European colonialism. White supremacy. Racist. Sexist. Homophobic. Islamophobic, child murdering, archaic. For a lack of a better word, a young woman I was speaking with earlier this semester called it “Terrorist-esque,” and followed up with describing it as “simply a justification for apartheid.”
These are attributes that my generation has attached to Zionism, the same attributes that are commonly heard in referencing Zionism among liberal college campuses across the United States.
As we, the Zionist youth in universities around the world come of age, we have a responsibility to step up to the challenge of both defending Zionism, and clearing its name from the misinformation that has been spread in the past 20 years.
The following three steps are guidelines that outline how to handle this responsibility.
1. Patient, On-the-Ground Activism
How should millennials, who both believe in Israel’s legitimacy to exist and are self-described liberals, react when hearing blatant misinformation about Zionism being spread?
My political beliefs fluctuate, but as of now, I find myself in the left sect of the spectrum. Despite my political leanings, I am a Zionist. A person’s political inclinations should have no conflict with Zionism. I myself have problems with the modern Israeli government, which like all other governments has had its faults (understandably when considering a very hard set of challenges in its short history), but Zionism and the Israeli government are not the same thing. This is another common misconception spread among liberal colleges.
So how should Zionism be explained to a millennial who has only ever heard about it in a negative context? The most successful approach I’ve had in explaining Zionism to my liberal friends, college and high school peers, has been through straightforward explanations with associations they can relate to. For example, to the friends who’ve been told a lot about Zionism without ever hearing its actual definition, I’ve described Zionism as the idea that Jews have a right to self determination in their ancestral homeland. To the friends that told me they thought Zionism represented and justified European colonization, I’ve described Zionism as in fact one of the greatest decolonization movements to ever occur in history. To the friends who’ve heard that Zionism is incompatible with feminism, I’ve explained how from the start, Zionism empowered women in all spheres of life. To the friends who’ve criticized Zionism as stepping in the way of a two state solution, I’ve explained that one can believe in a one, two, or three state solution, and still be a Zionist. You can be pro-settlements in Judea and Samaria or staunchly against them, you can be a Muslim, a Jew, an atheist, etc. and still be a Zionist. Zionism is compatible with liberalism (both social and political), conservatism, libertarianism, and any other conceivable political orientation. Zionism, at its core, is apolitical.
On the ground activism, really making an effort to talk to people on an open, personal level without putting on heirs or is the key to educating our generation.
2. Confrontations without Concessions
Zionism and the State of Israel are not racist. They are not sexist. Israel is not the result of European colonization, and Zionism is most certainly not “Terrorist-Esque” or an excuse for “apartheid.” One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen my fellow Zionist peers make in confronting anti-Zionist student demonstrators is conceding to false facts while attempting to defend Zionism.
When Israel was created in 1948, the weak Jew of the past was supposed to be gone. In its place, Zionism created a new generation of unapologetic, un-apathetic Jews who were respectful, but tenacious and deliberate in their actions. As the new generation tasked with defending Zionism, we have to be strong, collected, and confident in our defense of Zionism like the generation of our grandparents.
It is all too easy to sit back and ignore, or to walk by someone with a megaphone yelling “ZioNazis Out of Palestine” on campus and think “I want no part in that.”
It’s hard to confront students such as those at Cornell who posted fliers around campus with the words “Say no to Jewish Zionist lies,” or to approach demonstrators like those at UC Berkeley who build fake checkpoints in which one student dresses up as an IDF soldier with “Zionist” written on their shirts and pretends to beat the other students.
The issue is, because we haven’t been avidly standing up for Zionism, misinformation and the demonization of Zionism among liberals gains traction. Administration rarely takes a stance on Zionism or anti-Zionism in general, and with my own experience at Cornell, the only response in the community was our Hillel staying open longer to provide a “safe space” for Jewish students.
While anti-Zionists have utilized their freedom of speech to the fullest, we have been severely lacking. We have been lethargic. We have been complacent. We have spent too much time talking in our safe spaces rather than talking to our fellow peers and getting to the bottom of why they believe Zionism is so damnable. It is our turn to rise to the challenge to educate our peers on the nature of Zionism and to clear the air of the blatant misinformation being spread on our campuses.
Now this doesn’t mean acting brash and interjecting into conversations is a viable course of action, but rather conducting ourselves with pride, respect, and candor. Listening closely to what the person/people you are talking to and refuting specific misinformation, rather than conceding via resorting to random talking points about how great Israel is. Not being informed yourself, or not listening to people who’ve been misinformed or believe certain things is not only disrespectful, but is a disservice to the Zionist cause. For example, someone who has heard that Zionism is anti-feminism and wants to have a dialogue will be frustrated if he/she is met with about how Israel is “the start up capital of the world.”
Our actions reflect on our ideology, and with all the demonizing of Zionism and Zionists that has occurred, we need to be pinnacles of strength and reservedness.
3. Inclusion and Avoiding Preaching to the Choir
Zionism is not exclusive. Just as people from all walks of life believed in and supported the causes of movements such as the Civil Rights movement in the American south or Mahatma Gandhi’s movement for Indian sovereignty, the same is true of Zionism. As the world becomes increasingly and inevitably globalized, and as social media links us closer together and revolutionizes communication, it is our responsibility to educate and include people from all backgrounds in our mission to defend Zionism.
I’m a Jew. Both my parents are Jews. I’m secular. Zionism doesn’t revolve around religion, it revolves around history. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, etc. can be Zionists. Anybody and everybody can be a Zionist.
As responsible neo-Zionists, we need to take the initiative to invite interfaith, feminist, LGBTQ, and a wide array of other groups to Zionist events (or to just hangout and talk about the issues), found Zionist clubs and look elsewhere than just our campus’s Hillel, and really make an effort to make true information on the nature of Zionism accessible to our peers. Zionism, as both an ideology and movement for indigenous rights, should make a special effort to make connections with other indigenous rights/self-determination groups on campus. Social media is a great starting place for anyone seeking to make a difference on their campus. Anyone can make a Facebook page, and having an online resource for your campus is a great start to teaching our peers. Encouraging dialogue about Zionism is always a good thing because it gives the opportunity of supplying peers with information and refuting some of the inevitable challenges of Zionism publicly and respectively.
In making a public outreach, we also really need to stop preaching to the choir. Diversity in all aspects of life is a beautiful thing, and this is no less true in Zionism. Nearly all of the Zionist/Israel related meetings I’ve been to at Cornell have been hosted by our Hillel, and have only had Jewish students in attendance. When anti-semitic anti-Zionist fliers were spread around Cornell and the Hillel created a safe space, it simply encouraged students not to confront the ideas that were intended to be seen by the public. In my Hillel’s safe space, Jewish students talked about how horrible the fliers were, how anti-semitic and anti-Zionist they were, and also about how great Israel is. This is an issue because talking amongst ourselves about how right we are doesn’t change anything. It allows both anti-Zionism and anti-semitism to stand uncontested.