zionism.
The Jewish people aren’t just a religion, they are a nation. A Jew who doesn’t maintain Judaism as part of their life, having rejected the Torah’s values and axioms, is still a member of the Jewish nation. All nations deserve the right of self-determination. The nation of the Jews, historically known as Israelites, deserve to determine their own future. Anti-Zionists view Jews as belonging to one religion, not one nation. Their denial of Jewish nationhood is a more heinous immorality than their hatred of Zionism, but one undoubtedly leads to the other.
Zionism wasn’t just a movement to actualize Jewish self-determination – it focused on a place as well. The Jewish people are the indigenous people of the land of Israel. Zionism aimed to bring the Jewish people back to their ancestral homeland, the land of Israel. When anti-Zionists deny the nationhood of the Jewish people, they’re also denying the Jewish people the rights to their land. The same claim made against the Jewish people – they’re not a nation so they don’t deserve to determine their own future as a people – is applied to the Jewish people with land. They’re not a nation, so they don’t deserve their own land. More insidious of an accusation is the denial of the historical connection of the Jewish people to their own land. Anti-Zionists frequently peddle the false claim that Jews are colonialist foreigners who came from Europe to occupy a native people’s land.
Whether it’s antisemitism, the denial of the Jewish people as a nation, the refusal to recognize the right of Jewish self-determination, or the validity of the Jewish nation to their own homeland, or the historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, anti-Zionism is unjustifiable. Anti-Zionists aim to cancel the Jewish people and their rights, and the only legitimate response to that hate is to shine a light on it and call it out for what it is – ignorant slander.
Inherent to the values of Zionism is proclaiming the movement and its values’ legitimacy. For two thousand years the people of the world, whether they were Pagan, Christian or Muslim, denied the Jewish people their rights as a nation. Zionism dreamed that Jews should be equal to the other nations of the world and reclaim their rights. Allowing others to decry Zionism as racist, illegitimate or without validity is to abandon the battle Zionists have successfully fought for over 150 years.
Many argue that Zionism is a movement that has lived past its expiration date. They claim that Zionism aimed to establish a Jewish homeland in Israel, and it achieved its goal in 1948. Now that there’s a state of Israel, Zionism is no longer a necessary movement. Zionism is the philosophical backbone of the continuous existence of a Jewish state and as long as the world lends credence to anti-Zionists, it remains a necessary cause. Zionists must stand up for themselves and their rightsIn early 1958 Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik zt”l delivered a talk where he shared his concerns about the future emerging State of Israel. Rabbi Soloveitchik said, “The Jew has experienced prosecution and brutality. We never had a state, we never had political province. What if we had been a state in the Middle Ages? How would we have acted – just like the feudal lords, or would we have acted differently because of Jewish values? Who knows? Now with the State of Israel, the test has come, we are facing the test, will we behave like any other state ethically? Will we restrain ourselves from engaging in certain injustices, so-to-say praxis which are in conflict with basic Judaic ethics, or will we yield temptation?”
Rabbi Soloveitchik continued, “Here we have an opportunity, the Jews are the rulers, they legislate the laws, they are so-to-say the masters. Will we act like masters, or will we understand that Judaism doesn’t know the concept of master and slave, victor and vanquished, powerful and weak? This is my problem with regards to the State of Israel.”
“The whole of Jewish history will be interpreted in terms of what the State of Israel will do in the next 50 years. If the State of Israel doesn’t live up to Jewish ethics, people will reinterpret Jewish history in a whole different light. The question is not whether Israel will defeat the Arabs on the field of battle… [but] whether we’ll defeat our evil within our own community and be victorious in this field? To me this is the most important problem. “
Rabbi Soloveitchik focused on the Jewish history of being oppressed by Gentile rulers. Governing brings out the worst of human nature and rulers generally oppress their people. For the first time in 1900 years Jews have found themselves the rulers. Rabbi Soloveitchik taught the challenge facing the Jewish people with their newfound state was whether they’d remember their history and values and become benevolent rulers over their Arab minority or forget those values and become oppressive rulers.
70 years later the world slanders Israel and accuses Israel of failing Rabbi Soloveitchik’s challenge and becoming oppressive rulers over their Arab minority and Palestinians. Slanderous voices claim there is rampant racism practiced by Jewish Israelis against Arab Israelis. Israel’s adversaries accuse Israel of denying Palestinians freedom, treating them in apartheid like conditions and of occupying Palestinian land. Even some of Israel’s friends decry Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. They believe the narrative of the suffering Palestinian and hold Israel responsible for Palestinian suffering. They ask why Israel can’t be more flexible, offer more generous solutions, and empathize with the Palestinian condition.
The accusations against Israel can be divided into two categories. First, the Jews stole Palestinian land. While Palestinian activists in America refer to the West Bank as the stolen Palestinian land, the Palestinians in the Middle East consider all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea to be Palestinian land. There is no room for a Jewish State. Is Israel ruling over the West Bank and greater Eretz Yisrael consistent with Jewish values? The Torah declares that all the land, whether it be Tel Aviv or Hevron, Jerusalem or Haifa, are all Jewish lands. Jewish values stem from the Torah. A primary Jewish value is settling our land.There is no Jewish value of abandoning Jewish ancestral land because others claim it is their land.
The second category of accusations against Israel claims Israel mistreats Palestinians. Israel’s critics consider any behavior that upsets Palestinians or doesn’t allow them the rights of Israeli citizens is oppression – and even apartheid. This accusation doesn’t stand the test of reality. A careful inspection of Israel’s policies against the United Nations list of human rights clearly demonstrates Israel doesn’t deny Palestinians any human rights. Palestinian civil rights are the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility. Israel isn’t violating any Jewish values when Palestinian leadership oppresses their own people. Palestinian suffering isn’t caused by Israeli policy, but by Palestinian Authority and Hamas policies meant to subjugate Palestinians.
Many of the Israeli policies towards Palestinians that even our friends criticize: checkpoints, restricted movement, refusing Palestinians entrance into Israel and Jewish areas, aren’t a restriction on Palestinian rights and are borne of security needs. In a choice between benevolence towards Palestinians and Israeli security – and yes, those are the choices, Israel must choose the security of its citizens. It’s not only Jewish values that dictate that decision, every country makes the exact same choice in its immigration policies. Israel’s policies towards Palestinians are perfectly in line with Jewish values.
I wasn’t a student of Rav Soloveitchik and I don’t know how he would have judged Israel’s actions. I think an honest assessment of how Israel has governed will show Israel isn’t perfect but has governed in accordance with Jewish values. Israel has granted Arabs who stayed in Israel after 1948 full citizenship, with equal rights to Jewish Israeli citizens. Israeli Arabs have the highest standard of living of all Arabs in the Middle East, with full civil rights and health care that is the envy of most of the world. In 1967 Israel captured the Golan Heights and Judea and Samaria (West Bank). At the time, only four Arab cities in the West Bank had running water and there were few roads built. Since then, Israel has greatly improved the infrastructure of the West Bank. Palestinian population numbers, life expectancy and quality of life has greatly improved.
There’s no doubt that many Arab-Israelis and Palestinians would rather the Jewish state disappear and they – for the first time – rule over the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Israel’s refusal to appease those Arabs and Palestinians doesn’t make them oppressive rulers. Israel and the Jewish people have a right to rule their own land, and ruling Eretz Yisrael is consistent with Jewish values.If Rav Soloveitchik were alive today, I hope he’d be proud of how the government of Israel and its people have ruled their land.