What does it mean to be a Zionist in 2020?

What does it mean to be a Zionist in 2020? 

Since its inception as an ideology, Zionism has been wrought with scrutiny and controversy. Most simply put, Zionism is the right for Jewish self-determination in their ancestral homeland, Jewish nationalism. However, it is so much more than that. Zionism is full of intricacy, theory, and a history that is not black and white, but rather every shade of the rainbow. Those who identify as Zionists have always faced hardship both within the Jewish world as well as from the outside. However in 2020, 72 years after the realization of Jewish statehood and the Zionist dream, the challenges faced by Zionists have evolved. What does it mean to be a zionist in an era where the right to self determination has already been achieved? What does it mean to be a Zionist in the face of a toxic political climate where ideas such as nationalism are often viewed as being countercultural and dialogue between diametrically opposed world-views is almost non existent? What does it mean to be a Zionist when the ideological left and right both exclude you, labeling you as either a racist white supremacist or a greedy conspirator? What does it mean to be a Zionist in a world increasingly threatened by a rise in authoritarian tendencies and democratic policies, particularly in the country you see as your homeland? Moreover, what does it mean to be a Zionist in 2020? In these fraught times, being a Zionist is more important than ever. If we want to see the full realization of the Zionist dream—a truly jewish AND democratic homeland—we must begin to reassess the way we think about our own Zionist identities, evolve our Zionist education and activism to fit the new global paradigm, and challenge the status quo, embracing discomfort and opposing ideas to better understand what values truly matter.

To be a Zionist in 2020, you’re an ancient soul with a tribal mindset and an indigenous spirit trying to wedge your identity between the cracks of modernity. To be a Zionist in 2020, you find the core of your identity interwoven with the geopolitics of a nation-state you love, hate, hate to love, and love to hate. To be Zionist in 2020, you find yourself trapped in a grey zone where the lines between age-old anti-semitism and justified criticism of the place you call home are blurred beyond recognition. To be a Zionist in 2020, you’re constantly faced with conflicting opinions and ideas about your homeland and your identity. Everyone thinks they know the truth, when in reality each narrative surrounding Israel is just one piece of the mosaic that has built our nation. If you’re a Zionist on a college campus, you’ve had your identity publicly torn apart during campus referendums about Israel. You’re exhausted explaining to those outside of your insular circles why you have the right to exist, but you don’t blame them for not understanding your perspective (it is complicated and you even doubt your own beliefs at times). To be a Zionist in 2020, you’re not only furious that anti-Israel sentiment is becoming the norm but furious at your education for sugar coating reality. The world we live in isn’t just hummus and cherry tomatoes, BDS votes, and Israel Fest. The world we live in is war, human suffering, and diverging national narratives, a layered puzzle of nuance. It’s all wrong, it all doesn’t fit well, and it’s all the reality you live and toy with day in and day out.

Let’s just face it, to be a Zionist in 2020 is challenging. 

The world we live in today is not the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago. Both internally and externally, Israel faces new existential crises. While threats of terrorism, anti-Semitism, and violence from its Middle Eastern neighbors are still very real and very dangerous, the new challenges facing our homeland are different. Corruption, 3 brutal elections, a Prime Minister facing several charges of criminal activity, racism, human rights violations, the creeping threat of West Bank annexation, the continuation of military control over millions of Palestinians with no end in sight, and political turmoil affecting our allies around the world—these issues and more are tearing the very fibers of Israel’s Jewish democracy. 

To be a Zionist in 2020, you have to reconcile all of this while still holding a deep and profound love for your indigenous homeland that you cannot and will not shake. To the depths of your soul, you love Israel.

While this deep identity struggle is difficult, I promise there is a silver lining. This era is a pivotal moment for the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and we, Zionists of all varieties, have an important role to play. 

So I ask again, what does it mean to be a Zionist in 2020? 

To be a Zionist in 2020 is to be proud, so extremely proud of all that our community has accomplished. Zionism represents the transformation of the Jewish people. No longer are we the meek and persecuted ethnic minority, but rather we are a powerhouse. We influence world politics and pop culture, have an army to defend ourselves, export technology and innovation around the world, and do so all while helping our fellow man, holding our values close to heart. We must celebrate all we have and show the world why we care. We must be proud. 

To be a Zionist in 2020 is to embrace the values that Judaism promotes alongside the values of democracy with all of our beings. The two go hand in hand. There isn’t a need to sacrifice one for the other. 

Most importantly, to be a Zionist in 2020 means that we must fight, even when there seems to be no end in sight. We must fight for our right to exist. We must stand up against anti-Semitism in all of its forms, against anti-Zionists who seek to delegitimize our identities, and against terror and violence against our people. We must fight against Israeli policies that jeopardize our future. We must speak out when we see something dangerous happen, we must criticize, and we must own that criticism with our entire being. We must fight for human rights and for democracy. We must fight to change the way our Zionist education works. We must broaden our tent, embrace nuance, encourage difficult questions, and be ok with discomfort. All in all, we must fight for a better future.

To be a Zionist in 2020 is a constant uphill battle, but at its peak, it shows the most beautiful views. We are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves and we have the power to pave the way for future peace and prosperity. As we celebrate Israel’s 72nd birthday, it is my hope that we brandish our Zionism with pride and dignity, lift our heads high, and fight the good fight. 

אם תרצו אין זו אגדה עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי


About the Author
Maxwell Webb is the IPF Atid National Organizing Fellow. Originally from Dallas, he graduated from The George Washington University with a BA in International Affairs with a dual concentration in Conflict Resolution and International Development as well as a regional focus on the Middle East and Horn of Africa. Max has previously served as an intern for the project on Arab-Israeli relations at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the diplomatic intern for the Kurdistan Regional Government representative office in DC, and a research aid at Reut in Tel Aviv.
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