In defence of Zionism

A letter to the editor of the Financial Times:

Sir, In response to Ralph Coury (Letters, February 22): there was a reason for the Jewish concept of Zionism that is often totally forgotten in the propaganda discourse that serves as informed discussion today. For almost 2,000 years the Jewish people have been pushed from pillar to post by the inhabitants of those countries they were forced to settle in following their eviction from their homeland in Palestine.

Jews were kept in the status of second- or third-class citizens by their mostly Christian hosts, exploited by them, forced into trades their Christian neighbours thought “un-Christian” and, if too successful, robbed, raped and dispossessed by the kings and queens they were forced to lend money to or work for, or by their neighbours, who were often appalled at the whole idea of Judaism.

To omit this fact in Professor Coury’s response to Zionism is to entirely misrepresent the mentality of those behind it. Certainly it drove those in Europe who, driven by compassion, pushed for a return of a Jewish presence in a homeland of their own, free from such oppression. This required the kind of clandestine behaviour that Prof Coury refers to, but displacement of people in history is nothing new.

Indeed the US was founded on it, as was the British empire, Pakistan and India for example. Much of modern day Europe is a result of the displacement of over 35m people during and after the second world war. It is as true to say that the displacement of approximately 600,000 Arabs in Palestine is as regrettable as the eviction of the Jewish Egyptians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians and Persians at about the same time, about which little mention is ever given.

The sad thing is that Jews and Arabs could both benefit each other by working together to build a better Middle East, but right now the terrible displacement, without any compensation whatsoever to the Arab populations in the Middle East, is entirely in the hands of Arab tyrants viscerally opposed to any accord with their own people let alone their Jewish neighbours.

Stephen Rothbart, Prague, Czech Republic