Zionism: The Reason to Step in

In all this discussion about what Zionism is and how we should be living our Zionism, there is only one thing that we can be sure about: Zionism means something different to every one of us. Nevertheless, we all are aware of what is the story and the value of this movement, born in the late 19th century in Central and Eastern Europe, and we all know who the main father of the modern Zionist movement is, Theodor Herzl.

Our generation, with the development of the State of Israel, is witnessing an incredible manipulation of what being Zionist means. Nowadays, especially among non-Jews, this word is increasingly carrying with it a negative connotation.

This happens because people are simply mixing apples and oranges, considering everything that is Zionist as Israeli or related to Israel, so automatically negative or to be defeated. This conduct does not leave space to the thought that among Zionists, and also among Israelis, there are also people that do not support the aggressive policy of the current government.

This happens because people often take a position without listening to all the voices of the chorus, but they stop at the first narrative. They claim their right to speak when they do not even know exactly who the interlocutor is, when they do not even know who they are fighting. Simply, most of the people do not know.

As a young Jew living in Europe, I experience first-hand that the main problem we are dealing with is not the absence of a dialogue between Jews about Zionism, but the dialogue with the third parties. There is a desperate need to inform and educate people, about Judaism, about Zionism and its values. Following this, we will be able to resume the dialogue.

It seems strange for us, that people could know so little about us and about our culture. Actually, it is seriously shocking how non-Jews know so little about Judaism. For this reason, people need to be informed, people need to be educated about what Zionism really means.

Most of the people still think that Israel was born right after the Holocaust, just compensation for the loss of the millions of Jewish people. They ignore the political and ideological movement that was behind it, representing the will, the hopes and the dreams of a great people, after years of struggles. Zionism is not about taking rights away from someone, it is all about giving rights.

However, personally speaking, what I consider even more dangerous than ignorance is the will to ignore. An issue that I have personally faced is the use of Zionism, or better Anti-Zionism, to hide a clear feeling of Antisemitism.

I strongly believe that nowadays most of the racist actions that are hidden under the target of ‘Anti-Zionism’ are just trying to cover their Antisemitic roots. Unfortunately, the words ‘Zionism’ and ‘Anti-Zionism’ are words that have been highly misused. People excuse themselves and their unlawful behaviours or words simply using the formula ‘Anti-Zionism’ as if it was a sort of magical shield that can protect them from any accuse of racism.

Topics like this need to be under the spotlight. This is what many associations are doing, promoting at a global level, the IHRA working definition for Antisemitism. We need to target this directly and speak out when such acts happen in front of us, everywhere. For this reason, we must always report any action that aims to discriminate.

But we need to bear in mind that, if each of us can do a lot with small actions in our everyday life, we have to think of the huge impact that a massive and collective project can have, made not just by individuals, but by Unions and organizations around the world.

This is the aim of our advocacy, spreading the knowledge of the real, pacific and inclusive Zionism. This can be done in different ways but stepping in is the key. It may be the case that some of us are not so willing to intervene in discussion and deal with a difficult subject, with people we know well or, sometimes, even with strangers. But if not us, who else will say something? If not now, when?

We do not have to be afraid of engaging in debate with people, as long as we strongly believe in our ideas and we handle the discussion with respect for the interlocutor. The goal is not to make other people change their mind, but to make them understand that theirs is not the only narrative possible, especially when it comes to Zionism and Judaism, and we know this very well. Spreading knowledge about our view of Zionism, Antisemitism and Israel is the most decisive and significant action we can undertake.

I totally share the thought of Bini Guttmann about the necessity to bring back this huge discussion to its birthplace, Europe. It is an honour but also a duty to be a Zionist in the diaspora, because the only place where this topic can be really debated is in the diaspora, with a more objective view. Among us, among different ethnicities, among different nationalities, taking advantage of the variety of opinions and ideas. None of us can avoid this topic, because it is inexorably part of our way of living Judaism. Indeed, we have to go on supporting Zionism and its values, which are the founding values of the State of Israel, as well.

This blog has been submitted as part of a wider campaign, which is being run by the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) entitled “Theodor & I – Zionism and Young European Jews”. Being launched on Yom Ha’atzmaut, the campaign seeks to start a discussion on Zionism, towards challenging the existing conversation surrounding the concept and ultimately highlighting the plurality of Jewish European identity and Zionism.

About the Author
Caterina Cognini, from Italy, is a Board Member of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS), an international organization supporting independent Jewish student Unions all over the world. She studies Philosophy, International Studies and Economics at the Ca' Foscari University of Venice and is an activist for Jewish advocacy
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