'I’m Jewish, and I’m a Zionist'

Confessions of a Former Anti-Zionist Jew

It was only after the war that I noticed the same people who hated Israel were often also the same people who denied that Hamas raped and massacred Israeli women.

'United with Israel' rally in Melbourne. Photo: Peter Haskin/The Australian Jewish News.
'United with Israel' rally in Melbourne. Photo: Peter Haskin/The Australian Jewish News.

Before October 7, I considered myself an anti-Zionist Jew, or at least I thought I did. The truth was, I had absolutely no idea what Zionism meant. I grew up in a secular Jewish household, with two parents who were just about as far from cultural or religious Jewishness as Jews can get. As a teenager, I even said to a gentile friend of mine (I didn’t grow up knowing any other Jews) that I didn’t get why Jewish people spoke like they were a race or a nation (as if I wasn’t a Jew myself), after all, being Jewish just means you believe in Judaism, right? If you asked me what I thought Zionism meant before October 7th, I would’ve said something along the lines of a belief in denying Palestinians’ statehood, apartheid and Jewish superiority. It was only a few weeks into the war that I discovered what Zionism in its modern context actually means: the simple belief that Israel should continue to exist. Little did I know that I was a Zionist this entire time. I could believe in the rights and self-determination of Palestinians and be a Zionist! Why hadn’t I known the definition of the word before? I suppose I just took the way others used it and ran with it. And here I was, thinking I was a critical thinker. I’m above propaganda, surely… aren’t I?

Like many anti-Zionist Jews, I relied on the media to mould my view of Zionism and Israel, particularly Al Jazeera and Middle East Eye. For a few years, I’d been reading their articles through Instagram bio links, all the while thinking they were generally reputable sources, free from any glaring biases. Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Al Ahli Hospital Explosion, where they falsely and baselessly accused Israel of bombing the hospital and killing at least 500 people, shattered my illusions. For the first time in my life, I saw that Al Jazeera had not only made up lies, but they went along with them even after the dust settled! Then I started digging, and I didn’t like what I found.

Growing up, I was never forced to read the Hebrew Bible, or any religious texts for that matter. But I was always curious, so one day I decided to read the whole thing. Lo and behold, my modicum of Jewish pride began to stir after I’d finished reading it, but it was always tinged by an overwhelming sense of guilt. Ever since I was a young adult, I’d always felt the need to “prove” myself to my fellow progressives by denouncing Israel. Jews were privileged, I was told. Jews have a position of power in society. I can be one of the “good” ones by recognising my privilege and denouncing Israel. In truth, I was recognising my privilege to do exactly this, but not in the way I thought. After all, I don’t live in a country where one group wants to destroy me from the north, and another group wants to destroy me from the south – criticising Israel from the safety of my suburban home on Australia’s east coast was just about the easiest thing I could do. Since I had next to no knowledge of the historical intricacies of the Israel-Palestine conflict, I genuinely believed the two groups could be neatly demarcated into oppressor and oppressed binaries. The truth was, I had the luxury of being lazy. The conflict didn’t personally affect me, so why did I need to know every nook and cranny?

Antisemitism was never a problem for me either, even though I’d experienced it multiple times as a child, teenager and young adult – I guess I’d learnt to look the other way. Besides, the media told me it was either unimportant in the scheme of things, or weaponised by bad faith actors. On October 9th, a mob converged on the Sydney Opera House and started aggressively chanting “Where’s the Jews?” and “Fuck the Jews.” At the time everyone thought they were saying “Gas the Jews,” including me. I wanted to share something about it on social media, but I didn’t. The Palestinians are suffering more than me, so why should I share my sad story? How weak and spineless I was, how could I be such a coward? I eventually gained the courage to speak up about it months later, but by then the damage was already done.

My “friends” were antisemitic too. One of them once told me he didn’t know who he hated more, black people or Jews – I thought he was just joking. Kanye West may have said an antisemitic thing or two, but why should I put the focus on myself? I come from a good house, live in a good neighbourhood, I’ve never been racially profiled by the police – aren’t there bigger fish to fry? Antisemitism is just a baseless accusation used by Israel to stifle any and all criticism, or so I was told by Al Jazeera and my “leftist” friends. It was only after the war that I noticed the same people who hated Israel were often also the same people who denied that Hamas raped and massacred Israeli women. Or if they didn’t deny it – they said it was resistance – these were the same people who marched for women during the MeToo movement and after Mahsa Amini was killed, something is amiss here. The people I knew who insisted criticising Israel isn’t antisemitic also said anyone who so much as defends the right of Israel to exist is being paid off by the secret Zionist lobby that controls the media and all the world governments – how was I so blind this entire time?

Then I began to see anti-Zionism for what it is, the belief that the state of Israel has no right to exist, and should be destroyed. Why was no one else calling for other states to be destroyed? I never heard anyone say Russia should be destroyed for invading Ukraine, or China should be wiped off the face of the Earth because Xi Jinping’s CCP has hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in slave labour camps. I’d never heard people say settler colonies like the US, Canada and Australia have no right to exist either. I’d never seen people openly celebrating terrorist groups in the streets or on college campuses. I’d barely heard a peep out of anyone at the death and destruction in Sudan, Yemen and Syria too. I’d never seen people say they wanted Israelis to go back to Poland or Brooklyn, while also saying they didn’t want any Zionists in New York (where else do they think the “Zionists” will go?). But most of all, I’d never seen people so gleefully celebrate (then deny) the rapes and massacres of civilians. They have an answer for me, “There are no civilians in Israel, only settlers,” my “friends” post on their Instagram stories, while living on stolen Aboriginal land. Now I can see things for what they are. If I’ve learnt one thing since October 7th, it’s this – when people tell you who they are, believe them. So believe me when I say this – I’m Jewish, and I’m a Zionist. Don’t like that? Take a hike.

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