Zionism is not Judaism: It is not anti-Semitic to reject Zionism

Suzanne Ross. SLL photo: Lallan Schoenstein

The following is based on a statement originally written for a protest at Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s office In Washington Heights, New York City, because he refused to join the worldwide call for a ceasefire in Gaza. Since then, Espaillat has plastered the windows of his office with pictures of Israeli hostages seized by Hamas. The problem is not in calling for the release of the Israeli captives, but it is outrageous to have not even one picture of a Palestinian when over 20,000 Palestinians, including 8,000 children, have been massacred in Gaza in the past two and a half months. Does only Israeli life matter in the face of a genocidal war on Palestinians? What recognition is there by the congressman of this district of the value of Palestinian life? I have been living in Washington Heights, in particular in Representative Espaillat’s district, for over 40 years. I feel very much like part of the community and have raised my family here as both a mother and grandmother. The Representative’s racism, although he is a Dominican living in a multi-ethnic community, is unacceptable.

We must distinguish between Zionism and Judaism: Zionism is a fundamentally racist ideology

I was born before World War II in Nazi Europe to religious Jewish parents in Belgium who had come from Germany and Poland. We were part of a large extended family. Once the Nazi occupation took hold in Belgium, most of our family tried to escape. My nuclear family traveled all over Europe and North Africa for a year before we found a haven in Mozambique. All four of us survived, but 2/3 of my extended family, aunts, uncles, and cousins, including six of my mother’s siblings, perished both in Poland and Belgium in the ghettos and concentration camps.

Throughout my growing up, wherever we were, I was always very conscious of being Jewish. Our home was a traditional Jewish home, and my parents always sought out other Jewish families. But we were not Zionists. Even in the one year we spent in Palestine from 1944 to 1945, I don’t think I ever heard my parents speak about us being in the Holy Land. In fact, they chose to leave Palestine as soon as we gained entry into the U.S. 

It was not until the State of Israel was established in 1948 that I became conscious of Zionism in our home, in our synagogue, and in the parochial school, a Yeshiva, that my brother and I attended. Zionism became a part of our life for the first time. I recently found a composition I wrote in 1949 when I was in the 7th grade, that talked about how Israel was a small and weak country, surrounded by many hostile Arab nations, which it miraculously defeated. 

We became part of the growing Zionist consciousness and community in New York. I did not understand the supposed irrational hostility of the Arab nations toward Israel. But by the 1967 Arab-Israel War, I could see that Israel was no longer this small, weak country that it always claimed to be. There was even an Israeli song we all sang: “Our country, our tiny country.” Israel had defeated the Arab nations and was hailed for its military prowess. This 1967 war had hugely increased Israel’s size, now occupying land that had not been part of its original boundaries as established by the 1947 US-Great Britain-backed UN Partition Plan, which had already greatly favored the Zionists and had not included the indigenous people in its development. 

I began to seriously question the narrative I had been hearing since 1948. Israel was not that “tiny,” and the image of an innocent bystander was less and less credible, with the national hero of Israel, Moshe Dayan, honored around the world for his military feats and projected as a macho Israeli leader. The myths were being chipped, eventually cracked, and finally, I seriously questioned what I had been learning as dogma. I became a skeptic about Zionism.

After college, I checked out the autobiography of the founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzl. I was horrified by his Eurocentric and self-hating worldview as a Jew. Yet many years later, in 1975, I was very upset when the UN General Assembly passed a resolution that Zionism was racism. What? Jews were so much, by definition, seen as victims of anti-Semitism, certainly a form of racism. How could Zionism, espoused as an ideology and vision by Jews, be considered racist? Yet, deep down, I knew there was something to this. As I became more politically active in opposing the War in Vietnam and learned about unjust occupations, I came to seriously question the U.S. and Israeli narrative about the Zionists v. the Palestinians. 

Perhaps most dramatic was the map of Palestine showing a very diminished Arab section and a larger and larger Jewish section, totally changing even the unfair partition imposed by the UN. After the Oslo Accords in the 1980s and 1990s, I learned about the separate roads for Israelis v the Palestinians in Israel and the torturous checkpoints for Palestinians. I more and more recognized the Apartheid nature of Israel. I learned that I (along with millions of others, Jews and non-Jews) had been lied to about the history of Zionism and the creation of the state with the backing of the British and U.S. Empires. In the past decade, I was further outraged by what I learned about the original intentions of the Zionist leaders to rely on ethnic cleansing as “necessary” to displace the Palestinians and secure the State of Israel and the boundaries the Zionist movement sought. 

My family’s experience and devastation in the Nazi Holocaust taught me the vow of NEVER AGAIN FOR OUR PEOPLE AND ALL PEOPLES. The more I learned about the reality of the Zionist vision and its practice, the more alienated I became from Zionism. I am today an anti-Zionist and yet remain very much Jewish and tied to the culture, religion, and history. It is not anti-Semitic to oppose Zionism

A distinction is finally being made between Judaism and Zionism. Judaism is not the same as Zionism. One can reject Zionism, a product of the late 1800s, and still love or accept Judaism (even with its contradictions). In 1898, Herzl announced his vision of Zionism as a movement to settle Jews in the “empty” land of Palestine. This was a white supremacist agenda and not only excluded non-Jews, including the indigenous people, but also brown and black Jews. Differentiating between Zionism and Judaism has made it possible to speak out against Israel and still remain Jewish. It has made the charge of anti-Semitism levied against anyone opposing Israel or Zionist ideology a ridiculous charge. 

Tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews are now able to differentiate between Zionism and Judaism. That differentiation has had a profound impact on the growing powerful and leading Jewish opposition to the ongoing genocidal war against Palestine. In these past two months, a major disruption of travel at New York’s Grand Central Station on a Friday afternoon rush hour, the takeover of the Statue of Liberty, the takeover of the Congressional Rotunda in Washington, and so on are actions initiated by Jews against the Zionist agenda in Gaza and all of Palestine. A liberated Left Jewish voice, a long-silenced one, is finally being heard again. I would never have predicted even a year ago such a huge Jewish rebellion against Zionism, against the horrors of Israel with its racist and fascist leadership, and its right-wing popular support. 

So many of us were wrongly convinced by the U.S. and Israeli propaganda (“Hasbara”) that the only answer to the Nazi Holocaust was a Jewish State. In that spirit, we call for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the genocidal war we are witnessing in Gaza and the West Bank, and an end to the occupation of Palestine.

Suzanne Ross, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, educator, and anti-imperialist activist. suzannewross@aol.com


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