Zionism: Don’t Define What You Don’t Understand

A photo posted to X/Twitter shows a protestor waiving a Palestinian flag from above the Mount Sinai Hospital sign in Toronto, Canada. (MELISSA LANTSMAN/TWITTER

On October 7th, 2023, the Iran-backed Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, launched a chain of large-scale attacks against Israel, targeting nearby cities, kibbutzim and the Nova Music Festival while kidnapping hundreds and killing over a thousand innocent Israelis. This was the worst massacre committed against the Jewish people since the Holocaust. 

Hamas is openly antisemitic and their intentions to harm Jewish people aren’t kept hidden – in fact, they brag about killing Jewish people, and on October 7th, posted videos of these vile acts online for the world to see. Hamas is a roadblock to peace, as they continue to use Palestinians as human shields by hiding key weapons infrastructure in tunnels underground below hospitals, schools, neighborhoods, and even an UNRWA office

Recently, in response to the reported casualties of IDF ground operations in Gaza, protests have taken place across the world in support of an immediate unconditional ceasefire. These protests include the blockade at the Bronfman building at McGill University, the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and numerous others across the country. What many of these protests lack are calls to release the hostages, end Hamas tyranny, and set the Palestinian people in Gaza on the right path; one that is democratic, represents their needs, and wants to coexist with Israel, not destroy it.

Being in a university environment means that I am often exposed to many different ways of thinking. Most recently, I walked by a poster equating Zionism with colonialism. I was perplexed, knowing that the history of the founding of Israel is one of the greatest stories of decolonization. After being exiled from Israel in 70 CE, the Jewish people have had to face extreme hardships including famine, war, hatred and genocide, before making it back to their homeland. Jews can trace their ancestry back to the land of Israel, and the Jewish people are called “Jews” because we come from the land of Judea. This includes our culture, language (Hebrew), DNA and religion.

Many attribute the founding of Zionism to Journalist and Political Activist Theodor Herzl. Zionism argues that Jewish people are not just a religious community, but a displaced national group from ancient times. Like everyone else, Jewish people have a right to self-determination within a state of their own. Finally, the Jewish peoples’ state has only ever been located in the land of Israel. Zionism itself is a peaceful ideology that aims to support an indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination in land they once had a state in. While the term Zionism is only a few centuries old, the idea that Jewish people should return to Zion is thousands of years old, repeated throughout the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and reiterated throughout modern and historical Jewish practices.

How is it that Zionism, an ideology that expresses an indigenous people’s connection to their land and their belief that they should return, is villainized? Those who compare Zionism to colonialism overlook critical historical facts. While colonial powers exploited foreign lands for economic gain, Zionism formed as a response to centuries of discrimination faced by Jews. Jewish people longed for self-determination and wanted to move back to their homeland, as it holds deep religious and cultural significance.

Recent protests, like the one at Mount Sinai Hospital and the Bronfman building at McGill University have used the term “Zionist” to spew antisemitic statements. Signs depicting Israeli politicians as Hitler, while also equating Zionism with Nazism, are often displayed at these protests. One can support Israeli and Palestinian rights at the same time. Therefore, it is libelous and untrue to claim that a Zionist, someone who simply believes that the Jewish people should be allowed to live in their indigenous homeland, is automatically a Colonialist (which we now know is not true); is against Palestinian rights (which is also not true), and a Nazi (do I really need to explain this one?).

People continue to incorrectly define Zionism and equate it with many other radical ideologies. What they do not realize is that Zionism is a key aspect of Judaism, and Zionism is not theirs to define.

About the Author
Jonah Beckenstein is a Political Science student at the University of Ottawa, originally from Toronto, Canada.
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