Theodor Herzl, one of the founders of Zionism.

Theodor Herzl, one of the founders of Zionism.

Support for Israel is almost always equated with Zionism, be it by Israel’s enemies or by her friends. Lots of people spend their time denouncing the evil Zionists, and on the other side lots spend their time fighting for the self-described “pro-Zionist” cause.

But why are we so obsessed with calling ourselves Zionists? Sure, Zionism is a part of my cultural history and emotionally powerful for me. But it’s only one part of the final chapter, not the story itself. Our connection to the land of Israel, the people of Israel, and the Jewish nation-state, is grounded in texts, traditions, and culture that goes back well before Herzl took his first breath.

It’s bad enough that we’re forced to squeeze our national, cultural, ethnic, and religious identity into the clothing of modern European nationalism. But it gets worse. The term Zionism creates divisions between Jews. It also promotes a false narrative about Israel that makes her look every bit the European colonizer that the anti-Israel crowd claim her to be.

When Ultra-Orthodox Jews denounce the “Tziyoynim” they really mean those Zionists who wanted to forcefully do away with Torah Judaism. Socially and emotionally this is what “Zionist” means to them. Even if we stick on modifiers and redefine the term “Zionism” in all sorts of ways, we can’t avoid the association it has with the anti-religious atheists that were part of the state’s founding. Rav Kook saw exaltedness in those secular founders, and his teachings resonate with me. But I don’t feel such a desperate need to cling to the narrow label “Zionist” if it binds me to those who were opposed to traditional Jewish learning and if it sets me against large segments of world Jewry.

When anti-Israel groups go on about the evils of Zionism, they’re often just spewing hatred. But if we equate Israel with Zionism, it makes their whole narrative sound much more real: a modern nationalist group, transplanted from Europe, who displaced the indigenous population. Innocent observers who don’t know any better are more easily convinced by the anti-Israel narrative when we call ourselves Zionists. We can go on all we want about how we’re really the indigenous ones. But then, why would an ancient Middle-Eastern people call themselves by the name of a nationalist movement started in the 1800’s by a bunch of Russians and Austro-Hungarians?

Maybe you feel that the term Zionism is just too powerful to let go of, despite the above shortcomings. In that case, at least revitalize Zionism with new meaning and vision, like these guys are doing.

As for me, I don’t feel a need to hold on to the label “Zionist.” The Jewish nation in its ancient tribal homeland is a natural part of my cultural heritage. And Jewish heritage is much bigger than Zionism.