There is a smartphone application named “Timehop,” through which users sync the app with their camera rolls and social media accounts, and can see what they posted on each day of the year, going back as many years as they’ve had the account. I check the app on a daily routine, usually out of curiosity. During the past several months, particularly over the summer, I had many posts listed under “1 year ago.” They were almost exclusively articles, videos, and photos about Israel during Operation Protective Edge, and most of them were from this very website.

At the time, I didn’t know nearly as much as I do now about occupation, apartheid, genocide, and how people love to accuse Israel of those things. What I did know for sure was that Israel was doing the right thing. I was shocked to see how some of my friends responded. They left comments and messages telling me that Israel was the bad guy, that there was a “disproportionate response,” that I was wrong for “supporting the war.”

What was truly disappointing, and even offensive, was that people who knew me thought that I would encourage such hateful agendas. I vouch for LGBT+ rights. I help provide food and warm clothing for the local homeless population. I donate my hair to be used for wigs for cancer patients. I couldn’t believe that the same people who knew all these things about me thought that I was possible of placing such a low value on human life.

I should not be so scared to use “Zionism” as the personal theme for my expressive therapy studio class because I’m unsure of how the word will cause people to perceive me. I settled for “Zion,” thinking that would be the most comfortable option. And yet, with the end of the semester upon us, I’m still wary of my classmates accusing me of being something I am not. I know that labeling myself as a Zionist puts a target on my back and disdain in the eyes of others, but it is not a dirty word in my vocabulary.

A Zionist is someone who supports the rights of women, as well as gay, lesbian, transgender, and otherwise queer people. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where women can – and do – fly fighter jets in the military and serve in the government. It’s the only country in the Middle East where gay pride parades are held. It’s the only country in the Middle East where someone like John Calvin can live without the fear of personal persecution.

A Zionist is someone who supports the only country in the Middle East where religious freedom is possible, and co-existence is encouraged. In the same neighborhoods where there are very few cars on the road during Shabbat, Christmas parties are held throughout late December and early January. Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze soldiers serve side by side in military units. An elderly Jewish man will have a conversation in Arabic with the Muslim family that owns the stand in the shuk next to his.

A Zionist is someone who understands the struggles that other groups of people have endured. Many rabbis and other members of the Jewish community marched in Selma, and Dr. King, along with many other prolific men and women of color, was a staunch supporter of Israel’s right to self-determination. Jews and black people share an undeniable connection, due to their common history of slavery and oppression. In Muslim countries, a set of rules known as the Dhimmi Laws were put in place, and forced Jews (and other people who didn’t observe Islam) in Arab lands to live with almost identical conditions that black people endured under the Jim Crow Laws.

A Zionist is someone who cares for another human life as much as they care for their own. Israelis have created dozens of life-saving medications, procedures, and technologies. They have set up missile-proof field hospitals in Gaza to help civilians hit by the rockets Hamas fires from their home and school windows. Staff at the Ziv Medical Center in Tzfat treat victims of the war in Syria, even when they know that their patients are terrorists. Israel sent more people to do relief work in Nepal than any other country. The misconception that Israel is committing genocide could not be further from the truth.

When I’m only seen as Jewish, nobody will say to my face that I’m on the wrong side of an issue, or that it’s okay that my people are being attacked on a daily basis. When I publicly declare myself as a Zionist, it’s a different story. I’m not going to apologize on behalf of everyone in my religion for surviving, especially when that survival would not be possible without Israel, the Jewish state and homeland. Go ahead, call me a Zionist. Whether or not there’s contempt in your voice, I’ll take it as a compliment anyways.