I am often asked by opponents and fellow proponents of Zionism alike: how and/or why did I become such a staunch advocate of the Jewish homeland? None of the links to my website and social media space cited in my bio will provide the answer to the question. The question could as easily be asked about some of the other causes I espouse, such the preservation of Middlesbrough’s open spaces, or Fairfield Mansion in the city of Bath, or the establishment of a publicly-accountable government and an end to state-sanctioned violation of basic human rights in my native Zimbabwe. However, advocating for some of these other causes does not bring out quite the same reaction as being a self-declared Zionist doess. So, I thought that this blog post will explore my journey from watching on the margins, to parachuting into a warzone for social media space, armed to the teeth with facts and a way with words.
My journey begins in the city of Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe, 2001 with a CNN interview of Benyamin Netanyahu during the UN-sponsored World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance which was being held in Durban, South Africa. The conference was trying to add Zionism to the list of different forms of racism. An indignant Netanyahu pointed out that Israel is the one country in recent memory to take Blacks out of Africa not to enslave them, but free them. Although I was aware of Operation Moses, I had never given this fact about Israel that much consideration. Looking back, it was like an ideological immunization jab, rendering me invincible to the kind of propaganda that is tailored for African and Black audiences.
Zimbabwe is predominantly a Christian country, although many Zimbabweans adhere to varying degrees to the pre-colonial ancestor-veneration religion. This has shaped the general perception of Israel and Jewish people. However, the regime of Robert Mugabe has ties to the PLO. Yasser Arafat was a frequent visitor, I saw him a few times as a child, this avuncular man in military khaki with a tablecloth on his head. His representative, Mr Ali Halimeh, was Dean of the Diplomatic Corps until 2002, when he was posted to Ireland. That was the year Mugabe won for himself another term in office, and many Zimbabweans began to leave the country.
Before I left too, I was selected to take part in a training programme conducted by Idit Schechori of the School of Screenwriting, Tel Aviv. In the second session, she overheard us discussing reports of a bombing in Tel Aviv. Apparently, the Embassy had kept that news from her (or she wasn’t watching CNN like the rest of us) but Idit immediately rang up someone in Tel Aviv. Had we known that she had been in the dark about the incident, we would have had the good sense to not mention it in her presence. In ChiShona, the saying goes, Afirwa haatariswi kumeso (literally: “One does not look at the bereaved directly in the eyes”), meaning that it is inappropriate to remind to someone at a social gathering that they have problems at home. Nevertheless, we asked her what it was like to live in a country where a ride on a bus or a trip to the mall was a life risk. That took me back to that time in 1987 when a bomb went off at Avondale Shopping Centre near my school. That is the closest personal experience I have that I could possibly dare compare to what Israelis go through.
It was when I came to England that I realized how topical Israel is, with posters, marches and soapbox demagoguery everywhere. But none of the English socialists, Asian Muslim preachers and “Conscious” Blacks who had stalls on the streets could present a cogent argument against the right of Israel to exist or prove any of the wild claims they were making against her. Who needs a cogent argument when you can dismiss your opponent as an employee of Mossad or an ignorant African who is yet to learn about the world?
I think that it is this assault on facts and reason that has, more than anything has made me a more active Zionist. I have found myself challenging the lies that being circulated on social media. To be better able to do this, I have had to learn more about Israel and its history. I have also undertaken to learn about all the different groups opposed to the State of Israel. It is this information that forms the basis of my opinions. All my opponents have are Straw Man fallacies and ad hominem attacks.
To answer those who ask me why I speak out for Israel: I do so because there are lies being told about this country and her people in places where they are not in a position to refute these lies or demonstrate them to be false. I have refused to accept and/or repeat the lies being spread about this country. I have refused to be cowed by the bullying, the public vilification, the threats of loss of friendship. When I was in Zimbabwe, I never went about talking about Israel because there was no propaganda campaign against the Zionist homeland there.
It has been an interesting journey, from arguments on Facebook and with street orators at Speakers Corner, Hyde Park, to blogging. Slowly, my voice is being heard in my town, Middlesbrough, and beyond. I know this is the case, because I am finding the welcome mat a lot thinner in many places than it used to be a few months ago when everyone assumed (because I am Black) that I am anti-Israel. More importantly, I am becoming part of an international network of other people who recognise that Israel urgently needs friends that will speak for her in places where she is not in a position to speak for herself. Together, we will turn the tide.