Zionism is as old as the Jewish Diaspora. Ever since the Jewish people were forcibly exiled from the land of Israel, there have been numerous prayers, poems, and songs written about the Jewish yearning to return to Israel. Most famously, Psalm 137, a nine-paragraph poem, was written during the Babylonian exile and reads, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill].” This line continues to play a major part in Jewish life as it is said in every Jewish wedding before a glass cup is smashed to remember the destruction of the Jewish temple.
While many claims that Zionism started in 1897 after Theodore Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress, this was the start of political Zionism and was only possible due to the efforts of Zionist leaders before Herzl, such as Moses Montefiore, Judah Halevi, and Moshe Ben Nachman, who all paved the way for Herzl and his delegates to convene in Basel, Switzerland.
The claim “Zionism is racism” is based on a 1975 UN General Assembly resolution (Resolution 3375) that was revoked in 1991. The Soviet Union and its bloc led the effort at the UN to link Zionism to racism, basing their accusations on the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion and arguing that Judaism’s concept of “the chosen people” promoted racial superiority. Other states from Cuba to the Arab world repeated these slurs and criticized Jews and Israel by using the phrase “Zionism is racism,” taking the discrimination practiced historically against Jews as individuals and employing it against their collective identity.
Most Jews around the world identify as Zionists, meaning they support the existence of Israel as a Jewish State in the historic Land of Israel. Criticizing specific Israeli government policies as discriminatory or racist is not antisemitic. However, saying “Zionism is racism” conveys that the Jewish people – unlike all other people in the world – do not have a right to self-determination.