Zionism Is Not a Dirty Word
And What You Can Do About It
I am a proud Zionist. Are you?
Zionism is the belief that Jews should have a homeland in the biblical land of Israel.
Zionism says nothing about what the borders of that home should be. It says nothing about whether a Palestinian state can co-exist nearby.
You don't have to be Jewish to be a Zionist. At its core, Zionism is the recognition that Jews are a people attached to a land.
Zionism used to be widely embraced, even amongst the most liberal communities in the world.
Of course, there were always people who opposed Zionism. But those opponents were typically far-left and far-right groups.
But over the last 25 or so years, the word "Zionist" has become a loaded term! Even many Jews and intellectuals shy away from identifying as Zionists. Why?
1. Nationalism is out of style: Modern Zionism was born in the nineteenth century, which was an era of nation-building. Across Europe and America, the nation-state became the primary source of authority and identity.
But by the end of the twentieth century, nationalism had become passe. Intellectuals and progressive thinkers urged us to focus on global problems and global initiatives.
Patriotism declined. The internet made us all part of one community.
In this world, Israel stands out like a sore thumb because it is an intensely nationalist, patriotic culture. It represents a nineteenth-century ideal in a twenty-first-century world.
2. It's an easy way to attack Jews without seeming to do so: Some antisemites think it is less shameful to attack Zionists than to attack Jews directly.
It feels more acceptable. They can say they have nothing against Jews, but just don't believe there should be a Jewish state.
But as the late Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who served as chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, pointed out: “Antisemitism is not allowing Jews to exist collectively the way we allow others to exist collectively.”
In other words, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.
3. The world is uncomfortable with Jewish power: For most of our history, Jews have been a small, long-suffering people. Even today, Jews are less than .02% of the world population.
Fully one-third of the entire Jewish population, including 90% of Jews in Europe, were murdered in the Holocaust, just over 70 years ago.
One of the reasons Israel exists is to ensure Jews can defend themselves. Self-defense requires power and resources. And Israel has built them up.
But world opinion changes slowly. Many people still imagine Jews as a powerless minority doomed to always be a victim.
When Israel displays strength, they are the first to criticize, even when that strength saves lives.
Exercising power is not simple. And sometimes those in power make mistakes. But power and strength are not evil.
In fact, they make peace possible.
The only way Israelis will ever live in peace is if they hold to power because a powerful Israel can live side by side in peace with its neighbors.
A few years ago, comedian Bill Maher pointed this out when he said if Palestinians lay down their weapons and made peace with Israel, a Palestinian state would exist within three days. If Israelis laid down their weapons, Israel would be destroyed within three days.
To be a Zionist is to be a person who values self-determination, democracy, and peace. We need such people now more than ever.