I grew up in London and hit my teenage years in the late 1980’s, at the peak of the first intifada. On the news every night I watched reports of Israeli soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets at young Palestinians. The UN’s infamous resolution 3379 hadn’t yet been repealed. Zionism was apparently racism. But I was having none of it. I read Zionist philosophy, Israeli history, everything I could to find some answers. I came to a very simple conclusion. Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, the belief that the Jewish people should have a homeland. I was all for it and wanted the whole world to know. At the time I used to wear a small purple badge that said ‘I’m a Zionist’ in small white letters. It was a badge of pride and a shield against the critics. They knew that if they wanted to be anti-Zionist, in my presence, they had to deal with me. I was a person with an identity and emotions and values. If they wanted a discussion, I would discuss it. If they wanted an argument, well I could do that too.
This week the UK has been rocked by sensational allegations that one of its top Universities is a hotbed of extreme anti-Zionism. The Co-Chair of the Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, resigned because of the increasingly offensive expression of anti-Zionism by his student colleagues. In his resignation letter he said that “a large proportion of both the Labour Club and the student left, in Oxford more generally, have some kind of problem with Jews.” UK Labour Students are currently conducting an inquiry that is due to report next week. The allegations are serious and the comments cited are deeply disturbing.
A very popular London radio station held a phone-in discussion, later that day, asking if anti-Zionism amounted to Antisemitism. The callers huffed and puffed in various ill-informed and insensitive directions. But it was very clear that no one had the faintest idea what Zionism actually means. One caller assumed it meant full-throated support for the Israeli Government and everything it does. Another said there was no agreed definition of Zionism. I got so frustrated that I tried in vain to call into the show. The call handler was very interested, when I defined my Zionism and my support for a Palestinian state, but explained that we were sadly out of time.
As I cycled home that night, racing a little too fast around Regents Park, I suddenly remembered my little purple badge and I was troubled.
Have we given too much ground to our opponents? Is it all too easy for them to vilify Zionism when there aren’t any real-life, functioning, breathing Zionists standing in their way. How can we win this battle against the anti-Zionists when we are not even offering a coherent definition of Zionism? Yes, there are Israel supporters of all shapes and sizes but when the ‘Z’ word is thrown about do enough of us stand up and proudly proclaim that we are Zionists and what Zionism is?
I am not an expert on Antisemitism and haven’t got the space here to enter into a treatise about when anti-Zionism becomes Antisemitism. But, if you’re an anti-Zionist and you want to tell me to my face that the Jews can’t have a homeland, and you express that in violent, unpleasant language, then you need to understand how deeply offensive that is to me and most other Jewish people.
This weekend I am driving over to my parents’ house. I am going to search through the musty boxes of memorabilia in my old bedroom and do everything I can to find that little purple badge. Because the time has come to put it back on again.