Zionism ≠ Judaism

Mar 4, 2024
Multiple blue and white Israeli flags

The collapsing of the two categories, Judaism and Zionism to become synonymous seems to me to be a very dangerous, even foolish thing to do. Yet, to my amazement it seems many Jews are doing precisely that. It would be fair to say that such is representative of the deeply conservative Jewish establishment in Australia.

Making such an essential connection links the horrors being perpetrated by a state, and nearly everyone sees them as horrific, with Judaism itself.

In my sparring with a number of these people, I point out the danger, but Zionists refuse to see it. By daring to criticise Israel I am called ‘anti-Semitic’, ‘a Jew hater’ among other less salubrious, more colourful words.

Zionism and Judaism are they claim, one and the same, with an attack, even a critical response to the former, meaning that one necessarily opposes, indeed even despises the latter. The charge of antisemitism is then hurled, usually with great vehemence.

Even pointing out that many Jews themselves are not Zionists fails to convince these people. Evidently these Jews aren’t ‘real Jews.’ If they were they would get with the Zionist project. Of course this style of argument is logically fallacious, never allowing falsification. It represents a form of the ‘no true Scotsman’ argument, in this case the ‘not a true Jew argument.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman This style of argument works by making a generalised statement, in this case that to be a Jew is to be a Zionist, from ever being open to falsification.

In this case it goes something like. I know someone with a surname Cohen, who identifies as a Jew, attends synagogue, and is recognised by the synagogue as Jewish, while their family was categorised by the Nazis as being Jewish, and suffered for that. This person is however not a Zionist, indeed opposes Zionism.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the one holding the line that Zionism and Judaism are synonymous will still insist my friend is not truly Jewish. The logical fallacy of such position is impossible to point out to them. There is a refusal to accept the logic, reminding one of the old line, ‘don’t confuse me with logic, my minds made up.’

The danger lies however, not in the domain of logic but in the very real possibility of unleashing an anti-Semitism that lurks threateningly, usually just beneath the surface. Having resided in a heavily Jewish area of Sydney, I know all too well the antisemitism which necessitates security at synagogues.

If Judaism is identified as synonymous with Zionism then it becomes tarred with the same brush, making it easy for people, even accidentally, to slip from the line, ‘violent Zionists’ to ‘violent Jews.’ Opposition to a state becomes opposition to a people.

That Zionists wish to make the two categories synonymous, with the clear danger that brings, ought be vigorously resisted by the Jewish community. When a faith is identified with a violent political philosophy the faith itself is placed in danger. This is why many Muslims are vocal in making clear their faith is not synonymous with a certain political philosophy, violent jihad.

Judaism and Zionism are quite distinct. The former is one of the world’s oldest faiths reaching back a claimed 3,000 plus years (scholarship suggests over 2,600 years). Modern Zionism, on the other hand is a movement begun by Theordor Herzl in the late 19th century.

True, Zionism claims to find its basis in the Jewish Scriptures, noting particularly Psalm 137, (many will remember the Boney M song). That Psalm with its setting in the 6th century BCE exile in Babylon, speaks of those exiled deep yearning for Zion. It does however, regrettably end with some of the most harrowing words in the Scriptures, the desire to dash the Babylonian’s babies heads upon the rocks. Indeed, one of these Zionists spoke of this Psalm while making claim that Zionism is integral to Judaism, and was not impressed when I indicated that he had neglected to add the final verse. This Psalm, alluded to, indeed often claimed by Zionists, to lay at the heart of Zionism, is all too revelatory.

All faiths have their dark side, and such a passage certainly shows that Judaism is no exception. Zionists however want to claim it, and other such dark passages invoking the killing, even slaughtering of the original inhabitants of the land into which they came, and then later their enemies. Benjamin Netanyahu shamefully invoked the slaughter of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3-10) to justify the current massacre of the Gaza populace. That slaughter involved the ‘ḥērem’ (ban) which called for all of the enemy to be destroyed, livestock and possessions, but also those taken prisoner.

Despite its calling Jewish Scripture to its side however, Zionism should not to be equated with Judaism. Indeed as the Psalmist was lamenting exile and yearning for return to Zion, along with a bit of vengeance, others understood Judaism as being able to be practiced anywhere, even in Babylon. Jeremiah calls the people to ‘build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there… seek the welfare of the city…and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:5-7) Many Jews taking this advice, did settle in Babylon, the Babylonian Talmud (compendium of Jewish practice and law) being more highly regarded than the Jerusalem Talmud.

That Zionism and Judaism are to be equated is logically fallacious, is a-historical, and dangerous.

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