Recently, Temple of Aaron was vandalized with anti-Zionist graffiti. What’s more, the language used suggests it could have been done by other Jews. While this is not confirmed, it brings up a needed conversation in our community: If anti-Zionism is on the rise within the Jewish community, the case for Zionism needs to be more effectively communicated.
In my own Jewish upbringing in the Twin Cities, I never felt the “why” of Zionism was explained well enough. There were activities where my peers and I would make candles like we were in Tzfat, drink tea like we were in a Bedouin tent, and even pretend we were in an IDF (Israel Defense Forces) boot camp. While often fun (and sometimes odd), none of it explained why we should support Israel or be Zionists.
Even the coveted “Escape to Israel” program — where kids pretend they are leaving Europe and attempting to evade the British troops to reach Mandatory Palestine — was not sufficient. Without the historical context of why the British were stopping Jews from getting to pre-state Israel and why Jews were trying so hard to get there, “Escape to Israel” felt like a generic Jewish story. After all, as American Jews, most of our family histories coming to this country involve a similar story of escaping violence and finding safety elsewhere.
Of course, the land of Israel is mentioned throughout the Tanakh. But not all Jews connect to their Jewishness on a religious basis, so Zionism based off religion is often unconvincing.
With no good explanation of Zionism, it is no wonder that members of the Jewish community may turn to anti-Zionism — especially in reaction to the painful reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I know for myself, even saying something as trivial as “sometimes Israel makes mistakes” can be met with shout downs that Israel must be supported no matter what.
I know from my peers that I am not the only one to experience this. If an attempt to question any of Israel’s misdeeds is met with the reproach that Israel can do no wrong, it only seems natural to pull away from support all together. If the case for Zionism is not made adequately, and the space for questioning is not given, the choice for anti-Zionism becomes reasonable.
My own comfort with using the label Zionist to describe myself only came in recent years from self-education, despite growing up in our community’s education system. After questioning “why Zionism or perhaps anti-Zionism,” I found a far stronger foundation than all of my upbringing.
Suddenly, I found our connection to Israel as a homeland went beyond religion, but it is based in archeology, genealogy, and history. I also discovered that to be Jewish was not just a religion, but an ethnoreligion rooted in our indigenous land of Israel. That our history in diaspora is the result of millennia of colonization. It took my own work to understand that Zionism can be described as an indigenous rights movement and that indigenous autonomy is a basic tenant of international law.
The language I found to claim my own Zionism is important, as it uses much of the leftist framework that anti-Zionism is often rooted in. And with the Jewish community overwhelmingly leaning left with their politics, giving a liberal framework for Zionism would seem more effective than demanding noncritical loyalty.
None of the resources for me to understand Zionism give the state of Israel a free pass when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, it gives me the tools to discuss Israel both critically and accurately.
And while my own path of self-discovery should not necessarily be a framework, if I could find a better way to understand Zionism independently, surely the Jewish community can find more effective ways to educate the need for Zionism. And a more thorough understanding is surely worth pursuing.
Chloe E.G. Tross grew up in the Twin Cities Jewish community, only leaving briefly to attend the University of Iowa. She is a nonprofit worker that resides in Minneapolis with her husband and son.