Those who remember UN resolution 3379 (1975) which incorrectly stated that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”, will no doubt recall the political battles that Jews in the diaspora had to endure, especially on campus and within left wing circles. Yet, as a community, we seemed to be organised in fighting those who tried to delegitimise Zionism. We were eventually rewarded in 1991 when the UN voted by 111 votes to 25, with 13 abstentions, to repeal the resolution and right a terrible wrong. It will probably come as no surprise that the majority of the 25 who voted against were, as the New York Times reported, “mostly Islamic and hard-line Communists [States]”.
Not only was this a great victory, but it signalled a period where Israel’s legitimacy was no longer being questioned in mainstream circles. Fast forward 25 years or so, and it seems we have completed a 1800 turn. We see blatant anti-Semitism in the form of anti-Zionism in UNWRA, in UNESCO, in the UN Human Rights Council, in the British Labour party and associated groups such as the Oxford Union Labour Club, and more recently in NGOs such as World Vision. And we also observe it in groups such as Black Lives Matter, who instead of concentrating on the struggle for equality for the Black community, have decided to not only side with the Palestinian struggle, but at the same time deny Jewish self-determination in our historical homeland.
So what has happened over the last 25 years to create this U-turn towards Zionism and with it an increase in global anti-Semitism? Some could argue it is the lack of a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, whilst others may point to poor Israeli communications and advocacy. Some may put it down to pure and simple anti-Semitism. Whatever the reason, what does seem apparent is that the Palestinians have managed to link their ‘struggle’ to almost every other struggle in the world, thereby reinforcing the image they have created of being continually oppressed. They have successful managed to convince many in the world, especially those on the left and in political institutions such as the EU and the UN, that they are the modern day ‘David’ and Israel is ‘Goliath’. That they are the indigenous people and the Jews are the colonialist settlers who have stolen their land. They have even had success in some circles in challenging Ashkenazi Jews’ lineage to Judaism itself!
And whilst this was happening, world Jewry was by and large getting on with its everyday life and did not notice what was transpiring. Naturally, there were some exceptions, but we have been very late to the party and as a result now find ourselves on the back foot trying to undo what has been done. For many of us who are in our 30s and 40s upwards, we may feel secure in our definition and belief in Zionism, however our main concern should be with our youth who are being fed anti-Zionist lies. Once again, our future generation are growing up seeing the anti-Zionist propaganda on University and College campuses, throughout the press and in NGOs and human rights groups, organisations many of us would like to support, but due to their anti-Zionism and denial of Jewish self-determination, we find difficult to actually do so.
So what as a community can we do to challenge this narrative both for the good of Zionism, and for our Jewish youth?
For one, we need to be more proactive. We need to find a narrative and key messages that can be repeated and reiterated time and time again. These messages need to resonate with the heart as well as the mind, and they need to also resonate with the general public. They need to allow us and not our adversaries to set the way Israel is spoken about. And we need to give the tools and knowledge to people, especially our youth, about Zionism, what it means and its successes. We need to do this so that we all feel strong enough to publically declare our Zionism, and that Zionism is a positive movement. To do this, we need to have the discussion within our communities as to what Zionism is, the different aspects of Zionism and what it means to us. And we need to be able to do this in a safe environment where people, especially our youth feel confident in being able to participate and question. Because only when we can have these debates and discussions, can we begin to foster an awareness of what Zionism is, what Israel means to us as Jews, and to find our own individual place within Zionism. Only then will we, as the pro-Israel community, begin to feel confident and sure within ourselves, confident enough to start challenging and changing the negative narrative we so often see when it comes to Israel.