Zionism may be defined as a political ideology and movement that originated in the late 19th century.

Judaism and Zionism: Is there a difference?

Although Judaism and Zionism are two distinct terms often intertwined, in reality, they represent rather distinct concepts with different historical, cultural, and most importantly, political implications.

Judaism is a religion and cultural identity that has evolved over millennia, while Zionism is a political ideology centered on the establishment and preservation of a Jewish state in Israel. Understanding these differences is crucial for appreciating the complex dynamics within Jewish communities and the broader political landscape of the Middle East.

Judaism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions which dates back to thousands of years. It is fundamentally a belief system rooted in faith, encompassing cultural, ethical and religious aspects. It is practiced by all Jews, a very diverse group of people who share a common religious and cultural heritage

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Zionism, on the other hand, is a political ideology and movement that originated in the late 19th century. It is centered on the idea of establishing and maintaining a Jewish homeland in the historic region of Israel, which was under Ottoman and later British rule during the movement’s early years.

Following the establishment of Israel, Zionism became an ideology that continues to support the development and protection of the State of Israel. Zionism, at its core, can be understood as a manifestation of Jewish nationalism. (1)

In a nutshell, Zionism is a political system, Judaism a religion. One might argue that never the twain shall meet. However, there are a number of arguments to be found by simple searches on the web that conflate the two. The movie Israelism explores how from a young age American Jewish and Israeli children are taught that being Jewish means automatically also being a Zionist. Yet it is Zionism, not Judaism, that has produced the current neo-fascist policies of apartheid for the past 75 years and of genocide now.

Since the 2014 Gaza War young Jewish activists on college campuses were rejecting Zionism while still retaining their religion and Jewish heritage. In the current political climate  this distinction among college students remains a factor in the current campus protests by Jewish college students and also in organizations such as Jewish Voices for Peace, who call for an immediate Ceasefire Now!

One university that has garnered a lot of attention is Columbia in New York City where the protests and counter-protests have attracted media attention. One of the saddest results is to see how vicious the verbal abuse on both sides has been, sometimes morphing into physical abuse on campus such as beatings. (2) The mainstream corporate media, who like to dwell on violence in general for sensationalism, does not emphasize the many peaceful protesters on both sides of the issues.  Some of the younger students who use verbal and physical violence may not realize they have absorbed Trump’s ”legacy of hate,” now predominant since the ascension of Trump. The hatred of Palestinians, who are propagandized in Israel as wanting to kill all Jews, bears much of the burden of cultivating hate as well. This hate language has become even more blatant as Israeli officials continue to make outrageous statements of hate about Palestinians, characterizing them as animals and worse.

Israel has taken the position that it is innocent of any wrongdoing even though at minimum since Nakba in 1948 they have perpetrated an apartheid neo-fascist state with tactics such as either taking over or destroying Palestinian homes, creating checkpoints with use of identity cards, and other such tactics borrowed from their previous oppressors in Nazi Germany. And now they have adopted GENOCIDE, as they systematically bomb and destroy Gaza where millions of Palestinians reside, denying them even food and water while the world looks on in horror as the U.S. continues to give money and weapons to Israel.

At Columbia University several professors have written signed statements with an emphasis on free speech and a call for free and open dialog of the issues as befits an academic institution of higher learning. In other words, in support of the appropriate educational goals of an academic institution. (3)

A number of years ago when foundation funding for education slumped considerably there was a drive to replace college presidents and officials across the country with people who had financial rather than educational backgrounds. This move was common among colleges that considered it necessary to survive, but we are seeing the results today when college presidents and officials are more interested in preserving funding than in providing the best education for students. In fact, they do not appear to understand what is at stake and have therefore taken a pro-Israel stance rather than risk offending funders instead of promoting free speech and free and open debate and dialog in an educational setting.

These officials have not heeded the Christian words: “What you sow, so shall you reap.” Or another decidedly Christian point of view (in spite of the fact that many Christian fundamentalists support Israel, perhaps because they share the idea that theirs is the one true religion) and because the Old and New Testaments are inextricably linked: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” Christ, after all, drove the money lenders from the temple.

The U.S. is, of course, complicit, continuing to send streams of weapons and money to Israel. While millions of U.S. citizens protest our government’s stance, the U.S. continues to endorse the Zionist point of view that fits so well with the policies of U.S. imperialism and empire.

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(1) Tanjim, Nasif, “Exploring the difference between Judaism and Zionism.” The Business Standard, November 7, 2023, https://bit.ly/3IeQftp

(2) Conroy, J. Oliver, “Walkouts, rallies, clashes: Israel-Gaza ‘war of words’ roils Columbia University.” The Guardian, Nov. 9, 2023, https://bit.ly/4bOGL5E

(3) Ibid.

Note: More recent articles regarding the situation at Columbia University are available from The Guardian with a search.



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