Zionism Forward

Why are American Jews so fazed by the question- Are you a Zionist?

Dozens of haredim gathered in front of the US Consulate-General in Jerusalem on Tuesday to protest against Zionism and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Dozens of haredim gathered in front of the US Consulate-General in Jerusalem on Tuesday to protest against Zionism and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
If I were to ask a group of American Jews from a variety of backgrounds if they supported the view that the Jewish People have a right to a home in their ancestral land, or whether they think the State of Israel should exist in its current form, I believe I would receive an overwhelmingly positive answer. These issues have been polled in a number of ways several times over the past few years.
However, what would happen if I asked them another very simple question: Are you a Zionist? The results would unfortunately be markedly different. Many might indeed express tentative acquiescence, but only after an uncomfortable silence, or a deep thought about the question. I know this because I have put this question to many in the US.
As the recently elected president of the American Zionist Movement, a federation of 25 American Zionist organizations and youth groups, I see it as my strongest mandate to unapologetically seek to renew our basic Zionist principles and to work to repair the good name of Israel, the Jewish people and Zionism itself.
Unfortunately, at a time when support for Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish People, is under attack from many quarters, some in the Jewish organizational world are telling us that we should disavow the term Zionism because it is in disrepute.
Introduced 120 years ago at the First Zionist Congress, modern political Zionism is rooted in a belief stretching back thousands of years that the Jewish People have a right to sovereignty in their ancestral and indigenous homeland. This year, we celebrate 100 years since that right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration, which was then overwhelmingly adopted by the international community, first through the League of Nations and then the United Nations.
Few other historic national liberation movements have similar international, historic and legal legitimacy as the Jewish People’s.
However, somewhere along the way, the term Zionism was turned into something else, something that has been tarred and ill-branded.
The political and diplomatic attack on Zionism, different than the attempts to destroy Israel by war, perhaps began with the UN’s 1975 adoption of the “Zionism equals Racism” resolution, when Israel’s enemies moved to internationalize the conflict, at the United Nations, other international institutions, in parliaments around the world, on campuses and in the court of public opinion.
It is certainly no coincidence that this attack started shortly after the last all-out-attack to extinguish the State of Israel, in 1973, failed, like its predecessors in 1948, 1956 and 1967.
The physical and diplomatic attempts against Israel are simply a denigration of the rights of the Jewish people and we have to fight back strongly, proudly and intelligently.
We must reintroduce Zionism as it was originally formulated and not as it has been manipulated by others. We must get back to basics about Zionism, irrespective of political, religious or ideological position. We must pique the intellectual curiosity of American Jews in a way that emphasizes and thus restores Israel’s image as a country that indeed stands for morality, ethics, justice and equality, committed to democracy and freedom.
“Zionism Forward” is my goal and vision as AZM president committed to reenergizing Zionism in America.
It is a call to those in America who are committed to a better future for Israel, the Jewish people and Zionism to participate in a new effort to guide American Jewry to speak and act in unified support for Zionism and Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
This means, at least in part, that we should confer with each other before making public statements, especially when some do not understand or agree with the steps Israel takes to protect our sisters and brothers who reside within her borders. This also means avoiding statements and terminology that will be cited by Israel’s enemies to demonize and delegitimize her.
The return of a long oppressed indigenous people to their homeland to reconstitute their language and civilization should indeed be a rallying point for all people of good faith around the world.
The goal of Zionism Forward is geared towards reenergizing Zionism in the spirit of AZM’s core principles built upon unity, identity, education and advocacy through joint organizational initiatives to achieve: 1. Empowerment Through Education.
Through stronger Jewish history and Hebrew language education that equips our young people with the knowledge and confidence to defend Israel’s honor in the face of slander, and in honor and memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.
2. Creating a Unified Jewish Voice.
As divisiveness within our own Jewish community is rampant and dangerous, demonstrating that the assault on Israel’s reputation has wounded us at our core, it is time to renew our positive broad community support for the State of Israel as the indigenous homeland of the Jewish people. We should focus on what unites us as Zionists rather than what divides us.
3. Advocating for Better Global Policy.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, the worst state sponsor of terrorism in the world, calls for “a world without Zionism.”
To the contrary, it is a world with Zionism that will benefit all the peoples of the region through economic and community development. We will demonstrate what Israel contributes to the international community through its innovation in technology, healthcare, global humanitarian development assistance and the rich vibrancy of her democracy.
When it comes to Zionism in America, to quote from a famous Paul Newman movie, Cool Hand Luke, “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Our failures to communicate the truth about Zionism and Israel have left many Jewish people, especially our youth, feeling a need to shy away from these issues. It is time to reeducate and re-energize Zionism, to renew the good name of Israel and the Jewish people; this is Zionism Forward.
The author is a Washington, DC, attorney who was recently elected president of the American Zionist Movement.