Dear Mr. Herzl, Do I Count?

Categories: Personal Stories of Zionism, Israel and Progressive Identity

Rivka-Baker-KeuschA woman who lives in my apartment building gave me a round, gold pendant, which has a Chai (literally “life” in Hebrew) overlaid on a Star of David. It is quite beautiful. But in small letters underneath the star, it says “ציון”–Zion. Because of that four-letter word, I have never worn the necklace.

As part of my internship with The Third Narrative, I am exposed to academics and scholars who share many of my values. Some of these wiser, more experienced individuals are members of the Academic Alliance for Freedom (AAF), which is dedicated to combating academic boycotts, defending freedom of expression, and promoting empathy in the debate surrounding Israel and Palestine. Others are part of Scholars for Israel and Palestine (SIP), pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-peace individuals committed to advancing a two-state solution to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Most of these scholars are roughly on the same page when it comes to issues surrounding Israel, but recently they began to debate the meaning of Zionism in the contemporary context of the Occupation and whether Zionism still appeals to young people.

Until recently, I would have instinctually argued that the majority of young Jews are still proudly identifying as Zionist. This past spring, I took a Political Science course called “Zionism and Palestine.” While we explored different types of Zionism such as revisionary and cultural, the core tenet of the class was “Zionism is Jewish nationalism.” That central definition applied to all the types of Zionism we studied, and as the most stripped-down definition, I assume it must be true. Given that basic definition, I am unable to see how any Jew could fail to identify as a Zionist. How could you not want self-determination for your own people? Similarly, how can people who believe in self-determinism at all not support Zionism? If you feel one people has the right to a nation-state, why not Jews?

As a young Jew with ties to both the diaspora and to Israel, I am very much a Zionist in that I believe in the continuation of Israel as a Jewish state. However, wearing that necklace and proudly displaying “ציון” for people to see allows others to determine what Zionism means for me. They might assume I blindly condone all actions of the Israeli government. They might assume a religious connection to Israel and that I believe Jews have a Torah-given right to establish a Greater Israel. They might assume I am against the two-state solution and Palestinian self-determination.

I do not believe Zionism comes inextricably linked to any of those assumptions, but I still do not want to give others the opportunity to misconstrue why I identify as a Zionist. Jewish youth are coming of age seeing Israel in a new context. We have never been alive when Israel was not occupying another land, another people. For many of us, our parents’ earliest memories come after the ’67 war. We do not remember a weak Israel, and have not experienced the urgent need for Zionism. Others seem to take pleasure in telling us what Zionism is. Some of our peers claim that Zionism is a form of racism or colonialism and that it encourages apartheid. Older members of the Jewish community, those who remember Israel at its most vulnerable, stress the importance of the “historic homeland Eretz Yisrael,” as the World Zionist Organization’s Jerusalem Program calls it, while ignoring the complexities of a present in which Israel as a Jewish state does not appear to need “the common responsibility of the Jewish people for its continuity and future.”

I am a proud pro-Palestinian Zionist, but many with the same viewpoints as myself no longer identify as such. They have separated themselves from a broad movement, which includes everyone from two-staters to settlers. I cannot really blame them. The belief in Jewish self-determinism allows for a wide array of ideologies and political stances, and being clumped in with people whose values you despise is unsettling at best. I would hate for someone to assume I am racist because I am a Zionist.

When older Jews come out as anti/post/non-Zionist, they often face backlash from the Jewish community. Younger Jews, especially those who are progressive and liberal, have strong ties to their campus communities and often find themselves facing a backlash for identifying as Zionist. There is a lot of pressure on progressive young people to staunchly oppose Israel, as Israeli policies regarding the Occupation and last summer’s war are overwhelmingly viewed as despicable by college-age students. However, one can oppose specific Israeli policies while still believing in the right of Jews to have their own state. Support for Palestinian self-determination does not have to diminish Jewish self-determination, no matter how loudly those who disagree may yell.

In the words of Stav Shafir, a leftist member of Knesset, “Don’t argue with [me] about Zionism.” Zionism is a set of personal beliefs, where the only shared principle is support for the continuation of Israel. How could I not be a Zionist?

About Rivka Baker Keusch

Rivka Baker Keusch is a rising third-year at the University of Chicago where she studies Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. On campus, she is Co-Chair of J Street UChicago and the Israel Intern at the Newberger Hillel. She is also involved with the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, most recently acting as Fellow Ambassador for Dan Pfeiffer, former Senior Adviser to President Barack Obama for Strategy and Communications. She looks forward to working with Ameinu and helping The Third Narrative initiative to grow in size and influence.
This entry was posted in Personal Stories of Zionism, Israel and Progressive Identity. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Dear Mr. Herzl, Do I Count?

  1. Homer Rebera says:

    Great post. I am facing a couple of these problems.

  2. Rupert Ryks says:

    fantastic post.Ne’er knew this, appreciate it for letting me know.

  3. I believe this internet site has got some real good info for everyone : D.

  4. Great goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you are just too wonderful. I really like what you’ve acquired here, certainly like what you’re saying and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it sensible. I can not wait to read far more from you. This is actually a terrific website.

  5. Learn More says:

    Currently it appears like Expression Engine is the best blogging platform available right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you’re using on your blog?

  6. Dwayne says:

    Howdy I am so delighted I found your web site, I really found you by accident,
    while I was searching on Google for something else, Regardless I am here now
    and would just like to say thanks for a incredible
    post and a all round interesting blog (I also love the theme/design),
    I don’t have time to read through it all at
    the moment but I have book-marked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a
    great deal more, Please do keep up the awesome work.

  7. Roxann Schub says:

    This is a topic close to my heart cheers, where are your contact details though?

  8. I have been browsing on-line more than 3 hours as of late, but I by no means discovered any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is lovely value enough for me. In my view, if all site owners and bloggers made excellent content as you probably did, the web shall be much more useful than ever before.

  9. click says:

    I haven?¦t checked in here for a while because I thought it was getting boring, but the last several posts are good quality so I guess I?¦ll add you back to my daily bloglist. You deserve it my friend 🙂

  10. I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your blog. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme? Great work!

  11. It’s arduous to seek out knowledgeable individuals on this topic, but you sound like you understand what you’re speaking about! Thanks

  12. vipprinting says:

    After examine just a few of the blog posts on your web site now, and I actually like your approach of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark web site list and shall be checking back soon. Pls try my web page as effectively and let me know what you think.

  13. vip printing says:

    Hi my family member! I wish to say that this article is awesome, great written and include approximately all significant infos. I’d like to peer more posts like this .

  14. printing vip says:

    Dead composed content material, appreciate it for entropy.

  15. Hello there, You’ve performed a great job. I’ll certainly digg it and in my view recommend to my friends. I’m confident they will be benefited from this site.

  16. Thanks, I have just been looking for info about this subject for a while and yours is the best I’ve found out so far. But, what about the conclusion? Are you sure concerning the source?

  17. Seema says:

    Hey I am so glad I found your weblog, I really found you by mistake, while I was looking on Askjeeve for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say cheers for a remarkable post and a all round exciting blog (I also love the theme/design), I donít have time to look over it all at the moment but I have saved it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the great work.