Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A very short essay on Zionism

An email correspondent pointed me to a document put out by the United Church of Canada ahead of their 41st Annual Council next month. The document is called "Report of the Working Group on Israeli/Palestine Policy."

A quick glance at the document shows that while it tries really hard to sound even-handed, it gets many basic facts of history wrong.  It is also obviously heavily influenced by anti-Israel propaganda; for example it reproduces the infamously wrong map series the Israel haters use that I deconstructed here.

A friend asked me to respond to some of the "working group assumptions." There was plenty that is problematic about those assumptions, but fisking them all would take more time than I have, so I only responded to the first two  sentences:
Israel came into existence following recognition of the horrors of the Holocaust. There was wide support throughout the world for the creation of a Jewish homeland.
The implication is that Israel's history begins in 1947. 

My response:

Zionism the the movement for self-determination of the Jewish people.

That Jews are a people is beyond dispute. Jews have been considered a nation by the Jewish people themselves as well as by all of the other nations, whether those nations were friendly or not, since before the days of King David. In 1 Chronicles 17 the Bible itself asks rhetorically of G-d, "Who is like Your people Israel, a unique nation in the world?"

Even before the term Zionism was coined, Jews have been returning to their ancestral lands in the Land of Israel for many centuries. Sometimes individually, often in groups, Jews have risked their lives to return to their Land. Many of them, particularly the communities of Jerusalem and Hebron, essentially never left.

This return to Zion accelerated in the mid-18th century as Jews became more organized in their nationalism. Many Christians supported this movement as well, decades before Theodor Herzl or the First Zionist Congress.

A high point of this nationalist movement came in 1917, when Britain's Lord Balfour declared that the British government "favour[s] the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." In the following decades, the Jews of Palestine built up all of the institutions of a nation, from literally nothing.

All of this happened before the horrors of the Holocaust.

While the Holocaust may have provided an incentive for the nations of the world to understand why a Jewish state was necessary, it was not what created the state of Israel. Indeed, even the UN resolution that called for a second division of Palestine (the first one occurred when TransJordan, formerly Eastern Palestine, was partitioned from the lands on the western side of the Jordan) was not the legal basis for the state of Israel, as it was not legally binding and the Arab nations did not accept it.

Israel exists today both because of the two millennia longing for the Jewish people to return to Zion and because the Palestinian Jews managed to successfully resist a war of annihilation unleashed by every one of her Arab neighbors. The Jewish state was not created; it was reborn.

So it is very deceptive, and indeed insulting, to describe the beginnings of the State of Israel in terms of the slaughter of six million Jews, It began over three thousand years ago, and return to the land of Israel has been the focal point of every Jew for generation after generation.

The State of Israel is not a state built out of guilt or pity. It is a state built on centuries of dreams, thousands of lives and millions of tears.