Mira Neshama Weil

Independance Day post-October 7. Zion is Beautiful

Zionism is beautiful.

This year, Israeli Independence Day will not be a celebration. Israel is at war, families are in mourning, and the hostages remain captive. No, this year Yom HaAtzmaut will not be joyful. But perhaps it will be more meaningful than ever: despite the October 7th attack, despite Hamas’ tunnels and Hezbollah missiles, the Houthis’drones, Iran’s first direct attack, and its proxies in the West Bank, the Jews still have a country. They have managed to defend themselves, and they continue to do so. Israel is wounded but standing tall. And perhaps most importantly, Israelis may have something to teach us, Jews of the diaspora, on this Independence Day. I’m talking about independence of spirit.

“I heard there were Zionists infiltrated in the camp.”

This sentence was not spoken in late 1930s Germany. Nor is it a variation of Desproges’ 1986 sketch with his unforgettable deadpan opening: “It seems that some Jews have slipped into the room.”

Today, they are deadly serious.

Armchair antizionism.

This serious statement was made in 2024, on the campus of Columbia, one of the world’s most prestigious universities in the Upper West Side of New York, by an excited kid with the required keffiyeh, invisible under his black mask, a clone of all the other excited kids in matching keffiyehs, firmly planted with their tents on the institution’s beautiful lawn, while he gives orders from his loudspeaker: “So, we’re going to form a human chain to prevent the Zionists” from entering the camp.

It sounds like madness, but it’s deadly serious.

When they parodied the delusional speeches of “Columbia Untisemitity,” early in the war, the Israeli comedians of Eretz Nehederet may not have realized how closely reality would mirror the caricature. That’s because among the woke of the new radical left and fans of “from the river to the sea,” ideology ignores reality as much as it does irony. They are no more afraid of the absurd than they are of bad faith.

So fighting against “Zionist infiltration” on campuses becomes a task taken up by thousands of enthusiastic young people without any dissonance in their “Woodstockian encampments,” which are, after all, quite exhilarating. Soon spreading like wildfire, Columbia’s “encampment” model was quickly replicated in almost every Western university in Europe, North America, and Australia.

Initially, they simply called themselves “antizionists.” “We’re not antisemites,” Israel’s critics have been saying since the late sixties. “Just antizionists. Stop confusing everything.” The convinced tone of the measured ideologue, the assurance of being on the right side of opinion and, of course, morality.

As if denying the Jewish people their fundamental connection to the land bearing their name wasn’t the new face of Jew hatred and malice, faithfully borne, albeit in fluid forms, from one generation to the next.

So, in early April, on the campuses, Jews were asked to show a white flag: they had to say they were “for the liberation of Palestine” to be accepted in the classroom, by armchair revolutionaries who suddenly were ruling the place.

For those who pretened to defend indigenous identities, Jews were request to disown their own belonging, and even more so their support, to the Jewish country  still under attack. In the name of indigenous peoples’ claims to their land, the pro Hamas kids applauded a real attempt of genocide of the Jewish people, and denied this indigenous people the right to live on their own.

The return to Zion as a wake-up call

For those with a collective memory or historical references, the song is not new.

Whatever the Jew does, he is wrong.

When dispersed in the diaspora, he was a parasite, and a traitor. The Dreyfus Affair was, for some, the last straw that broke the back of the camel of injustice: Jews realized they could no longer settle for trying to be accepted in their “host countries,” whether they had been there for centuries or not.

Sooner or later, it would happen again. They would be expelled from Spain or England again. The Tsar or Polish peasants would launch new pogroms. In the villages of Iraq and Yemen, their Muslim neighbors would wake up again one morning for another lynching. No matter how long in between the massacres. It was only a matter of time.

It was time to stop being constantly at the mercy of others, perpetually abused, and almost entirely slaughtered from time to time.

It was time to go home.

That was simply Herzl’s reasoning, and the origin of modern political Zionism. This one only followed religious Zionism, which accompanied Jewish history, whispering against despair, over the centuries, this tireless expectation of “returning to Zion” chanted in every prayer three times a day, with the promise of “next year in Jerusalem” at the end of every festival.

This unwavering hope, which eventually created a new reality for the Jewish people, became the Israeli national anthem.

Listen to it as you read these lines.

To me it is the most beautiful anthem in the world, because it speaks, simply and gently, of hope: the hope of being, despite all the denials of history, once again, “a free people in our land.”

That day has come, in 1948.

And now, while yesterday Jews were blamed for being stateless, now the legitimacy of their return. is contested
It is time to learn a little from History.

The Israeli lesson

French Jews, to comply with the Napoleonic code and gain acceptance in the new French society, had renounced their self-identification as a people to become “French of Israelite faith.”

Those from Eastern Europe had chosen communism.

Look how well that served them.

Dreyfus, who had devoted himself to France to the point of serving in its army, found himself accused of treason and exiled in the most horrendous conditions. Trotsky, one of the artisans of the Socialist revolution, ended up murdered by Stalin’s regime.

German Jews had accepted to give up the beard and kippah, to embrace pork and shrimp, and to bid farewell to Shabbat, in order to better integrate into the most enlightened society of the early 20th century. Look how well that served them.

Any psychologist specializing in abuse situations will tell you the same thing. When we betray ourselves by giving those who hate us what they want, they are not appeased. They will go further.

And this is exactly what has been happening on campuses.
Just a month ago, young Jewish students were asked to declare themselves antizionists.

And just last week,  another masked girl proudly wrapped in a keffieh confidently told the bewildered student she was preventing from entering the campus, “Jews don’t come in.”

Jewish Pride: The new independence.

That’s what I love about Israelis. They’re accused of chutzpah (nerve). But they get the drill: true independence is not trying to appease those who hate us.

Being independent, means not caring what everyone thinks of me.

Khalas, as they say here (in Arabic, by the way). Enough.

Yesterday, antisemites accused Jews of being “killers of Jesus”; today they’re “killers of Palestinians.” Different Object, same rhetoric.

The new antisemitism, Robert Badinter said it a long time ago, is antizionism.

Fortunately, Jews no longer have to be subject to it. They have come back home, and they now defend themselves.

Whether you like it or not.

This may be Yom HaAtzmaut’s teaching to us today: an invitation to become independent from others’ opinions.

Israelis don’t seek to be loved. Children of Holocaust survivors, refugees from Iran, Egypt, Morocco, and everywhere else, they have finally chosen to love themselves.

Of course, they have progress to make, especially with each other.

But the paradigm shift has occurred.

This is what other oppressed minorities in the United States did in the last decades of the twentieth century.

Remember movements like “Black is Beautiful” and the “Gay Pride”: suddenly, these communities, long oppressed, turned the stigma into pride.

They no longer sought to “blend in,” to fade into the crowd.

They claimed their own colors.

Today on Yom haatsmaut, a few days before the Gay Pride, which this year in Israel will be a Silent March in honor of the hostages, it is time, for Jews everywhere, for a true Zionist pride.

Zionism is a virtue, an ethic, a love letter to our land, a way of honoring our deepest identity, a dream come true, and perhaps one of the most beautiful examples, with all its imperfections, of a successful decolonization process.

This year, as Israelis mourn their dead and still await their hostages, as we witness, powerless, a resurgence of antisemitic madness around the world as if Kristallnacht had simply been a nap, this is a wake up call, even sad, even wounded, to claim the pride of being oneself.

Zionism is beautiful.

Happy independence.

About the Author
Rabbah Dr. Mira Neshama Weil is a Scholar and Teacher of Jewish Spirituality and Meditation. She received her Doctorate in Sociology of Religion from the Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and her certificate of “Jewish Mindfulness Teacher” from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. She learned Torah at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Studies and received smikha from Orthodox Rabbi Pr. Daniel Sperber at Beit Midrash Ha’ El in Jerusalem. She teaches Torah and Jewish Meditation with Akadem, Applied Jewish Spirituality, Or Ha Lev, Pardes, Moishe House Europe and at various institutions internationally.