Why I... believe Zionism isn't racist

March 26, 2004

According to my university student union, I am a racist. For two years before starting my masters degree, I worked for an anti-racism charity, and as an undergraduate I was active in tackling racism on campus. These credentials do not appear to be adequate in compensating for my essential racism, namely that I support the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in their historic homeland of Israel. I am a Zionist.

In a union motion recently passed titled "Opposing all forms of racist manifestations", there was the declaration: "This union believes that peace requires the achievement of national liberation and independence, the elimination of colonialism and neo-colonialism, foreign occupation, apartheid, Zionism and racial discrimination in all its forms, as well as the recognition of the dignity of peoples and their right to self-determination."

Spot the "Z" word? A fellow Jewish student and I submitted an amendment to the motion, removing the word Zionism. She suggested that if Zionism were to remain in the list, it would be more "intellectually honest" to conclude the passage: "The recognition of the dignity of peoples and their right to self-determination - except Jews."

The point was well made because many of those who opposed our amendment and accepted the "Zionism is racism" equation were simply expressing their opposition to the occupation of land claimed by stateless Palestinians. But Zionism does not itself necessitate occupation. Zionism is nothing more than a belief in the right of a Jewish state in Palestine to exist. The borders of that state are, and have been, open to debate.

However, genuine anti-Zionists oppose Israel's very existence, believing that the modern Jewish state should never have been established by the United Nations in 1947. They believe that Zionism was a form of imperialism and meant the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from their homes.

The narrative behind this is familiar but false. Zionism itself was not colonialism but colonisation, an important distinction. Lest it be forgotten, the Zionists had accepted the UN's partition plan. It was not Zionism that directly created the refugee problem but the war launched on the nascent Jewish state by its Arab neighbours.

But campus anti-Zionism is nothing new. Ever since the UN general assembly passed its infamous "Zionism equals racism" resolution in 1975 (repealed in 1991), universities across the country have been hotbeds of hostility towards Israel, with far-left groups, most notably the Socialist Workers Party, leading the charge against "Zionist imperialism". The fact that this has often resulted in their sharing platforms with overt anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers does not appear to have worried them unduly. Meanwhile, the Union of Jewish Students is regarded as beyond the pale by anti-Zionists because of its support for Israel.

My union is ostensibly opposed to anti-Semitism, but it views the national Jewish student body as illegitimate and - given that the vast majority of British Jews feel some attachment to Israel as the Jewish state - Jewish students themselves are immediately suspected of an inherent racism.

In the student world, with Zionism a dirty word and the natural Jewish affinity with Israel taken to be a declaration of racist leanings, has anti-Zionism become the acceptable face of anti-Semitism? One of my historical heroes once wrote: "Anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic, and ever will be. What is anti-Zionism? It is the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord all other nations of the globe. It is discrimination against Jews... because they are Jews. In short, it is anti-Semitism." If he were around today, I suppose my union would have him branded a racist. This would raise a few eyebrows; the quote is from Martin Luther King.

Paul Gross, Masters student, School of Oriental and African Studies

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