I Am A Zionist, Because
by Gil Troy
On the 53rd anniversary of Israel's independence, it is all too
tempting for friend and foe alike to define Israel, and Zionism,
solely by the Arab world's bloody hostility. To do so is to miss
the normal miracles that occur in Israel daily, the millions who
are able to live and learn, laugh and play, in the Middle East's
only democracy. To do so is to underestimate the power of Zionism,
a gutsy and visionary movement that outlasted the twentieth
century's grander and seemingly permanent revolutions such as
Bolshevism, Nazism, fascism and communism.
The sad truth is that over a century after its founding, Zionism
seems to be losing its luster. Arabs have demonized Zionism as
the modern bogeyman, and many have clumped Zionists, along with
Americans and most Westerners, as the Great Satans. The violence
of the last seven months has revived the United Nations libel
equating Zionism with racism. In Israel, a small but influential
group of intellectuals fancies themselves to be post-Zionists,
while a negligible but voluble minority of Jews in the Diaspora
please man-bite-dog op-ed editors by proudly proclaiming
themselves Jewish anti-Zionists.
On this Israel Independence Day, Jews should reaffirm their faith
and pride in Zionism, while the world should marvel at its
achievements. Zionists must not allow their enemies to define and
slander the movement. No nationalism is pure, no movement is
perfect, no state ideal, but today Zionism remains legitimate,
inspiring, relevant, to me and to most Jews. A century ago,
Zionism revived pride in the label "Jew"; today, Jews must revive
pride in the label "Zionist."
I am a Zionist because I am a Jew - and without recognizing a
national component in Judaism I cannot explain its unique
character, a world religion bound to one homeland, a people whose
Holy Days are defined by the Israeli agricultural calendar,
rooted in theological concepts, and linked with historic events.
I am a Zionist because I know my history - and after being exiled
from their homeland 1931 years ago, the defenseless, wandering
Jews endured repeated persecutions from both Christians and
Muslims - centuries before culminating in the Holocaust.
I am a Zionist because Jews never forgot their ties to their
homeland, their love for Jerusalem, and often established
autonomous governing structures in Babylonia, in Europe, in
North Africa, governments in exile yearning to return home.
I am a Zionist because those ideological ties nourished and were
nurtured by the plucky minority of Jews who remained in the land of
Israel, sustaining continued Jewish settlement throughout the exile.
I am a Zionist because in modern times, the promise of Emancipation
and Enlightenment was a double-edged sword, often only offering
acceptance for Jews in Europe after they assimilated, yet never
fully respecting them if they did assimilate.
I am a Zionist because in establishing the sovereign state of
Israel in 1948, the Jews were merely reconstituting in modern
Western terms a relationship with a land they had been attached
to for 4,000 years since Abraham - just as India did in
establishing a modern state out of an ancient civilization.
I am a Zionist because in building that state, the Jews were
returning to history, embracing normalcy, a condition which gave
them power, with all its benefits, responsibilities, and dilemmas.
I am a Zionist because I celebrate the existence of Israel, and
like any thoughtful patriot, though I might criticize particular
governmental policies I may dislike - I do not delegitimize the
I am a Zionist because I live in the real world of nation-states,
and I see that Zionism is no more or less "racist" than any other
nationalism, be it American, Canadian, or Czech, all of which rely
on some internal cohesion, some sense of solidarity among some
historic grouping of individuals, and not others, some tribalism.
I am a Zionist because here in multicultural North America we have
learned that pride in one's heritage as a Jew, an Italian, a Greek,
can provide essential and time-tested anchors in a world
overdosing on materialism, consumerism, and a sensationalism of the
I am a Zionist because in our world of post-modern identities, I
know that we don't have to be "either-ors", we can be can "ands and
buts" -- a Zionist AND an American patriot; a secular and somewhat
assimilated Jew BUT a Zionist.
I am a Zionist because I am a democrat, and for the last two
centuries, the history of democracy has been intertwined with the
history of nationalism, while for the last century democracy has
been a central Zionist ideal, despite being tested under the most
I am a Zionist because I am an idealist, and just as a century ago,
the notion of a strong, independent, viable, sovereign Jewish state
was an impossible dream - yet absolutely worth fighting for - so,
too, today, the notion of a strong, independent, viable, sovereign
Jewish state living in true peace and harmony with its neighbors
appears to be an impossible dream - yet absolutely worth striving for.
I am a Zionist because I am a romantic, and the vision of the Jews
rebuilding their homeland, reclaiming the desert, renewing themselves,
was one of the greatest stories of the twentieth century, just as the
vision of the Jews maintaining their homeland, reconciling with the
Arab world, renewing themselves, and serving as a light to others,
a model nation state, could be one of the greatest stories of the
Yes, it sounds far-fetched today. But, as Theodore Herzl, the father
of modern Zionism said in an idle boast that has become a cliche:
"If you will it, it is no dream."
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal.
His book, "Why I Am a Zionist", is available through his website.
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