Guest Post: Can a Non-Jew Be a Zionist? And Can We Talk About It?

Sheri is a retired psychotherapist living in Israel for 38 years. Always interested in politics and international affairs, she now has time to study and write about it to her heart’s satisfaction. She often writes on her own site, Israel Diaries.

A fierce debate has been going on in a corner of Facebook about whether or not non-Jews can call themselves Zionists. Until this moment, I was unaware that there was a problem. But my hackles were raised when a blogger I know was recently lambasted in the comments below his 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?

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. Linda Olmert provides 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.”

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; and now we see a group of Arabs claim that name for themselves, again with the purposes of seizing the Land of Israel from its historic association with the Jewish People. 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.

They did not raise this, but we have seen how 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.”

Is it hard to imagine the word Zion-ism, therefore, being severed from its rightful association with the rights of the Jewish People to sovereignty in Israel, our ancient indigenous homeland?

Personally, I am not so worried about that. Perhaps I should be. But I am not.

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!”

I think that her message gets lost because she is not showing respect herself, 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 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.

I think fruitful and fascinating discussion 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.


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