I am a Zionist.
If those four words made you uncomfortable, confused or reluctant to continue reading this article, then this article is for you.
You might associate Zionism to Israel and to Israeli government policies or actions; what you have heard or seen on the news. This article is not about Israel or its government. It is about something much more personal. It is about my Identity. Identity that is being contested almost daily in UN assembly rooms, various cities and on college campuses. It is a growing phenomenon that targets me at attempts to change my identity, pressuring me not to talk about Zionism with my friends fearing from their response and shouting me down when trying to explain the meaning of Zionism.
Many people have negative associations with the word Zionism. Some people fear that raising that topic with their friends will create tension within their friendship. Unfortunately, many people see Zionism and Israel as a partisan issue. In the polarized society that is America today, every topic is being viewed only through the lenses of party lines and not issues. No one wants to willingly get into a harsh political debate with their friends. Nor do they want that as a result of that debate their friendship or how they will be perceived in their social circles, to be harmed. While we should not dismiss their concerns and in no way encourage people to terminate friendships because of Zionism, encouraging people to ask their friends to be accepting of their identity is the solution.
The first step is to define Zionism and Zionist Identity. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL): “Zionism is the Jewish national movement of self-determination in the land of Israel — the historical birthplace and biblical homeland of the Jewish people”. A Zionist is an individual who simply believes that Israel has a right to exist as a national home for the Jewish people. If you are a Jewish Zionist like me, it is an inherit part of our identity. As Theodor Herzl said in his speech while addressing the first Zionist Congress “Zionism is the return to Judaism even before the return to the land of the Jews”. It doesn’t specify what will be the borders of the Zionist state nor does it dismiss other people’s national identities and inspirations. Nevertheless Zionism is being viewed as a political issue and not as an inherit part of someone’s identity. The intensification of the debate on the legitimacy of Zionism can be traced back to the years following Israel’s declaration of Independence and the Cold War’s bipolar world order.
During the Cold War Zionism, which came to solve the victimhood of the Jewish people, was weaponized by the Arab countries and the Soviet bloc and turned the victims to victimizers. Although the Soviet Union initially supported the Zionist cause and the creation of Israel, the Soviet Union later changed its opinion after realizing Israel will not follow the Soviet Union and join its Eastern bloc. At that point the Soviet Union joined the Arab countries and supported the delegitimizing campaign against Zionism. The repercussions of that campaign follow us to this day. What that campaign successfully did it wield the victimhood from the real victim to the countries who preached to the destruction of the Zionist state and advocated for another holocaust while occupying the territories of the designated Palestinian state. That was a cynical campaign that was not driven by compassion for the Palestinians rather it was a campaign that aimed only to serve their personal political goals.
The best example is the UN resolutions concerning Zionism. In 1975 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 3379 that determined “that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. That Resolution was supported by the Soviet bloc and Arab countries. Although Zionism did not change in any way, the same UN body revoked the determination in 1991 with 111 countries approving the revoke. This included, many countries that supported the original resolution such as the Soviet Union and its puppet states. In 1991 it served the political interest of the crumbling eastern bloc to revoke the resolution.
For many years the definition of Zionism was hijacked and defined by others giving way to its negative associations today. Some people fear to talk about it freely without second-guessing themselves; calculating if it is worth the risk. I do believe that the way to change is to speak up. That is on us.
In Herzl’s words: “A people can be helped only by its own efforts, and if it cannot help itself it is beyond succor”. As a Russian Speaking Jew who still bear the scars of the Soviet attempt to eradicate my family, my people and my own identity I cannot be silent. Despite one’s background, no one should feel marginalized because of their identity nor feel pressured to hide or change it. Not because of one’s sexual orientation. One should not be forced to humiliating conversion therapy. Not because of the color of their skin. One should not be arrested because they sit idly in a Starbucks shop. Not because of the language they speak. One should not be verbally attacked just because they speak Spanish or Arabic in a grocery store aisle. Or their religious association. No place of worship should be desecrated. The same holds true for Zionists on college campuses and everywhere.
The strength of our community is not depriving someone of their identity and making them feel unwelcomed. The strength of community is found within aspects of diversity and the acceptance of everyone. The acceptance of each of our identities.