This article currently appears in the WIZO Review:
Maligned and misunderstood, emotive and provocative, the word Zionism is guaranteed to elicit very strong reactions when mentioned.
In the years since its inception and the forming of the first World Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland in 1897, Zionism has been reinvented, reinterpreted and robust discussion has taken place over the merits and relevance of Zionism in today’s fast changing world.
The dream of a State of Israel for the Jewish people has been realized and many have debated whether or not Zionism is still relevant in our daily lives.
The most basic definition of Zionism is the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient ancestral homeland, Israel. In the years that have passed since the birth of the State of Israel it would seem that Zionism is the only national liberation movement of a people that is derided and questioned.
Legendary civil rights leader and supporter of Zionism, Rev Dr Martin Luther King
In 1975, the United Nations passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. Even though this resolution was revoked in 1991, the damage was done. The seed was planted and the foundation was laid to portray Israel as a pariah state, equal to that of Apartheid South Africa. It became legitimate in public discourse to call Israel an Apartheid state and this really gained momentum in 2001 with the UN Conference on Racism held in Durban, South Africa.
It was here that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) really exploded in to the international consciousness. BDS activists knew that the irony and symbolism of launching at such a conference in South Africa, the home of Apartheid would give their movement the impetus they desired. Israel and the Jewish world were rudely awakened by the sophisticated organization of this campaign that included some of the worst invective since pre-war Germany and saw the birth of the international hate fest known as Israel Apartheid Week that takes place on university campuses around the world during March every year. The new anti-Semitism is wrapped up in the cloak of anti-Zionism and the central charge is Israel is an Apartheid state which must be dismantled at all costs.
Billboards in Johannesburg, South Africa contain quotes from Nelson Mandela on Zionism
In 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in response to the barrage of rockets launched at her citizens from Gaza. Instead of empathizing with Israel’s citizens who were running to their shelters several times a day, Israel’s detractors used this as an opportunity to release some of the worst venom that sometimes culminated in violent acts against Jewish communities in their countries, giving rise to a tsunami of anti-Semitic hatred. From France to Germany, USA to South Africa, Jewish communities became targets in synagogues, schools, restaurants and across various social media platforms.
For the first time since 1945, the cry of “Jews to the gas” or ‘Jews, Hitler should have finished the job” became the rally call of the haters. Their methods are quite transparent. They wrap their “concern” for Palestinian human rights in condemnation of Israel and her Diaspora communities but it is apparent that if they cared about these rights their anger would be directed at Hamas.
It all sounds bleak and very threatening so how do we deal with threats to our identity in an increasingly hostile world?
It is my belief that if we do not stand for something, we will fall for anything. In the modern social media savvy world we too have access to all the platforms that our detractors do. We too are protected by constitutions and laws in various countries. We too, have a voice.
WIZO protests the invitation of terrorist hijacker, Leila Khaled to South Africa by BDS
And it is a voice that deserves to be heard. We need to be heard. At every opportunity and on every platform we can. We as WIZO women, who proudly carry the word Zionism in our name are duty bound to take up this call and educate those in our Federations and communities. We need to know what the facts are, we need to be armed with the truth and we need to have courage in the face of all this to stand up for ourselves.
The best way to answer those who call for our destruction, question our legitimacy as a nation or brand us as racists is to be proud of who we are and be strong in our identity. Telling the Jewish people that they have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is racism. Telling the Jewish people that they have no right to an identity or to sit at the table with the rest of the family of nations is racism.
We are living in a time when people are fearful and this is understandable. Organisations like WIZO can help prepare and strengthen our communities. We are called to duty and to arms – armed with the truth.
This is why it is important to be armed with facts. We cannot abdicate responsibility anymore by saying it is the work of the government or politicians. We are all responsible for each other.
As WIZO women we have the privilege of leading the charge. Not only are we grooming future leaders but we are educating our global community. Wearing our identity proudly and unapologetically in our name, we WIZO Wonder Women continue to live up to our tenet we care, we share and we dare.
Let us heed the call to arms. Let facts, truth and pride be our weapons of choice.
Je Suis Juif. I am a Jew.