By Adam Scott Bellos
Sunday night, I attended the sold out symposium for the Avi Shaeffer Foundation. The focus was two-fold; first to perpetuate the message of Zionist activism on North American college campuses and second, establishing constructive dialogue between pro-Israel and anti-Zionist activists on those campuses.
The need to rebrand the image of both Israel and Zionism was explored but no resolution of how to complete the goal surfaced. Personally, I’m a big fan of reframing and rebranding Israel and Zionism. Though from past experience, when the topic is discussed amongst Israeli policy makers and North American Zionist students, their diplomatic training kicks in, no real course of action to actually fix the problem is ever discussed. Just more talking and no actual “walking.”
The reality of the situation is clear, the terms Zionism and anti-Semitism, have been hijacked from the Jewish people, the terms are now used to enhance the position of the new BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) movement, sweeping across college campuses outside of Israel. For example, at an anti-Zionist event I once attended, at the University of Arizona, the phrase “There is nothing more anti-Semitic than Zionism…even Rabbi’s agree with me” was the slogan of the night. After the event it became a mantra of many in attendance.
For the sake of progress, let’s be realistic, the word Zionism, for many, evokes horrible negative connotations. In addition, student cries of anti-Semitism, against what clearly is anti-Semitism, unfortunately, make us look like a bunch of whiny Jews. We must recognize this, address it, and actively search for a solution, instead of just complaining about it. Its time to stop talking the talk, and start walking the walk, in the language of my generation, Israel and the Zionist idea need an extreme makeover.
If we are to truly reinvent Zionism for today’s young modern Jews we must, to start, rename it. Today’s Jews have grown up in a life of comparative luxury, they are not, 19th and 20th century socialists who strove to rid themselves of the memories of anti-Jewish violence that plagued their reality. My generation never had to long for a utopia in Zion, fortunately, all our lives, we have known of a reality in the Land and State of Israel.
What my generation does lack is empowerment, and the style of inspirational thinking displayed by the early Zionists. In a post-modern world where Language is everything, we must start speaking a new Zionist language that will resonate and empower young Jews in the Diaspora individually.
They need to know, just because you’re not the messiah, doesn’t mean that you can’t contribute and have an impact on your people in a powerful and positive way. All you need is the drive, the faith, and the strength to succeed. All you need to be is one person that wants to make a difference.
We must own the one word that still evokes a positive and strong image in the minds of the young modern Jews in today’s world. That world is Israel. This word alone describes the land people and state that any Zionist holds dear. The word itself evokes a much more positive image, instead of saying we are Zionists; we can use the term Israelist. Say it out loud, I am an Is-rael-ist, I support the creation of the Jewish State of Israel and the perpetuation of the Jewish people in that state.
Sounds good doesn’t it? Instead of having to say anti-Semitic/ism or anti-Zionist/ism, we should be using the terms anti-Israelist and anti-Israelism. What is going on in the world today is anti-Israelism, it’s a combination of Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
We need a new way of describing this new phenomenon. Every Jew is Israel, this is the one word that cannot be taken from the Jewish people because we are Israel, the Nation of Israel, and it is now time for us to own what cannot be taken from us. It time to regenerate, rebrand, and reframe the national movement, and ambition that the Jewish people have been known to accomplish.
If I learned one thing from Ben-Gurion during college, it is that Zionism, equals pragmatism. We must be pragmatic about the reality of the situation that we are facing. Especially, since more and more young modern Jews in the Diaspora, are beginning to distance themselves from the Zionist vision and Israel. Daniel Gordis concluded his book “Saving Israel” stating that “Now is the time to reinvent Zionism… Nothing more ambitious is possible. And nothing less ambitious will suffice.”
I am a Jew, now living in Israel, who pursued his Zionist passions academically, through campus activism, and now professionally. I think Gordis is 100% correct, and I know many in my position feel the same way. Let’s start walking the walk.