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Gabrielle Apfel

The Existence of Israel and the Meaning of Zionism

Flickr - Government Press Office (GPO) - PM Golda Meir visiting kibbutz Ein Gedi https://www.flickr.com/photos/government_press_office/6339664023/
Flickr - Government Press Office (GPO) - PM Golda Meir visiting kibbutz Ein Gedi https://www.flickr.com/photos/government_press_office/6339664023/

In the Torah, the land of Israel is referred to as ‘Zion’, as one of its names. To be a Zionist means to recognise the land of Israel as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people and to believe in the existence of a Jewish state in the land of Zion, or Israel. 

This does not mean that Arab Palestinians are not welcome to remain in Israel, or to form their own state of Palestine; as a progressive Zionist and advocate of the Two State Solution, I welcome both. 

However, Zionists, and one need not be a Jew to be a Zionist, recognise the necessity of a Jewish homeland in Israel. 

The late Israeli author and peace activist, Amos Oz, used an anecdote to perfectly demonstrate the need for a Jewish homeland. In his essay ‘Between Right and Right, Oz tells the story of his father visiting Europe, after living in Mandatory Palestine for several decades. He wrote, “When my father was a little boy in Poland, the streets were covered in graffiti, ‘Jews, go back to Palestine’, or sometimes worse: ‘Dirty y-ds, piss off to Palestine’. When my father revisited Europe fifty years later, the walls were covered with new graffiti, ‘Jews, get out of Palestine’.” 

We Jews, without our own state, are beholden to the will of the peoples who form the majority of the population the lands in which we reside; which, unfortunately, often happens to be populations that aren’t too fond of Jews, leading to them not wanting us to live in their country or in Israel, or, to put it simply, to even exist. 

Buchenwald Survivors Arrive in Haifa (Public Domain)

Before the establishment of the modern State of Israel, we had no permanent country, as a people, to call home; no place that Jewish refugees could flee to and be safe in the knowledge that they and their descendants would never have to experience what they themselves had gone through: persecution or expulsion simply for being Jewish. 

Before the establishment of Israel, persecuted Jews had no Jewish state to flee to. Jews could flee to the British Mandate of Palestine, also officially known at the time as the Land of Israel (EY), but even that wasn’t safe and Jewish refugees weren’t particularly welcome; by the Arabs or the British, who, in issuing the 1939 White Paper, severely restricted Jewish immigration at a time when Jews were fleeing the Nazis in Europe; a policy that continued after the war when the only real place that Holocaust survivors had to go to was the Land of Israel. Massacres of Jews were also all too common in the Land of Israel. The 1929 Palestine riots resulted in the rape and murder of 133 Jews, 339 Jews injured, the depopulation of the Jewish community of Hebron and six entire Jewish villages looted and burnt to the ground. 

Sara Aaronsohn, one of the founders of the pre-British Mandate Palestine espionage ring NILI. (Public domain)

From 1948 to 1980, roughly, 900,000 Jews living in the Middle East and North Africa were expelled from their homes, with about 650,000 fleeing to Israel, the first Jewish state in modern history, and one that could offer them the guarantee that they would not face state-sanctioned persecution or expulsion for simply being Jewish. 

Even most British Jews, in 2023, will have experienced what it is like to be forced to flee their home country, with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn; the man who attended a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the deaths of the terrorists who orchestrated the 1972 Munich Massacre.  

My family, as well as roughly 40% of British Jewry, were seriously considering leaving the country if he became Prime Minister. There was little doubt within the mainstream British Jewish community that the Labour Party had become institutionally antisemitic, and that there was a high possibility that that would translate into widespread societal antisemitism, should a Corbyn premiership have become a reality. 

Luckily, Corbyn was denied a victory in the 2019 General Election in the clearest way possible, achieving Labour’s worst election result since 1935. 

However, unfortunately, looking at the 2023 antisemitism statistics, even stopping Jeremy Corbyn coming to power wasn’t enough to guarantee the safety of Jews in this country – although it certainly did clear British politics of its major antisemitism problem.  

But that is why we have Israel – in case we do end up in a country ruled by a Jeremy Corbyn. 

About the Author
Gabrielle Apfel is a History student at the University of Cambridge. Gabrielle is also a member of the Jewish Labour Movement, and has previously interned at Labour Friends of Israel.
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