There is a time when certain words have outlived their usefulness. I believe that “Zionism” is a word whose time has come and gone.
I first discovered a problem with the word some fifty years ago when I was a Canadian exchange student in Beijing. At my school I met many students from Africa and Asia, including my first Palestinians. Whenever the conversation turned to the Israeli-Arab conflict, I came to understand that their view of Zionism was the obverse of my own. Where I saw the historic ingathering of Jews into our ancient homeland, they saw the displacement of indigenous Palestinians. While I saw Zionism as a big tent embracing many perspectives from communist to capitalist, and from atheist to religious, and peacenik to ultra-nationalist, they identified Zionism only as aggressively expansionist and racist. What I saw as the problems Israel had to address, issues like the occupied territories, the settlements, and the rights of Palestinian refugees, they considered as Zionism in action.
The perspective I observed fifty years ago in China have become more mainstream in the Western world today and the old UN resolution “Zionism is racism” is now featured as Israeli or Zionist “apartheid” in many a pro-Palestinian demonstration.
While that is to be expected, the fact is that for many people Zionism today epitomizes extremism. It stands for the continuing expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank regardless of Palestinian rights and, recently, we’ve even witnessed the fanatical desire to resettle Jews in the ruins of Gaza. Today, Zionism represents those who claim the superiority of Jewish rights over Palestinian rights and the continued domination of the Jewish nation over the Palestinians. Until such time as the Palestinians are treated on an equal footing to Israeli Jews, Zionism will characterize the most negative aspects of its diverse ideology.
It is time to declare that Zionism is dead. Mission accomplished. Zionism’s original purpose, the ingathering of Jewish people and the creation of a Jewish state, was accomplished decades ago. To be sure, there will always be more Jews for Israel to absorb, but only the most ideological Zionists still hold that all Jews should live in Israel or that Israel should expand to some mythic maximalist borders.
So let’s say “shalom” to Zionism and thank its advocates for a job well done. Today, despite the horrors of 7 October, Israel is a reality whose existence only its most fanatical opponents would try to deny. Today, Israel’s task is to build on Zionism’s foundation by erecting a state that represents all its citizens equally and that looks forward, once and for all, to living in peace with the Palestinian nation and with the Arab world in whatever way they can determine together.
Zionism is dead. Long live Israel.