The Conspiracy

Defending Real Zionism

The first time I heard about Im Tirtzu I was in a kosher Florida pizzeria that was selling the organization’s shirts in exchange of a substantial donation. I asked the cashier what the group was all about.

Tzionut,” she said. Zionism. Bu what kind of Zionism? She didn’t give any specifics.

Last week, I found out more. Im Tirtzu–a right-wing Israeli students’ group–has come out attacking the New Israel Fund–a group that distributes money to progressive Israeli nonprofits advocating civil rights, women’s rights, Arab rights and other like causes–for enabling the Goldstone Report, which Im Tirtzu vilifies as anti-Israel. Their argument is that because NIF funds many groups that contributed testimony to the report, NIF is anti-Israel, as is its chairwoman, Naomi Hazan, whom they attacked in an ad in the Jerusalem Post a few days ago.

By doing this Im Tirtzu is attacking Zionism, not defending it. NIF is in no way responsible for the Goldstone Report–just because they fund organizations doesn’t mean they influenced the report’s findings–and by seeking to delegitimize NIF Im Tirtzu is saying that progressive Zionist views are not welcome: in other words, that the only true Zionism is their right-wing Zionism.

If their campaign succeeds at all, it would be a tragedy for the Zionist movement for two reasons. First, Zionism has never pertained to right or left: the only tenet necessary to call oneself a Zionist was to advocate for a Jewish national homeland. Even those who supported the establishment of a Jewish state in Uganda were considered Zionists. And the same is true today. NIF is an actively Zionist organization: it funds groups that support the growth and development of the Jewish national homeland. If they were to be blocked in any way, the Zionist discourse would lose out. Furthermore, it would send the message that in order to be Zionist, one must conform to a political ideology.

And that is the second key feature of the NIF: it is not political. While the group’s policies are decidedly liberal, it does not fund Labor, Meretz, Hadash or any other party. Rather, it funds NGOs that work on building civil society, galvanizing the grassroots and fighting for change on issues, not on whole platforms. This kind of grassroots effort is key to the functioning of democracies, moreso than Israel’s dysfunctional, overbureaucratic government.

If anything, the NIF is what we should be putting our support behind. It funds not oversensationalized UN resolutions but people trying to effect real change and expand the discourse in Israeli society. That is the enduring backbone of Zionism: that it empowers the Jewish nation to speak out and act. By trying to silence that voice, Im Tirtzu is doing a great disservice to the cause it pretends to support.

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6 Older Responses to “Defending Real Zionism”

  1. Shmuel Cohen
    February 3, 2010 at 1:01 am #

    It is funny to read your article.
    I can’t believe that you believe what you write.
    You are attacking IM TIRTZU and not the arguments of IM TIRTZU.
    Just for your information, besides probably that 3% percent that represents MERETZ and the extreme left, the vast majority of Israel shares IM TIRTZU perception.
    To call the majority extreme right is funny, and not logic and not true.

    By the way, during the last years talking with Progressive Jewish Americans I have always being said that it is not PC to say that you are Zionist, that progressive Americans perceives someone that claims that he is Zionist as a right-wing.

    NIF is putting itself outside the Zionist movement. If you like or not, IM TIRTZU represent the legitimate Herzl voice.

    February 9, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    The nif are hunting israeli soldiers and hurming the secure of israel and its right to defence.
    Im Tirtzu are the new realistic normal wind in Israel. most of the Israelis are behinde them!

  3. Tildon Katz
    February 13, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

    all of you yids are nuts!
    the real zionism? the legitimate herzl voice? hunting israeli soldiers?

    let’s all take a seat and cool down.
    first, to the author – who are you to say what is real or false zionism?
    next, to my fellow commentors, both israelis i’m sure — regardless of anything that zionism meant up until now — zionism today is in its essence, a right-wing, racist, expansionist, imperialist ideology, manipulated to fit the needs of israelis who work their own ‘terrorism’ (a vicious euphemism) into a 5000 year narrative of jewish perseverance and struggle — i got news for you

    zionism will be the death of your facist great society

    by the way, i’m a god-loving, practicing Jew, grandchild of holocaust survivors — thought i should mention it since you israelis like to place jews in a hierarchy and make us fight for who can be the best

  4. Adam
    February 14, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    Did you just ridicule someone for saying what “real” zionism is, then use a single definition to define zionism? How delightfully contradictory.

    Also, did you just claim that “you israelis like to place jews in a hierarchy and make us fight for who can be the best.” Because I’m pretty sure my Israeli father would be quite offended by such comments. Pretty reductive and hurtful to say about a whole group of people. Furthermore, do you really see no humanistic or peace loving trend within the whole Zionist movement? None at all. Is there only settlers for you? Are you really allowing BB to define millions of peoples beliefs?

  5. Ari Brian
    February 15, 2010 at 9:54 am #

    Ha. Well I was going to comment and say that I was pretty impressed with your post Ben. Its certainly a struggle to maintain the legitimacy of ‘progressive zionism’. Both in the North American discourse and here in Israel (writing to you from Ramat Gan at the moment). But its necessary also in order to show that there isn’t one sense of what that word means when its supposed to be a meaningful ideal. Also, since it began as an ideal that was bigger than just a jewish state, but instead a certain kind of state with values far from those often shown by the current political entity, than its pretty blasphemous (haha) for someone to pigeon-hole it into just supporting the actions of Israel.

    I also very much know that because much of the discourse doesn’t leave room for this kinda of ‘thought’ that it can feel pretty lonely, alienating, and difficult to hold on and ‘Defend real zionism’. So its good to know that your supported. I work everyday with both north americans and israelis who aim to uphold and support what we see as the real values of zionism. And really that means working to better life both here in Israel (more justice, less racisim, love for your neighbor and community regardless of their skin color or family heritiage or (gasp) nationality/religion, that sort of thing), and in the discourse surrounding it inside and outside of the country. Hang in there Ben, theres a lot of ‘progressive zionists’ out there who agree with you and are working towards it. Many would love to be able to be proud of Israel. But recognize that the current country is a long way from that point just yet. Keep on pushing. A’v’H

  6. Tova
    March 26, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    Everyone fails to realize that true Zionism predates Herzl and iits modern form. True Zionism was the heartfelt connection to Tzion which managed to stay alive through prayer and longing for Jerusalem and the rebuilt homeland during our entire long Diaspora. It is rather miraculous that all those thousands of years of exile and persecution did not quell the longing, and that the small flame in most Jewish hearts was not snuffed out. If we do not recognize this, then we are not discussing anything but the modern concept of Tzionut which grew out of that very miracle. In the long run of history, it it is just a part of the continuum. Tzionut also always saw Israel first and foremost as the homeland of the Jewish people, as a Jewish homeland, emphasize the Jewish – the only such Jewish land in the world. And, although there is no question that others can be part of that, the focus is first and foremost on what is best for the “klall” – the majority of those Jews.

    What is today termed “the settler movement” is but a continuation of the pioneer spirit which built the modern State. Theior goal is to continue building Israel. One cannot speak proudly of the early settlers and pioneers who built the land and villify their heirs. To do so is is schizophrenic and in the end, very divisive. They continue to fulfill the Zionist dream and ideals of all the milllenia.

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