Principal Marc Light looks at the camera, he is wearing a grey suit and smiling. The King David School's logo is behind him, silver on a wood background.

Calling out Anti-Zionism

A cursory analysis of the content of our liturgy, poetry and history identifies that the relationship with Zion is at the heart of the Jewish religion.

Many of our prayers, our common cultural conventions and significant archeological findings attest to the multilayered, complex and ancient connection between the Jewish people and Israel.

On my recent trip to Israel, I had the opportunity to visit the new National Library of Israel where I saw extraordinary archaeological findings relating to Jewish life in the region that dated back thousands of years.

One of the most ancient archaeological findings discovered in Israel is the Gezer Calendar which is a small limestone agricultural calendar written in ancient Hebrew that has been dated to the 10th century BCE.

A June 2023 poll of the Australian Jewish community reported in the ABC found that 77% of respondents identified as Zionist and 86% viewed the existence of Israel as “essential for the Jewish people.”

This suggests that the very substantial majority of Australian Jews see Zionism as a central tenet of their Jewish identity.

The term Zionism relates to the belief in the right of Jews for self-determination in their historic homeland.

With this context in mind it is most alarming that the term Zionism has seemed to have been subjected to a campaign of demonisation linked to attempts to delegitimise the state of Israel. There have been attempts to mischaracterise the term with associations of racism, Jewish supremacy and anti-Palestinian sentiment.

For many of us, our identity as Zionists is antithetical to these concepts. The state’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, is explicit in its aspirations for equity and justice for all citizens. It proclaims that rights would be conferred “irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

It also needs stating that Zionism does not equate to the support of the actions of any particular Israeli government, support for specific military actions, nor to opposition to the Palestinian people.

Indeed, many Zionists have devoted themselves towards peace-building, social justice activities and other initiatives that aim to build a better future for all.

I am extremely concerned that the success of the anti-Zionist campaign has younger generations believing in such false characterisations and that this has young Jews feeling confused about their Zionism, or even that they must hide this aspect of their identity.

An example shared with me was when a KDS graduate was in a university tutorial group chatting with other students. The conversation turned to gap years and the student did not know whether it was safe to share that they had spent their year in Israel. Taking the plunge they explained the program which involved development work for Jews, Druze, Bedouin and Palestinian citizens of Israel. The tute group partner’s response was “Oh cool… but you’re not a Zionist, right?”

Recently, Monash University ordered the removal of “Zionists not welcome” slogans on the grounds that it had received legal advice that this constitutes vilification.

I believe that the chants and slogans of “From the River to the Sea” should be opposed as they are understood by many in our community to call for the elimination or displacement of approximately half the world’s Jewish population who live in Israel.

In these trying times, I am grateful for the manner in which many politicians and other community leaders have taken a public stand to call out antisemitism. I believe that the time has come for them to take a similar approach to calling out anti-Zionism.

But beyond these steps, we all need to take active measures to reclaim the term Zionist from those that either ignorantly or deliberately misascribe alternate meanings to this positive aspect of our collective identity.

Shabbat Shalom,
Marc Light