Shortly after Yom Haatzmaut and right before Theodor Herzl’s birthday, I hosted the Director of Har Herzl and Foreign Relations for the World Zionist Organization, Rafael Cohen, for a discussion about the WZO and its role and relevance today. This discussion was co-produced by Israeli Politics Simplified and Kerem House in honor of Yom Haatzmaut. Though most of our discussions and events are more political in nature, we felt that it would be prudent to take a short break from discussing Israeli politics and instead, focus on discussing Israel and Zionism. While it was a discussion planned in the honor and spirit of Yom Haatzmaut, our current political climate made this discussion even more relevant and important. Politics and the current landscape has a tendency to divide us. I felt that it was crucial to take a step back and shed more light on what unites us.
We live in a world where polarization is king. We are encouraged and pushed to be completely for or against something. Whether it be right or left ideologies, being for or a against a particular leader, the concept of polarity is being indulged. Generally speaking, having strong beliefs can be a good thing. It’s not easy to take a stand on any given issue and fight for that ideal. It’s an admirable pursuit. However, there comes a time when that clashing of ideas begins to erode the basic commonalities that we need to have between us to survive. These common, binding ties have been incredibly crucial to no one and nothing more than to the Jews and Israel.
In the past, Zionism has been the rallying point for Jews all over the world. It was an idea and a movement that remained a focal point for us regardless of where we lived or what crisis we were living through. More than that, the establishment and continued survival of the modern State of Israel depended on it. Jewish Zionist groups from America and Europe were a lobbying and fundraising force on behalf of Israel. Jews around the world felt a responsibility and duty towards Israel. And Israel and it’s leaders recognized that their duty was not only to the State, but to Jews everywhere. We knew that we needed to stand up for and take care of our brothers in the Diaspora. Diaspora Jews knew that Israel was vital to the survival of the Jewish people and their connection to their roots. Even when the early Israeli leaders disagreed on their politics and methods for founding and then protecting their new State, their disagreements stemmed from their fierce love of their homeland and their people. There was a distinct unity among all Jews based on those ideals.
We are a far cry from those early days of Israel and the Zionist movement. Every year, Israel becomes more and more politicized and partisan. Even among Jews. Israel awareness and education and promotion of Zionist ideals is taking a massive downturn. Even among Jews. At the same time, we are seeing a rise in antisemitism the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Holocaust – one of the driving forces in the establishment of the State of Israel. Except now, in addition to traditional antisemitism, we are also confronting its alter ego – anti-Zionism. Unlike antisemitism which is widely condemned and taboo, anti-Zionism is almost main stream. We are told that it’s different. That while antisemitism is racist, anti-Zionism is a completely legitimate form of protest against a country and its leadership. Nevermind the fact that it is the only Jewish country in the world. Nevermind the fact that Jews are attacked regardless of their position on Israel’s politics. This acceptance of anti-Zionism is one of our biggest challenge as a country and as a people today.
Politics and polarization of ideals is one of the driving forces behind the rise of the anti-Israel movement. It’s tentacles are reaching Jewish communities around the world as well as in Israel. We can no longer continue fighting the Zionist fight and promoting the Zionist initiative through isolated political factions. While knowing where you stand politically may be important, we need to first and foremost find a way to reclaim our binding ties. We need to find a way to unite the Jewish people around the focal point that has always driven them and kept them connected – Israel and Zionism. We need to put aside our differences and remind ourselves that there is a bigger picture, a bigger purpose than that which divides us on a smaller scale. Zionism is the bigger picture.
It transcends our differences. It is a way of life and connection between all Jews and their homeland. Zionism accepts all Jews simply because we are all Jews – regardless of affiliation to the right, left, center, religious or secular. Israel’s survival depends on this greater idea. And the Jewish people’s security and survival depends on Israel. Israel is not the given that younger generations of Jews perceive it to be. Even today, there are those who still work to see us destroyed. There are those who seek to undermine us in the eyes of the world. It is imperative that we, as a nation of brothers come together again now, just as we did in 1897 and in 1948. We need a unified rallying point, one without ego or prejudice. We need a return to real Zionism.