This was published by David Bernstein, at The Jewish Week.
Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, has long been treated by much of the world as a kind of ideological disease. “Zionism is racism” is not merely a cliché in a now-defunct UN resolution, but is today a time-honored trope of the far left. If we hear less of the specific charges against Zionism it is only because the anti-Zionists have done such a thorough job in turning the word itself into a pejorative.
Unfortunately, the continued demonization of Zionism has made headway in more mainstream circles. I imagine, though I have not seen any studies confirming it, that even mainstream Americans react negatively to the word “Zionism.” Such negativity has been internalized by Jews (although not by Israel’s staunch Christian allies). While many pro-Israel Jews would, if pressed, still admit to being “Zionists,” few advertise it. We’ve thrown in the towel.
Notwithstanding its supposed malevolence, Zionism is in its simplest form the belief that Jews have the right to a state in the land of Israel. Just as it was in the 19th century and at Israel’s founding, Zionism is a big tent, encompassing a range of perspectives, from those who want to normalize the Jewish condition in a pluralistic, secular democracy to those who pine for a theocratic Torah state. Those who malign Zionism either don’t understand it or outright reject Jewish self-determination.
Is now the time to reclaim “Zionism?”
Some of the earliest anti-Zionism came from Jews before Israel ever became a state. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews opposed it on theological grounds. Jewish leftists opposed it because they believed it was their duty to give up their religious beliefs and ethnic solidarity as a vanguard for others. And numerous mainstream Jews in the diaspora opposed it for fear that the creation of a Jewish state would imperil their own status.