What does it mean to be a Zionist today?
What is it like to be a proponent of a movement, a cause, an idea that international media, Jew-haters and others want you to believe is despised throughout most of the world, even though you know it is a righteous and noble movement, cause and idea?
These are questions to consider as I reach my 20th anniversary as a “professional Zionist.”
It was in July of 2002 that I began working for the Zionist Organization of America, one of fewer than five groups in America that has “Zionist” or a variation of it as an integral part of its name.
BDS had yet to be unleashed. The destructive, anti-Jewish ideology of “intersectionality” was still the positive “coalition-building” that helped both Jews and our allies. Anti-Zionist/anti-Israel activities and rhetoric were unwelcome on most American campuses and in Congress. The effort to weaken and delegitimize Israel and Zionism by people who are themselves Jews was rare and its practitioners outcasts.
Though Theodor Herzl’s dream that there would be an internationally-recognized Jewish state where one existed millennia ago and had to be located again—known as political Zionism—had been fulfilled more than 50 years earlier, the Zionist mission was not completed on May 14, 1948, when Israel declared its independence.
I was determined to see to it that Zionism—the movement for Jewish self-determination in a nation of our own in our rightful homeland—would thrive and be perpetuated, and that support for Israel and Jewish settlement throughout Israel would be strong and secure.
My determination continues. Indeed, in many respects, the persistence of opponents of Zionism, Israel and the Jewish people has compelled me to be at least as persistent as they.
Imagine crossing the finish line of a race only to be told that the actual finish line has been moved further away again and again and that you must keep running or pedaling, swimming or driving. This is the frustration every Zionist has faced for more than a century.
- The territory for a restored Jewish homeland promised first by world powers and then by the predecessor of the United Nations was reduced by 78%—to create what became the kingdom of Jordan—with continuing and increasing demands to reduce the State of Israel by at least half to create a Palestinian-Arab state led by terrorists.
- Arab nations waged wars of annihilation against Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. Plus nonstop Palestinian-Arab terrorism and murderous attacks that have included hijackings, bombings, shootings, stabbings and rockets. In addition, ongoing campaigns to weaken and delegitimize Israel and deny Jewish history and rights are pervasive in the media, higher education, governments the world over, and in international bodies and forums, the likes of which have not been pursued against any other nation.
- For a brief period, the majority of countries comprising the United Nations designated Zionism a hate crime, voting in 1975 to declare the movement “a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Through hard work, lobbying and the help of Christian Zionists, the United States and President George H.W. Bush, this despicable lie was revoked in 1991. Still, efforts to eliminate Zionism and Israel continue.
- Looming above all of this is the existential danger of Iran developing nuclear weapons and attempting to fulfill its vow to “wipe Israel off the map.” And to do so with the help of its proxy terrorist armies Hezbollah, which targets Israel with more than 120,000 missiles from the north, and Hamas, which has tens of thousands of missiles targeting Israel from the southwest. The rest of the world looks on or enables Iran.
World leaders and politicians feel they have to continuously express support for Israel’s right to exist, as though it were still in doubt. This is not the case with any other nation.
It is clear why a Zionist’s work is never done.
That work must include stating clearly and explaining what Zionism is and what it is not, what Israel is, how the two are intertwined, and that both are essential to the Jewish people and the Jewish religion.
This must be a proactive campaign first and foremost rather than entirely defensive. The Jewish people have a heritage to be proud of and rights we must exercise. Zionists have a history to be proud of as one of the earliest liberation and social-justice movements. Israel has a list of accomplishments and efforts to improve the world that is unparalleled given its tiny size, relative youth and persistent threats to its existence.
It is essential that this information reach all Jewish eyes, ears, hearts and minds in order to restore Jewish unity on Israel and Zionism. And it is crucial that it also reach as many non-Jews as possible. It is vital to focus on reaching young Jews and non-Jews. Brief videos and new media, comic books and graphic novels, trading cards, pop culture and electronic games are among the avenues that must be used.
Zionism is and must remain an eternal movement so that Israel can remain an eternal Jewish state with an undivided Jerusalem as its capital. For as long as there are Jewish people, this desire and need to have a homeland, to be able to perform mitzvot that can only be performed in Israel and/or when a majority of the world’s Jews live in Israel and to have a refuge from persecution and attacks will always exist.
Zionism is more than a concept. Its ultimate fulfillment is living in Israel and—as the League of Nations declared in its Mandate for Palestine 100 years ago—that Jews participate through “close settlement of the land.” With the dedication and hard work of my colleagues, lay leaders, volunteers and others of goodwill—and, of course, G-d’s blessing—the Zionist movement and the Jewish State of Israel will continue to flourish.
Steve Feldman is the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Zionist Organization of America.