Having participated recently in various Zionist forums, it has come as a shock (but not a surprise) that there are those - especially of the younger generation living in the Diaspora - who see the word "Zionist" as something to be removed from the vocabulary. There are even activists within Zionist organizations who perceive that the removal of the "Z" label would reap benefits in terms of their fund-raising activities as well as their image in their respective countries.
What does "Zion" mean? The Oxford pocket dictionary defines "Zion" as "holy hill of Jerusalem" or simply "Jerusalem." When Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, he saw neither church nor mosque - he only saw the mount on which stood our Holy Temple. Zion is clearly another name for Jerusalem. When we are born, when we marry and when we die Jerusalem/Zion is an essential relevant part of both celebration and mourning. Observant Jews pray toward Jerusalem three times a day.
In September 2001, when leading the WIZO delegation to the infamous UN Durban Conference I was interviewed by South African TV - the very first question was "Please define Zionism." My answer was to quote the African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King's response to a student who said he did not hate the Jews, he was merely an "anti-Zionist."
"When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews... And what is anti-Zionist? It is the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa" (a homeland of one's own).
Israel is the Jewish people's national historic home. Yes we are a people, a nation, not just a religion. Zionism is Jewish nationhood.
OVER THE years there has been an increasingly effective campaign to isolate, delegitimize and dehumanize the one Jewish state. It intensified in 1975 with the passing of the defamatory UN Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism. While this resolution was rescinded in 1991, it has nevertheless proved an effective tool with which to bash Israel in the international arena, the media and especially on university campuses. For those younger Jews unfamiliar with Jewish history, born into a world where Israel is perceived as just "another" country - coupled with the detrimental effect of a constant media bashing of Israel - has resulted in a turning away from Israel. It then becomes easy to accept the language of those who equate Zionism with all that is negative.
To remove the word Zionist from our vocabulary or the name of our organization is tantamount to saying we have no right to our historic home where we are the indigenous people.
What then? Our painful history reminds us that when we were in desperate need of a refuge from those who would annihilate us there was none to be found. We lost 6 million of our people not only because of Hitler but also because of the passive collaboration of a world whose gates remained firmly closed to those seeking refuge. To quote the American poet Robert Frost, "Home is the place that has to take you."
As we enter 2010, the year when Israel will be celebrating its 61st birthday, we can proudly state that Israel remains an example to the world in the way we successfully integrate immigrants (we do not have refugees, we only have new immigrants)
These have included some 900,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries. We take in the stranger - the Vietnamese boat people in 1977. More recently we have taken in those escaping murder in Darfur and those Africans who come via Egypt, risking death as they endeavor to avoid being shot by the Egyptian border guards to seek refuge in this Zionist land.
At the same time, we lead the world in research and development, in hi-tech, medical and scientific spheres benefiting the whole of mankind.
We the Jewish nation, who has returned to our historic homeland after 2000 years, must remain ever proud of Zionism - it is our license to be here.
The writer is chairwoman of the Public Relations Department of World WIZO.
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