How Dare You Call Yourself A Zionist, You Non-Jew, You! (Part 1 of 2)
A fierce debate that took place in September 2015 in a corner of Facebook has been resuscitated by a new Times of Israel blog post by Fred Maroun. The debate last year was about whether or not non-Jews can legitimately call themselves Zionists, and Fred was involved in that one as well. Fred now raises the concern that non-Jews are threatening to take over Zionism to some extent by telling Jews what Zionism is or where it is going. I find this latter issue so nonsensical and out-of-the-blue that I am surprised Fred even saw this a topic worthy of writing about as I have found him to be an intelligent and interesting writer. I will first discuss the earlier debate and then rebut Fred’s newest blog post.
Debate: Can the Non-Jew Be a Zionist or Only a Pro-Zionist?
I had been unaware that there was any problem with non-Jews referring to themselves as Zionists. My hackles were raised, therefore, when Fred was lambasted last year in the comments below a Times of Israel post for referring to himself as a Zionist even though he is not a Jew. I strongly disagree with what he had written in that particular post but it did not, for me, deny him the right to call himself a Zionist.
In fact, last summer I noticed a small number of Christian and Moslem citizens of Israel declaring themselves proud Israeli Zionists and this has been a source of joy for me. Since then that number has been gradually increasing. And we see more and more people from the most unexpected places (Egypt, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, for example) standing up for Israel, some of them calling themselves Zionists and some simply pro-Israeli. But an alarm has apparently sounded in some quarters, and there are a number of Jews who object strongly: non-Jews, they insist, can call themselves pro-Zionists; they can never be considered Zionists. Only Jews are Zionists.
This discussion was continued on the public Facebook page of Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks. Some of the protestations against non-Jews calling themselves Zionists were quite shrill.
“It is ours!” or “They need to understand that Zionism is NOT a Universal movement; it is a Jewish movement only.”
Others were undeservedly disparaging:
I am grateful to all the Pro-Zionists, Christian, Muslim and others who support us. If they insist on being called a Zionist, then they have an agenda. Anyone who is making a career out of something that belongs to Jews only is not a friend.
We all have to make a living somehow, and I would prefer to have people make a career supporting Jews and Israel rather than the certainly far more numerous sort who are making careers of hating Jews and opposing the existence of the Jewish state. Could it be that the so-called “agenda” of non-Jewish Zionists consists of working in a field about which they feel passionate and knowledgeable enough to have something of value to add to the global hasbara efforts? Ryan Bellerose, the Metis Canadian recently worked for the Bnai Brith as Advocacy Coordinator for Western Canada is one such example.
Then, of course, there are those for whom supporting Israel is not (yet?) a career but a hobby, something they do in their spare time after work or studies. Also legitimate. And if earning a living is not their agenda in this case, then perhaps the agenda of these non-Jewish Zionists is standing up for their values, being active rather than passively watch the world go by, contributing to society, and preferring to call out the lies and injustices that they see over ignoring them.
When, on one of the related threads, I asked for a definition of Zionism so that I could understand the basis of the so strongly held opposition to non-Jews affixing the term to themselves, I was given many a history or Bible lesson but nary a definition. For me, an agreed upon definition of a term is the necessary starting point for debating an idea based upon that term.
It finally became clear that the objection to non-Jews calling themselves Zionists has nothing to do with the definition of the term, nor with its origin really. Instead, it is connected with the fear that this opens the door to a phenomenon called “replacement” whereby non-Jews appropriate aspects of our Jewish life and culture and make them their own and no longer ours. One commenter provided an example on the thread:
And now, Christians who love Israel are buying shofarot and talitot, celebrating Jewish holidays and learning Hebrew. While on many levels I find this lovely and endearing, I realize that the gnawing I feel is actually the whisper and echo of replacement.
Were we Jews to “allow” non-Jews to refer to themselves as Zionists, the thinking goes, this could lead in the future to non-Jews wresting Zion out from under our feet and claiming it as their own. But this is already happening . . . and not by those non-Jews who calls themselves Zionists. Far more insidious is what happened with the pejorative name, Palestine, originally applied to this land by the Romans when there were no Arabs living on it, solely to disaffiliate the Israelites from Israel; Arabs have claimed that name for themselves, solely with the purposes of seizing the Land of Israel from its historic association with the Jewish People. I find that a far more sinister replacement than non-Jews who support Zionism calling themselves Zionists, if that latter is replacement, which I do not think it is.
Nobody on these discussions raised the fact that the word, Zion, has come to have spiritual significance for other religions, such as the Rastafarians, who sing:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered Zion.
It is hard to imagine the word Zion-ism being severed from its association with the rights of the Jewish People to sovereignty in Israel, our ancient indigenous homeland. Because, in fact, that is what the word, Zionism, means: the right of the Jewish People to sovereignty in our ancient homeland, Israel. Zion is a place – Zionism is a concept.
In stipulating that non-Jews refer to themselves as pro-Zionist, Susskind-Sacks suggests that this should be a simple enough request:
If they love us, they will respect our wish to keep the term ‘Zionist’ to us Jews only. . . . Friends, supportive friends respect each other!
First of all, I think it is a nonsensical request. It is based on faulty logic because she conflates Zion with Zionism.
Secondly, I think that her message gets lost because she herself is not showing respect, however unintentionally, toward both the non-Jews and the Jews who see nothing wrong with the former calling themselves Zionists. Her request comes across as an order, and one that she seems to imply that she, uniquely, has the right to issue; moreover, the impression she gives is that if you do not agree with her then something is wrong with you. When there is no room for discussion, when it’s my way or the highway, how respectful is that?
A Better Question to Ask
I think multifaceted and energetic discussions would ensue were this issue presented as a question, such as: Could there be a danger in Zion being usurped from its unique connection with Judaism and the Jewish People when non-Jews call themselves Zionists as opposed to pro-Zionists? I can see the likes of Muhammad Zoabi tackling this non-confrontational question with intellectual zeal and emotional honesty. How different this would be than the defensive way he was somewhat forced to respond to the argumentativeness of the demand that he desist from calling himself a Zionist.
Part 2 of this two-part series: Is Zionism Under Threat of Redefinition by Non-Jews?
This is a modified version of a post first published on Israellycool on 21 September 2015.