Gil Troy: Message at Durban: I am a Zionist and proud of it

Center Field: Message at Durban: I am a Zionist and proud of it

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-23-09

DURBAN DIARY Day 4

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. He is attending the Durban Review conference as an observer.

After four days in the Durban Review conference’s upside down, bad-is-good Orwellian world, my soul hurts. Here in Geneva, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is lionized, despite his genocidal threats toward Israel and the United States, despite his regime’s sexism and homophobia, despite his government’s suppression of dissidents, while Israel is demonized, despite its peaceful aspirations. Here, absolute dictatorships like Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria condemn imperfect democracies like the US, Canada and Israel.

Amid this travesty, my soul hurts as a Jew, because I reject this libel that Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, is racist.

My soul hurts as an historian, because I detect the stench emanating from the “Zionism is racism” big lie as the rot from the corpses of Nazism and Soviet communism. And, knowing the noble ambitions behind the UN’s founding, I can imagine how disappointing Durban would be to Americans like Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Canadians like Lester B. Pearson.

A protester with a wig is led away by UN security after he tried to interrupt the speech of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN Racism conference at the United Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, April 20, 2009. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accused Israel of being the “most cruel and racist regime,” sparking a walkout by angry Western diplomats at a UN racism conference and protests from others. PHOTO: AP

My soul hurts as a Westerner, because this attack on Israel is an assault on all liberal democracies, with Israel a small convenient whipping boy.

My soul hurts as a human being, because obscuring the fight against racial bigotry behind a smoke screen of anti-Zionism, laced with antiSemitism, adds more hatred into the world, not less.

But let the haters at this conference choke on their own bile, let them wear the badge of failure for perpetuating racism. We say to those self-righteous NGOs that are behaving so abominably, that are the handmaidens of the world’s oppressors: Your self-righteous masquerade doesn’t fool us. When you cheer Ahmadinejad, you cheer his oppressing gays. When you applaud Saudi Arabia, you applaud that country’s sexism. When you ignore Sudan’s crimes because you are busy maligning Israel, you become culpable in the Darfur mass murder.

But my goal here is not to condemn this conference; the conference’s failures speak for themselves. I want to celebrate Israel – and celebrate Zionism, that marvelous, miraculous movement of Jewish nationalism that created Israel – with, we note, the UN’s help.

SO I PROCLAIM, I am a Zionist – and proud of it.

I am a Zionist – ani Tzioni – because I am a Jew. I understand that Judaism is not “just” a religion, but that the Jewish people are a nation too, speaking the same language, praying to the same God, tied to the same land, Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, for the last 4,000 years. Zionism recognized Judaism’s national dimension and seeks its fulfillment in a democratic Jewish state in Israel, the historic, legitimate Jewish homeland.

And I am a Zionist – Je suis un sioniste – because I am an historian. I recognize the historical processes that justified establishing a Jewish state in the historic Jewish homeland, and the historic achievements that resulted. Israel became a home for more than 500,000 Holocaust survivors, 900,000 refugees from Arab lands, one million Russian Jews, 100,000 Ethiopian Jews, all joining tens of thousands of Jews who can trace their lineage back for hundreds, and some even thousands, of years of continuous settlement in Israel. Together, they created a model multicultural, multiracial melting pot whose rainbow of colors is too diverse to be called racist.

And I am a Zionist – Ich bin ein Zionist – because I am a Westerner. I delight in the Western values uniting Jewish nationalism and the Jewish state with the American, Canadian, British, French, Spanish, Italian nation states: democracy, freedom, the liberty – as Natan Sharansky teaches – to dissent without fear of state punishment, a progressive acceptance of difference, guaranteeing not just rights but respect for all, whether people are black or white, male or female, gay or straight, rich or poor, part of the religious or racial or ethnic majority or minority.

I welcome the Palestinian gays who find refuge in Tel Aviv. I embrace the Sudanese refugees who celebrated Seder last week in Jerusalem. I know that Israel, like other Western democracies, errs. But remember America’s great ambassador to the UN, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who taught in 1975, “It is past time we ceased to apologize for an imperfect democracy. Find its equal.”

AND FINALLY, I am a Zionist – Io sono un sionista – because I am a human being. I understand the human need for individual freedom and for communal associations in tribal groups, ethnic groups, religious groups and nation states. I note that the UN is organized by nation states, further justifying the Zionist expression of Jewish nationalism through the nation state of Israel. I echo President Barack Obama, who explains that when he learned about Israel, the powerful story of Jews returning to their land, the Zionist embrace of Jewish roots, inspired him as a young African American seeking his own identity.

President Obama appreciates “the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves. And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.”

I want to end by saying “thank you” to the UN. I want to thank the General Assembly for voting overwhelmingly by a two-thirds majority for Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947, recognizing Zionism’s legitimacy as a nationalist movement and the Jewish claim to a Jewish state in Israel. I want to hail the Security Council for Resolution 242 recognizing there will be no Middle East peace until all players acknowledge “the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace.” And I want to thank the General Assembly for voting 111 to 25 on December 16, 1991, repealing the ugly resolution from 1975 calling Zionism racist.

Thanks to the UN in 1947 and to the Zionist idea, Israel has flourished, giving millions not just a home but civil rights and dignity, becoming a leader in medicine and pharmacology, in hi-tech and farming. I toast Hadassah-University Medical Center which treats Jews and Arabs equally, along with Given Imaging which creates tiny pill cameras you can swallow to avoid invasive surgery; I boast about ICQ instant messaging and the drip irrigation system of Hatzerim which has made so many deserts around the world bloom.

So we are not here to bury the UN but to praise it. We challenge the UN and the NGOs to fulfill the ideals of their respective charters, and in so doing recognize the tremendous blessings Israel and Zionism have generated not just for the Jewish people, not just for Israeli citizens, but for the world.

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