Zionism is the movement of self-determination to return the Jews to their indigenous land, the Land of Israel.
At this point, 75 years after the rebirth of the Jewish State, Zionism should not be something we continue to identify with. It has achieved its aims. We should be able to put it to bed and look to the future.
However, to identify as Zionist today is as relevant and powerful as it ever was. Not because we are fighting to reestablish sovereignty in our land, but because the non-Jewish world (as it has a history of doing with Jewish ideas) has appropriated the word and turned it into something evil.
A new institute, the Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism (ICSZ), is the most recent attempt to bastardize this core Jewish concept. They refer to Zionism as “settler-colonialism” and will launch two inaugural conferences in October – one at UC Santa Cruz and a second at NYU Law School. Their aim? To “battle the IHRA definition.” Egregiously, the ICSZ “aims to support the de-linking of the study of Zionism from Jewish Studies”.
This is an outrageous attack on the very essence of Jewish identity. As I explained in my column to mark World Indigenous Day, Jews are indigenous to the Land of Israel. It is our home. It is where we were born and it is where we continue to be rooted over 3000 years later. The very notion that you can “de-link” Zionism from Jews, Judaism, or Jewishness is to fundamentally misunderstand (or to deliberately distort) Jewish identity.
The history of warping Zionism into a malignant ideology
This isn’t just a simple case of misunderstanding. We know from the history of the Soviet Union and its sophisticated disinformation campaign among the Arab states from the 1950s onwards, how the true definition of Zionism was usurped and warped into a malignant ideology.
This campaign was central to the demonization and oppression of Jews within the Soviet Union and beyond. As Izabella Tabarovsky, the preeminent scholar on Soviet anti-Zionism has documented, this scenario tells us everything we need to know about the treatment of Jews in a world where anti-Zionism is the dominant ideology.
THE FACT that, yet again, Jews have not been left in peace to get on with their lives is the very reason we must still identify as Zionist. But it can’t stop there: we must work to actively reclaim the term, and with it, our entire story.
It is simply unacceptable that the non-Jewish world feels free and able to set up institutions that bastardize Jewish ideology and identity. The question that keeps coming back to me is, who do these people think they are?
Unlike the vast majority of our historic contemporaries, Jews constitute an ancient civilization that has continued to thrive. Like all people, we are deserving of respect. And part of this respect is the right to narrate our own stories.
As I detailed in my second book, Reclaiming our Story, a comprehensive examination of internalized anti-Jewishness, Jews must learn their story. We must be the ones to tell it. The concept of Zionism is axiomatic to that endeavor.
The ICSZ are, of course, not the only perpetrators of this specific crime against both the Jews [no comma] and truth, but it is significant. As Zvika Klein observes in his recent article on ICSZ in The Jerusalem Post, “This appears to be the most institutionalized iteration of the recent movement to separate Jews from Zionism, representing a strategic shift in the anti-Zionist or antisemitic strategy.”
We must wake up to this changing landscape. We must fortify ourselves against the radicalization that is taking place on university, high school, and even middle school campuses. We must be prepared to engage in a war of ideas to reclaim our story, starting with a refusal to allow the non-Jewish world to become so emboldened with Jew-hatred that they can openly and proudly subvert our reality.
AS JEWS, we must recognize the distinct and multifaceted nature of our identity. We must understand our indigeneity and our connection with Israel. We must tell the world that Jewish people are the experts of their experience and the exclusive authors of their identity. We cannot allow the world to traduce our name or our ideas any longer. We will not accept it, nor will we tolerate it.
Israel is a modern miracle. It is a symbol of successful decolonization. It is also a real country currently experiencing, like much of the world, its own version of populism.
However, unlike those who seek to destroy us, our proud Zionism and continued support for the continued existence of a Jewish state is not rooted in fantasy. It is the non-Jewish world that maligns and defames the Jewish state in an organized campaign, constituting a modern iteration of the world’s oldest hatred.
We must not succumb to this subterfuge, nor allow Zionism to be stolen from us. We will not allow our truth to be stolen from us. We will not allow our narrative to be rewritten.
We must be the ones who tell our story, and say, with loud, proud voices, “Zionism is a Jewish concept created by Jews for Jews, rooted in 3000 years of Jewish history. This is our story, and we will be the ones to tell it.”
The writer is the founder of the modern Jewish Pride movement, an educator, and the author of Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People. His new book, Reclaiming our Story: The Pursuit of Jewish Pride, is now available.