If being a Zionist implies standing up for human rights, it should be considered a badge of honour Author of the article: Avi Benlolo, National Post Publishing date: Dec 17, 2020 A media firestorm was set off this week, after actress Scarlett Johansson was widely criticized in Egypt for being a Zionist.
It all started on Dec. 1, when Johansson released a YouTube video calling for the release of four human rights activists who were arrested after they hosted foreign diplomats to discuss the human rights situation in Egypt. It didn’t matter that her calls were backed up by the United Nations, numerous foreign governments and human rights organizations, as well as other celebrities. The fact that Johansson is Jewish was cause enough for many in the Egyptian media, as well as on social media, to single her out as an enemy of the people.
No matter what one’s political inclination is, from my point of view, if being a Zionist implies standing up for human rights, it should be considered a badge of honour. Those who have worked hard to defame and delegitimize Israel and, by extension, the Jewish people, suggest that Israelis are racist colonizers. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Zionism was, and still is, a movement based on the belief that the Jewish people have a right to return to their ancestral homeland to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours. It inspired the foundation of the only true democracy in the Middle East — a hostile region of the world that is largely ruled by tyrannical regimes.
Today, Israel is a nation that celebrates and promotes equal rights for all people, regardless of race, religion or gender. It respects the rule of law according to Western legal standards and promotes freedom of the press, free speech and freedom of movement and assembly, as well as gay rights.
Zionism is an ideology that has created a Jewish state with vigorous democratic debate — so vigorous, in fact, that many have criticized its multi-party system for being too democratic. The latest announcement of Morocco joining the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel shows that many Arab states are not threatened by this vision. In fact, they are partnering with Israel and the United States to stand up to rogue and dangerous regimes like the one in Iran.
Many ethnic and religious groups around the world have struggled for their freedom. But only the Jewish people have been severely and repeatedly reprimanded by the international community for rebuilding their homeland.
In the late 1800s, Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, advocated for the re-establishment of the Jewish state, after prophesizing that a catastrophic event was about to befall Europe’s Jewish community. Indeed, less than 50 years after his prediction, six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, including his own daughter.
The Jewish state came into being in 1948, following the Holocaust. Even while its founders were being attacked by their Arab neighbours, they never gave up on Herzl’s vision of creating a modern state that strives to promote tolerance, justice and human rights. Herzl himself advocated living peacefully and respectfully with Israel’s Arab, Druze and Christian population.
Like all countries, Israel is imperfect. It’s still a work in progress and, over the past number of years, an incredible development has been occurring: young and energetic Israeli Arabs, Christians, Bedouins and Druze have been joining Israel’s military and diplomatic corps and representing the country around the world.
I recently spoke with Muhamed Heib, an Israeli spokesperson who works out of its Embassy in India and hails from a Druze village in Israel’s north. In his online video, which has garnered nearly 400,000 views, he proudly represents the Jewish state. He is also becoming a role model in his village.
There is also Lorena Khateeb, a young Druze woman who is garnering much online attention in the Persian Gulf for her work with the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s digital diplomacy department. And then there is Ambassador George Deek, an accomplished Christian-Israeli diplomat who is currently serving his country in Azerbaijan.
Israel has changed. All over the Jewish state, we are seeing new and inspiring stories of pluralism, diversity and acceptance. Yoseph Haddad is the co-founder and CEO of a new non-profit organization called Vouch for Each Other. An Israeli Christian Arab, he served in the famous Golani Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces and was wounded in battle. He now dedicates himself to promoting integration among all Israeli citizens, including bridging the “Arab sector of Israeli society with Israeli society as a whole.”
It’s no longer simply about politics or ideology or a singular identity. Israeli citizens I have spoken with recently are optimistic, excited and motivated to advance their country. What we are seeing are positive social shifts from a maturing of Israeli society that involve collaboration and integration.
Israel’s diversity, openness and democracy, coupled with its economic, scientific and military successes and now the Abraham Accords, presents a dramatic shift for its diverse citizens and its neighbours.
The seeds of a more peaceful and prosperous future in the Middle East are already starting to sprout. Hopefully, those spouting hate against Scarlett Johansson and others will prove to be the last vestiges of an old way of thinking that has allowed violence and hatred to fester for far too long.