I became involved in some interesting “debates” on Twitter lately regarding Israel and Zionism. Quite a few people were outraged by my claim that the extreme-right in Israel (and their supporters abroad) are, de facto, acting against the best interests of Israel. I called that being “anti-Israeli” and I guess that was a confusing term to use. In fact, I am fully aware that right-wingers would fervently argue that their way is the true “pro-Israeli” ideology and some of them would probably consider me some sort of an anti-Israeli traitor. On the other hand, I have received criticism for declaring myself “a Zionist” – a term that seems to have become a derogatory term in some left-wing circles.
One Twitterer even directly inquired as to what my Zionist role-models were, as I professed to be what I called “mainstream Zionism”. Keeping in mind that as an Israeli I spent over a year in high school learning “Zionism”, even a longish post may be too short to explain it all. Still, it’s better than a 140 characters long tweet, so here goes… a short recap of what Zionism really is.
The Basics (if you don’t know what Zionism even is):
Zionism is a Jewish national movement that began in the 19th century. European Jews were influenced by the European national movements and gave up on becoming integrated within them, faced with antisemitism (demonstrated in the massacres of the Pogroms and the Dreyfus Affair in France).
Zionism argues that the Jews are a nation and not just a religious minority. Since they will never be able to assimilate within Europe, there should be a Jewish state in which the Jewish people can lead its national life.
Zionism and Religion:
Zionism is not about God. Zionism is not about religion. In fact, Herzl was an atheist, as were the “Fathers of Zionism” such as Ben Gurion. In fact, they were very much against religion and their vision for Israel was entirely secular.
Zionism and the Arabs:
Zionism is not about oppressing another people and Zionism is definitely not anti-Arab. In fact, the original Zionists, whether the liberals like Herzl or socialists like Gordon, were all keen advocates of equality for all people, regardless of their ethnic, religious or racial identity.
What’s more, early Zionists idealized the local Arabs. HaShomer, the early Zionist military branch, reached out to the Arabs to learn their ways. They were keen on learning Arabic and communicating with Arabs. They even turned to wearing traditional Arab clothing including Kafiyas. It’s no coincidence that so much of our slang in Hebrew comes from Arabic – Arabic used to be way cool back then.
Zionism and the Community:
Zionism, whether the “hardcore” socialistic kind or not, was also about creating a community with a high level of solidarity. In its more extreme form, this is the idea behind the Kibbutz, but the way I was brought up, caring for others and providing help for others was part of my Zionist upbringing.
My Zionist Role Model:
I’ve mentioned a couple of notable “Fathers of Zionism” here, but if I had to choose a modern-day Zionist role model, Steff Wertheimer gets my vote. An entrepreneur and industrialist, an idealist who created an entire small town in the Upper Galilee based upon his vision. This place, Kfar Vradim (Village of Roses), is a secular modern town, with its own hi-tech industrial area: Tefen Industrial Park) where Arabs from Nazareth and Jews from Kfar Vradim work side by side. Economical development in order to facilitate co-existence is Wertheimer’s vision.
This is my Israel. This is my Zionism.
So much more can be said about Zionism (and has been said!). My hat is off to that movement for performing a small miracle during the 19th and 20th centuries and creating a prosperous country out of pretty much nothing. I am immensely proud of my grandparents for being part of that miracle – in another post I may share their personal tales that highlight various angles in the Zionist narrative.
It has little to do with the Jewish fanatics roaming the hills of Judea and Samaria, pushing Israel into international isolation. These people harm the original Zionist vision of a prosperous modern secular Jewish state that benefits all of its citizens regardless of their ethnicity or religion.