Israel as a modern state was founded on the basis of the Zionist dream of the late 19th century, advanced and promoted by Theodor Herzl. For Herzl, Zionism was a nationalist movement for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the historic land of the Jewish people—Eretz Yisrael or the Land of Israel. His dream was built upon the need to protect the survival of Jews, not only physically, but religiously and culturally. Today, there are two antithetical views of Zionism—one is that Zionism is racist and the other is that anti-Zionism is both antisemitic and racist. This article will explore how the concept of Zionism as racism developed and why, in this author’s view, it is simply wrong. On November 10, 1975 the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 declaring “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” The resolution was passed 37 years to the day after Kristallnacht. The concept of Zionism as racism was not new. It had its roots in geopolitical struggles when the UN was debating and negotiating the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“CERD”), adopted in 1965. The African nations wanted the focus of CERD to be on racial discrimination, with particular focus on apartheid in South Africa. Because of the racial discrimination in the United States that still existed in the mid-1960’s, the U.S. was concerned that world opinion would be focused on the U.S. as well. Wanting to move the focus off itself, the U.S. attempted to put the Soviet Union on the hot seat for its persecution of its Jewish minority. To do so, it proposed the addition of Antisemitism as a form of racism. Russian treatment of its Jewish minority was becoming a big issue in the 1960’s. In response to the U.S. proposal, the Soviets developed a strategy that proposed including Zionism as a form of racism under CERD. Arab countries immediately supported the Russian proposal. The Arab logic went something like this:
- Racism is illegal
- Zionism is racism
- Israel is a Zionist state
- Therefore, Israel is illegal
The goal of the Arab countries in having Zionism declared as racist was to delegitimize Israel. For the Soviet Union, its strategy worked, the references to all “isms” other than racism were removed from CERD before its passage. However, the concept of Zionism as racism, introduced in 1965, found its way into Resolution 3379 ten years later. When Resolution 3379 was adopted, it adversely impacted how Israel was treated in not only various UN bodies, but by other international bodies as well. Resolution 3379 was revoked in 1991. However, it resurfaced in Durban, South Africa in 2001, when Israel was singled out in the World Conference against Racism. Today there are groups on both the right and left which continue to promote the concept of Zionism as racism. An analysis of Zionism leads to the opposite conclusion: Zionism is not a form of racism.
- Zionism is a national liberation movement of the Jewish people, just as there was a general upsurge of national consciousness and aspiration that overtook most other people starting in the mid-1800’s.
- Zionism is incompatible with racism – it is rooted in principles of freedom, democracy, equality and social justice.
- Zionism promotes the Jewish connection to the land of Israel going back to Biblical times, it does not denigrate other religions or nationalities.
- Arabs living in Israel have rights of citizenship and equality.
- Arguments that Israel’s “Law of Return” makes Zionism racist since non-Jews are not accorded automatic citizenship is specious as Israel has regular procedures, similar to many other countries, for non-Jews to obtain Israeli citizenship.
- Israel is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.
- Israel has welcomed Ethiopian Jews, Indian Jews, North African Jews, Jewish Refugees from expelled from Arabic and other Moslem countries, European Jews – a diverse group of Jews – black, brown, oriental and white.
In conclusion, the arguments that Zionism is a form of racism is contrary to the evidence. Support of the concept calls into question the whole legitimacy of the State of Israel. Zionism cannot be a form of racism when it does not deny or denigrate other races or religions, when it welcomes a racially diverse Jewish population, when a diverse non-Jewish population can and has become citizens.