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What is Zionism?

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Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is being accused by his political rivals of being a Zionist sympathizer, if not a supporter, because he was alleged to have told some American friends that he regretted using terms such as "Zionist aggression" while giving a talk in the US.

Anwar, who was invited to lecture at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre in the US, has blamed the local Malay media of distorting his words

The Pakatan Rakyat supremo said that he was just explaining to the Americans his definition of the word “Zionism".

"I explained to them that my definition of Zionism was closely linked to acts of trespassing and Israel’s imperial policy. But they felt otherwise. Many Americans and Jews felt that it was an unfair translation because they felt that Zion was a country/government which was legitimate and fair. So I told them that if that was their understanding, then I did not feel the same way," Anwar said.

Why is the word “Zion” and its associated derivation forms so sensitive? And what actually does it mean and imply? Many people do not know and understand what the so-called Zionist movement is all about.

The word Zionism is derived from the Hebrew word Zion. This name originally referred to Mount Zion, a mountain near Jerusalem, and to the Fortress of Zion on it. Later, under King David, the term Zion became a synecdoche referring to the entire city of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.

In many Bible verses, the Israelites were called the people, sons or daughters of Zion. Throughout the Old Testament, in addition to its literal use, the prophets often used Zion metaphorically to refer to the City of Jerusalem, the Temple of Jerusalem, or the entire Land of Israel.

"Zionism" was coined by Austrian Jewish student Nathan Birnbaum, the founder of the first nationalist Jewish students movement Kadimah, as a term for Jewish nationalism in 1892.

The international Zionist movement was orgainsed to spearhead and support the reestablishment of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine, after two thousand years of exile.

They claim that the area called Palestine is the Jewish biblical homeland, called the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisra'el in Hebrew). Since the creation of Israel as a nation state in 1948, the militant Zionist movement continues primarily as a militant political body to support and protect the modern state of Israel.

The modern Zionist movement is largely based on the historical ties and theological traditions linking the Jews to the Land of Israel, where the concept of Jewish nationhood first originated at the time of Abraham about 2000BC until the dispersion of the Jews after the destruction of the second Temple of Jerusalem in 70AD.

The modern Zionist movement was founded by Europen Jews as a response to widespread anti-semitism across Europe. It expanded rapidly following the German Holocaust and became the dominant international Jewish political movement.

It was first organised by Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl in the late 19th century to encourage, promote and facilitate Jewish migration to the Promised Land.

It eventually succeeded in helping to establish the Israel nation state as the homeland for the Jewish people, when on 14 May 1948, David Ben Gurion read out the proclamation of nationhood. For the Jews, and many conservative Christians, that was the day of perhaps the most significant fulfillment so far of the Old Testament prophetic declaration that God would regather the people of Israel in their Promised Land:

The then new nation state of Israel has been called the "Third Jewish Commonwealth". The "First Jewish Commonwealth" ended with the destruction of Solomon's Temple in 586BC, and the second with the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70AD and the crushing of Bar Kokhba's revolt by the Roman army in 135AD.

The number of Jews living in Israel has steadily increased since the Zionist movement came into existence. Today nearly 40% of the world's Jews live in Israel and an almost similar number live in the United States.

During the 28th Zionist Congress in Jerusalem in 1968, five points of the Jerusalem Programme were adopted as the aims of Zionism:

  1. The unity of the Jewish people and the centrality of Israel in Jewish life;
  2. The ingathering of the Jewish people in its historic homeland Eretz Israel, through Aliyah (Judaism) from all countries;
  3. The strengthening of the state of Israel which is based on the prophetic vision of justice and peace;
  4. The preservation of the identity of the Jewish people through the fostering of Jewish and Hebrew education and of Jewish spiritual and cultural values; and
  5. The protection of Jewish rights everywhere.

Since the creation of Israel, the role of the Zionist movement itself has for a while become far less important, but the ideology remains a critical part of Jewish political thinking.

Currently, however, there is a resurgent movement calling itself Christian Zionism. It is a political form of philo-Semitism (philo is Greek for “love”) and can be defined as organised Christian support for Zionism and Israel.

One major Zionist vision is the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem on the Temple Mount site where the sacred Muslim Dome of the Rock and the El-Aksa Mosque are located.

To the Muslims, the Dome of the Rock is sacred as it the venue where the Prophet Mohammad is said to have ascended to heaven.

The plan to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem has given rise to the Christian Zionist-led Temple Movement which is currently actively promoting the reclaimation of the Temple Mount site and reviving the Old Testament temple worship rites and sacrificial rituals.

The current Christian Zionist belief among some conservative Christians that the return of the Jews to the Promised Land and the eventual establishment of the nation state of Israel in 1948 are in fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

It is similar to, but not associated with the 19th century movement for the Restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land.

The Christian Zionists teach that the return of the Jews to Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus. This belief is also taught and promoted by those associated with Christian Dispensationalism, particularly the Gospel Hall and the famous Dallas Theological Seminary in the United States.

Such ideas that Christians should support the Jewish reclamation of the Holy Land, along with the idea that the Jews must be evangelised to become Christian as a means fulfilling the biblical prophecy is common in the fundamentalist and evangelical circles.

The term “Christian Zionism” became popular in the late 20th century. Prior to that time the term used was Restorationism. Today, a similar teaching is being promoted by the Temple Movement, which seeks to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem on its original site where the Dome of Rock and the El-Aksa Mosque are located.

In the United States, Christian Zionism is implicitly endorsed by the Republican Party as it is reflective of its most important constituency comprising the fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who support Israel.

The mobilisation of fundamentalists and evangelicals, especially from the Bible Belt, has tended to bolster the so-called conservative policies of the Republicans, because the Christian Zionists are generally in favour of a hawkish war-mongering foreign policy and have less sympathy for Palestinian claims than the Democrats.

Two examples of well-known leading figures of the Christian Right who combined political conservatism with Christian Zionism are Baptist pastors Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

The Arabs in Palestine have also laid claim to the land, arguing that the place has been their home since the 7th Century AD and it is unjust and inhumane to deprive them of the land on which they had lived and worked on for generations.

They similarly argue that their stake in the land is also traced to their ancestor Abraham who had two sons -- Isaac, the father of Jacob whose God-given name Israel became the name of the nation, and Ishmeal, the founding ancestor of the Arabs. The Arabs claim that the descendents of Ishmael are also heirs to the promise God gave to the patriarch Abraham and therefore have a legitimate claim to the land.

The Arabs of Palestine pointed out that for 1,300 years up to the present they had continually lived on the land and they are hence the rightful owners of the land. They admitted that throughout these years, there had been pockets of Jews living in the area, but they constituted only a very small minority. For example, they said, in 1882, there were only 24,000 Jews living in Palestine, which is a mere 5% of the whole population at that time.

The Arabs agree that the land of Palestine has special religious significance for the three major monotheistic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- and accept the fact that none should lay any exclusive claim to it, particularly Jerusalem.

They, however, insisted that the Jews have no right to occupy Jerusalem exclusively and objected to the Zionist determination to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem on the Temple Mount site where the sacred Muslim Dome of the Rock, constructed in 688AD to 691AD, is located. Next to the Dome of the Rock is the beautiful El-Aksa Mosque,

The Arabs had no objection to the Jewish immigrants settling in Palestine and were prepared for a peaceful co-existence with them, but they began to feel threatened by the Jews when they started to clamour for greater political power and seeking to take control of the whole land.

They said that the hostility which led to conflict and violence in the land was largely caused by the Jews who pushed out the Arabs in Palestine, who were the rightful occupants of the land.

As a result of the unreasonable and unjust actions of the Jews after the establishment of Israel as a nation state in 1948 and the subsequent militant conflicts since then, thousands of the original residents of Palestine have been made homeless and became refugees in their own homeland.

Life for the Palestinians has been a living hell over the years, since Israel started on its aghast aggressive aggrandizement of the land soon after becoming a nation state.

The Palestinians live in overcrowded, unhygienic squalid and flood-prone refugee camps in the land that was once their home for generations. They face harassment, eviction from their homes, arrests, detention and deportation, curfews and killings. The Israeli atrocities are certainly inhumane, and included massacres and bombings The old, women and children are not spared their persecution.

Few people know that in 1948, when Israel was given nation state status, there were 1.4 million Arab Palestinians living peacefully in nearly 500 villages and towns in Palestine, alongside about half a million Jewish settlers. At that time, most of the land belonged to the Arabs, but now they own less than 10% of the land. From that day of 14 May 1948 when Israel became a nation state, the Palestinian Arabs have been turned into refugees, their land confiscated, their life destroyed.

Following the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel gained control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and the sufferings and misery of the Palestinians increased hundred-folds.

Today, the Palestinian people who have had lived in the land for generations found themselves foreigners in their own homeland or living in exile in the neighbouring friendly Arab nations.

The current stand of the Palestinian Authority is that the whole of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip should be the basis of a future independent Palestinian state, with its capital in East Jerusalem.

How legitimate is the Jewish claim to the land on which the Palestinians had lived for generations since the 17th Century AD? How much of the land which the Jews now control is acquired illegally through conquest, confiscation, and outright robbery?

What about the inhumane treatment of the Palestinians, evicting them from their own homes, depriving them of the essential economic resources, closing hundreds of their schools, killing, robbing them and even raping their womenfolks?

This is what Zionism is all about.

NOTE: The writer, who is the chief editor of this news portal, has done extensive research on the Middle-East issue and has degrees in theology and biblical studies.

MySinchew 2010-07-03


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