The Conspiracy

The evolution of a Zionist

http://newvoices.org/2010/01/13/the-evolution-of-a-zionist/

While volunteering in Israel on a 5 month MASA program, working with Israelis ranging from ages 7-17, me and my fellow volunteers are always asked the same question: why do you love Israel so much that you are living here? They can’t get their heads around the fact that people not only want to, but are passionate about living in Israel. For me, the answer to this question has always been obvious: I’m here because I’m a Zionist. However, as I keep spending more and more time in Israel, my definition of Zionism and my identity as being one, has become blurry- what does it really mean to call yourself a Zionist?
As a Jewish history major, it was always easy for me to identify with 19th and early 20th century Zionism: the need of a Jewish land in the midst of rising antisemitism and the need for Jews to completely evolve from antisemitic perceptions of a Jew. As a politics student I understood the position of post Zionists, or post modern Zionists; that this age of Zionism is dead and gone, but I have always been too ideological to really face this answer. Amos Oz writes in his book, a perfect peace, there is “the eternal and tragic conflict between high ideals and gray realities”. Obviously I chose high ideals. I was stuck in this whirlwind obsession and love for the ideal of the Jewish state- especially when my studies focus on the Holocaust, my emotions and my passions pointed to the obvious need of the state. Not to mention my religious affiliations, which allowed me to see myself in some sort of pre-messianic age; fulfilling the age old prophecies in the renewal of a Jewish state in our land. So basically my Zionism was old and outdated. I wanted to work the land, become a new Jew, and contribute to the growth of the Jewish state- as if it really needed me to survive. Original Conception of Jewish settlers to Palestine I know this basic picture has been many times complicated by history, but the romance of loving Israel in this simple way is definitely charming. The lure of a people getting their hands dirty, and redefining themselves for a fresh start, despite attractiveness, is over. We are no longer the people huddled over our radios claiming victory on November 29, 1947- foaming over our prospects of new beginnings as the UN hands us our country on a platter. World history has gotten in the way- and in order to re-evaluate my Zionism, I must include this in my definition.
I realize I avoided reality because today’s Israel makes me uncomfortable. While I have this innate Zionist love within me, I am also ashamed at so many actions both the government and many of its citizens take. I look away in embarrassment as Jews refuse to stop building on Arab land in the West Bank, or as the government takes years to re-open a road for Palestinian use. Modern Jewish Settler I sigh continuously when I read about the religious-secular divide within Israel- as if this land was not made for one people. Yet, despite this, I realize my innate feelings might also be connected to fabricated ideas. It is with this in mind, that I realize I must explore these issues, one by one. While these complicating concepts can definitely make any Zionist uncomfortable, they are necessary for both our growth and sustainability as one. While our grandparents’ generation got the opportunity to lay the ideological groundwork both here in Israel, and in Europe, our generation has the opportunity to tackle and explore the juicy and complicated questions they set up. Therefore, it is with this in mind I now look forward to my journey as a volunteer in Israel, constantly questioning my identity as a Zionist.
Hailey Dilman is a MASA participant, participating in Oranim’s Community Involvement Program, one of Masa Israel‘s 160 programs.

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5 Older Responses to “The evolution of a Zionist”

  1. Elana
    January 14, 2010 at 12:31 am #

    This is certainly an interesting discussion starter!

  2. YONA
    January 14, 2010 at 2:57 am #

    I enjoyed reading this article. Thank you for your view Hailey. I will be looking forward to reading future blogs by you.

  3. Rivka T.
    January 14, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    I know that I struggle with the same issues. Having been raised on “Naomi Shemer Zionism,” I too had romantic images of the New Jew building the land, refusing to succumb to persecution. It actually took several visits to Israel before I was able to be honest about what my eyes were seeing, that Israel was far from a perfect state.

    In no way do I resent these legends though. Every people and country has legends and these are the legends that first drew me to Israel. When I realized that these legends were false, when Israel was not just a safe haven for all, but a place where waves of immigration created classes and inequality in Israel, I felt compelled to try to make the country into that which exists in those legends.

    Today so often people who grew up on those legends struggle not only with redefining their own Zionism or relationships to Israel but relaying Israel to the younger generation. I think that while we should no longer give them Naomi Shemer Zionism, we also shouldn’t deny them the legendary Israel. While Israel has many, many issues, it is in many ways a legendary state, having accomplished so much in so short a time period. Of course, it still has a long way to go.

  4. David Olesker
    January 19, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    One of the innate tensions in 19th and 20th century Zionism was that between tradition and revolution. Was a future Jewish state to be a continuation of the story of the Jewish people, or a revolutionary break with recent Jewish history. In some ways, post-Zionism is the logical extension of the revolutionary view.

    The term, “Palestinian Land” is ambiguous. If one means the personal property of individual Palestinian Arabs that has been seized by the Israeli government or one of it’s agencies; then there are certainly grounds to discuss if it has been seized fairly, and even if it was, to wonder if compensation was fair.

    However, if one means public land that is being used for public public purposes by the Jewish state, then the term “Palestinian Land” carries with it hordes of assumptions that run counter to the “continuity” perspective of Zionism. Surely, if the Jewish State has any legitimacy at all, it lies in the claim that we are returning to the land of out ancestors from which we were driven against our will. The return of the Jews to their ancient home is not a legend, but a demonstrable triumph.

    However, if it is not their ancient home, but rather “Palestinian Land”, then it is no triumph, but a tragedy.

    Some would like to draw an inherent distinction between the area within the Green Line and that over it. However, it is a specious distinction. If Jews living in Hevron is automatically theft, then so are Jews living in Tel Aviv. Indeed this is precisely the view adopted by Israel’s enemies. The flip side of that is that if Jews have a claim on Tel Aviv, then they also have one on Hevron.

    (That’s not to suggest, by the way, that there aren’t legitimate arguments against the wisdom of asserting that claim at the moment. The fact that others also claim the whole area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is a fact we have to deal with, and some sort of territorial compromise might be a solution. I’m not arguing policy here, but rather principles.)

    However, the assumption that the Jews do not have an historical claim to all of that land is a function of the post-Zionism rejection of the historical continuity between Jewish history and modern Israeli history. That leads to the common phenomenon amongst post-Zionists that Israel doesn’t really have a claim to any of the Land against the Arabs. The all pervading assumption amongst post-Zionists that Israel can do no right is the logical consequence of this perspective. It is a corrosive attitude that has subverted much of the Zionist left, resulting in such glaring examples as the former head of the World Zionist Organization making yerida and urging other Israelis to do the same.

  5. Tim Upham
    March 18, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    What must be realized is that Zionism is not a rigid ideology. It is an ideology that evolves. First the United Nations voted to declare it as form of racism, then it rescinded that vote. Menachem Begin grew up in Anti-Semitic Poland, where for the four years pre-war Poland was a democracy, three Jewish political parties got voted into the Sejm. These political parties instead of trying to fight Anti-Semitism in Poland, instead embraced Zionism. Begin was shaped by that. As Prime Minister he encourage Jewish settlement of the West Bank, but he also welcomed Anwar Sadat, which led to the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. So Menachem Begin himself was a part of that evolution. Now that evolution must go into the situation concerning the West Bank, and solidifying an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. First Zionism was concerned about creating a Jewish State, and now Zionism needs to focus on that Jewish State co-existing with its neighbors.

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