Wednesday, December 29, 2010


What is Zionism?

Yesterday (Tuesday, December 28) I read the letters section in the Op-Ed pages of the Los Angeles Times.  One of the writers commented on the current stand-off between Palestinians and Israelis regarding the negotiations leading to a peace settlement.  This writer alleged that the problem would be solved very quickly if only the Palestinians would agree to the existence of a Zionist state (i.e., Israel) in the region.  Since the Palestinians refuse to agree that Israel has a right to exist, there can be no progress on negotiations.

I've pondered this proposition.  What is meant by a Zionist state?  What are the implications in a right of Israel to exist?  Above all, why is it that the Palestinians, who have lived in the area for two thousand years, are the ones who have to make all the concessions?

Let's consider a few definitions of Zionism.
  1. Zionism means that Jews living anywhere in the world have a right to move to the Biblical land of Israel and live there.  The land was given to them thousands of years ago by God and they have a right to it.  Any non-Jews who happen to be living in the territory will have to make room for any Jews that decide to settle there.
  2. Zionism means that, because of the persistent persecution of Jews in many European countries, a national homeland should be established in areas near Jerusalem where Jews can live and practice their religion in peace.
  3. Zionism means that, in order that Jews may safely practice their religion, a religious state must be established in which Jews can be citizens and elect governments that will protect them.
  4. Zionism is strictly a religious movement and has nothing to do with government.
Israeli leaders seem to operate on the assumption that Zionism is defined by items 1 and 3 above.  Jews have a sacred right to the territory of Biblical Israel and must establish a government of the territory that will protect them from all enemies.

I can't blame the Palestinians from rejecting the Israeli leaders' definition of Zionism.  I can't accept it myself and I am not a Palestinian.  Of the four partial definitions, I can accept only number 2.  The Jews deserve a national homeland.  They do not deserve a religious state.  They certainly do not have a moral right to seize property owned by the Palestinians and expropriate it for their own use.  However, as an American, my moral criticism sounds hypocritical.  My forebearers took land from the indigenous people who lived here and established their own farms, factories, cities, and other features of our civilization.  The indigenous people were killed off by diseases like measles and small pox as well as by frequent wars.  The survivors have been herded into reservations, where they live in poverty for the most part.  The Israelis are simply following our example.

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