Both Progressivism and Zionism have some pretty serious ideas about Israel’s legitimacy as a country. For many Jews, this presents a dilemma: an inner belief in Zionism and the existence of a Jewish state can, in a way, stand as a roadblock for someone with an otherwise “progressive” ideology. Are the two ideas so contrary to each other that they can’t feasibly coexist within a society — within a person?
The existence of Progressive Zionist Hallel Silverman proves that the answer is “no.” After getting arrested for praying at the Western Wall seven years ago, Hallel has become a figurehead of Progressive Zionism for Jews around the world who find themselves in a similar boat.
During my discussion with her on Israel Unfiltered, Hallel and I discussed antisemitic narratives within the media, the ramifications of her arrest, and the future of progressive thought and its erosion of modern Zionism.
“Being a liberal Zionist, a progressive Zionist, what does that actually mean? It’s Zionism. But it’s not what [anti-Israel activists and BDS] have turned Zionism into,” she explained. “To me, Zionism is the only indigenous battle that won. That is the most progressive thing in the world,” she said. “We’re the only indigenous people that came back. And this brings out this whole exception of Israel, ‘oh, but the Jews,’ right? This would have been a progressive cause if it wasn’t us.”
“I come from a progressive background and home and community that are very much Zionist, but a lot of the people I know today, they like have never met a Progressive Zionist until me, or they didn’t like know that that’s a community here, or in the US,” she said.
Our conversation touched on the frequent news of unrest between various Jewish demographics praying at the Western Wall. We contemplated the idea of establishing freedom of worship and assembly at the Kotel in a way that wouldn’t lead to aggressive behavior from intolerant worshippers. As far as Hallel is concerned, it comes down to two things: “Education and normalization.”
She noted that there’s always a place for respect of others’ traditions and cultures, but that the Kotel needs to stand as a place of worship for all Jews.
“I couldn’t count how many orthodox synagogues I’ve gone to for weddings and bar mitzvahs and whatever. In an orthodox synagogue, I will be in the women’s section, whether it’s respectful or if it’s in the kitchen, I don’t care. But the Kotel isn’t an orthodox synagogue and it does not belong to Israeli Jews. It is all of ours,” she said.
On that point, we noted that establishing freedom of worship at the Kotel could be a huge step toward doing something similar at the Temple Mount.
We went on to discuss the normalization of hate speech and antisemitism. “I think Trump did a lot of damage normalizing hate speech. And he’s never said or done anything against the Jews, but normalizing hate speech towards any marginalized group empowers radicals to move into mainstream places with that language.”
Language that was recently used by global music star Kanye West, for example. “It’s very dangerous. Kanye has more followers online than there are Jews in the world, so obviously it generates a lot of attention,” which further drives that normalization of hatred, she pointed out…
Lastly, we touched on whether the modern, American-flavored Progressive agenda stands to erode and dispel Zionism as it becomes more adopted by Jews.
“I see that being very much harder to do within Israel. Other progressive Jews live here, there’s going to be a Zionistic connection,” said Hallel. “That’d be much harder for our enemies to accomplish here than in other countries, because we’re all here because we believe in our indigenous right to be here. So it would be harder I think to actually make that a mainstream idea — though now it’s going to keep me up at night knowing that it could happen in 20 years, so thank you.”