There is an argument–a struggle, if you will–over modern Zionism. Some argue that Zionism has already been achieved. Israel has been re-established as the nation-state of the Jewish people. It has one of the world’s most powerful militaries and highly-regarded tech centers. Others claim that Zionism will only be fulfilled once Israel gains full international recognition–namely from the Islamic World. Religious Zionists will claim that Zionism is achieved only when Israel claims all of its historical land (land that Arabs now live on) and when all Jews around the world come home.
Each of these arguments has some merit. But I believe that Zionism is more simple: it is merely the belief that Jews have the right to self-determination in our indigenous homeland, like all other peoples of the world. It isn’t something that can expire or be maintained–it’s a belief. But deeper than that, Zionism is a revolution. It is, so far, the world’s only example of an aboriginal people–largely displaced–retaking our homeland from foreigners, developing it, and actively working to bring our people out of diaspora and back home. It is the story of an indigenous people not wiped out, or left weak and in small numbers. It is the story of Indigenous Success.
Too many Zionists nowadays have lost the narrative, and have parroted hasbara only about Israel’s technological prowess or better human rights record than its neighbors. Others try to tie Zionism’s future in with the anti-globalist narrative of right-wingers, or with the tikkun olam-centered narrative of left-wing movements. Given that Zionism is first & foremost an aboriginal rights revolution, its future should be tied to helping other native peoples achieve their own liberation.
Is Zionism Still Apolitical?
The Zionist Movement has been infiltrated and influenced by various groups with their own agendas. On the Political Left, organizations like the New Israel Fund and J-Street seek to portray themselves as “pro-Israel,” yet often have little do say or do to back that up. The only thing these organizations do is critique the country and act against its national interests. It is perfectly fine to condemn certain government policies or make recommendations for a shift. Yet often times, these two left-wing movements only act on the desires or left-wing political parties in other countries.
Take, for example, J-Street’s backing of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran. Israeli politicians from all across the political spectrum condemned the deal. And while J-Street has generally made itself out to be an “anti-occupation” organization, the Iran deal had nothing to do with the two-state solution. Similarly, NIF has dubious ties to Adalah, an Arab organization opposed to Israel’s status as the Jewish state. It has also been involved in pro-BDS organizations such as +972-Magazine or Breaking the Silence. Such left-wing groups are not traditional lobbying efforts that aim to promote a two-state solution and celebrate Israel. They masquerade as Zionist organizations while seeking to steer public opinion of progressive Diaspora Jews in a leftist direction for their own agendas.
There is also a right-wing counterpart to all of this. Evangelical “Christian Zionists” are also seeking to make Zionism into a right-wing movement, rather than an apolitical one with one purpose. The US Embassy move to Jerusalem this past spring is just one example. Present at the ceremony were evangelical Christian pastors and preachers who aim to convert Jews. Some of them, like John Hagee, have claimed that Hitler was sent by the Almighty to “hunt Jews” and disparaged the LGBT community. Others, such as Robert Jeffress, claims that Jews are going to Hell for not accepting Jesus as Messiah.
Similarly, a good portion of pro-settler organizations in Judea & Samaria (the West Bank) have strong ties to evangelical Christianity. Many of these evangelical organizations claim to support Israel because of the “shared democratic values” with the West, or because of the War on Terror. Yet the underlying reason for this conservative support is to bring about an apocalyptic rapture from the Bible, in which most of world Jewry will perish and the rest will accept Jesus as Lord & Savior.
How Movements are Infiltrated
Zionists must steer clear of these attempts. It’s true that early Zionism had strong socialist tendencies. It’s also true that most diaspora Jews who support Israel tend to be left-leaning. It’s perfectly fine for one to have personal politics–left-wing or right-wing–and still support Zionism. Yet as a whole, the movement should be apolitical. We should cooperate with whomever we can that supports us without harming others. To allow those with other agendas to co-opt the movement is to allow it to begin a slow decline.
Take, for example, the Women’s March, Occupy Wall Street, or the 1999 Battle in Seattle. All of these movements were built on some greater vision for social justice. The Women’s March aimed to take action against far-right sexism. Occupy Wall Street was meant to bring about a reform of the economic system. The Battle in Seattle was a protest movement against unchecked, globalized, free-market capitalism, which has spread income inequality throughout the world. In the latter two movements, violent anarchists hijacked the stage. This shifted public sympathy away from the protests and towards those who were against them. Occupy and the Battle in Seattle achieved nothing but looking like delusional lunatics who craved chaos. As such, income inequality has not only continued globally, but deepened. As for the Women’s March, its ties to the racist, anti-LGBT, sexist Louis Farrakhan have whittled away the support it once had. The movement went from being one that focused on eradicating sexism to one that was stained by other, less inclusive agendas.
The Women’s March, Battle in Seattle, and Occupy Wall Street all had different aims (although there’s good reason to suspect they see through the same lens on a lot of issues). Unfortunately for them, their core tenets and goals were co-opted by people with their own agendas. The movements lost sight of what they were aiming to change, and declined. If Zionism as a movement allows itself to be co-opted by right-wing evangelicals or left-wing radicals, it will lose its soul & purpose: aboriginal liberation.
Get Back to Basics
I have recently seen too many Zionists, of one sort or the other, forgetting what Zionism is about. Some of them are right-wing and sympathetic to the Trump Administration’s pro-Israel moves. Because of this, they have engaged in defense of right-wing policies that they would’ve found despicable before. One example is getting upset over the controversial Gilette ad criticizing toxic masculinity, and promoting the likes of Jordan B. Peterson, a right-wing professor who argues that the Political Left is “feminizing” men. What does any of this have to do with Zionism?
On the flip-side, I have seen too many Zionists who have argued that it is important to stay in the Women’s March. While saying they feel hurt, betrayed, and upset about the movement’s open anti-Semitism and dismissal of Jewish concerns, they maintain that it’s important to “support justice for others.” How is that, in any way, a form of Jewish liberation, which Zionism aimed to achieve?
Regardless of one’s personal opinions on socio-economic issues, the environment, or foreign policy at large, the constant fighting over whether Zionism is right-wing or left-wing is pointless and damaging. Zionism is progressive in the sense that it is anti-imperialist and pro-indigenous. It is conservative in the sense that it is for the nation-state system, and will use force to defend itself. Rather than trying to sway fellow Zionists to one political side or the other, we should get back to the root of what our movement was.
Continuing to support and protect Israel is important, but Zionism is a revolution. We should be working to spread that by helping other native peoples around the world. There are countless aboriginal peoples who have been displaced, slaughtered, or had their land taken from them by foreigners. If Israel is indeed a “light unto nations,” then let us set the example for indigenous liberation. Already, Jews have been at the forefront of many social justice movements. That is something to be proud of, but also to expand upon.
In Kurdistan, what is potentially the most pro-Israel and least anti-Semitic place in the Middle East, Israelis already have a legacy for providing vital military assistance. The Jewish state also buys oil from Iraqi Kurdistan. Yet there is much more that can be done to support the Kurds, as well as others regionally (Assyrians, Yezidis, Amazigh) who have suffered from the same persecution under Ottoman and Arab imperial powers, as well as European colonization. The Zionist Movement was somewhat miraculous. A ragtag band of refugees and Holocaust survivors with few arms and little money managed to fend off enormous and decently-equipped Arab armies numerous times. The Kurds and other regional minorities and native peoples are in a somewhat better position. Many of them have a larger population, more financial assistance from the West, and more sophisticated weaponry. Pro-Israel lobby groups should work to garner support for these groups in Western capitals, and Israeli diplomats can also serve as mediators to help them work out internal conflicts within their communities and between other peoples.
In parts of the United States and South America, various indigenous groups are suffering from the depletion of the environment and resources. Much as Israel has provided game-changing agricultural aid throughout Africa, it could do the same with many of these groups. In the era of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, indigenous peoples in the Amazon face massive deforestation. Such a project could deplete the resources these tribes depend on for food and shelter. Even as Israel aligns itself with Bolsonaro in certain ways, it can still safeguard native peoples in the Amazon in other ways, such as providing similar food aid and lobbying for Bolsonaro to prevent the most dangerous moves on this issue.
As climate change begins to affect the livelihoods of certain tribes in the US desert southwest, drip-irrigation and other similar projects could be supplied by Jerusalem. Many tribes also suffer from the issue of dying languages. As elders pass on, there are few among younger generations who know (or know sufficiently) their people’s spoken tongue. Hebrew, too, was a dying language once. Now, it is the official language in Israel. Student exchanges could help empower Native American youth. Zionist organizations should look into funding, sponsoring, or creating cross-cultural exchanges with other indigenous peoples. This, to some extent, has already occurred with the Maori.
Such cross-cultural exchanges would benefit both visitors to Israel as well as Israelis. Israel could impart on various indigenous visitors knowledge on agricultural, technological prowess and independence. Rather than relying–as too many do, these days–on governments who have oppressed their peoples, aboriginal visitors will be able to regain a sense of sovereignty when it comes to preserving yet advancing their traditions and lifestyles. Israel, too, could offer lessons in reviving and preserving dying languages through its own experience with Hebrew. Meanwhile, young Israelis–leaders in the making–could learn about taking more pride in their unity as a people and connection to the land. Past generations have tried to “Westernize” and “Europeanize” Israel, leading to a caste-like system that has privileged Ashkenazi Jews while neglecting Sephardic/Mizrahi Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and others. Ending these divisions and taking pride in our Levantine identity, rather than trying to convince Westerners that we can be just like them, is necessary for the continuity of Jewish liberation.
Israel & Jewry at large has a lot of shared struggles with other native peoples around the world. One stems from the erasure of our history and its usurpation by foreigners. Another is the enormous toll that climate change is taking, especially on our lands. And finally, the marginalization of aboriginal voices, be it with the case of Jewish refugees from Islamic lands; the media’s silence on Standing Rock; the mistreatment of the Amazigh people in North Africa by the Arab majority; or the effect of rising sea levels on South Pacific peoples.
Jews–and the Zionist Movement as a whole–cannot retreat and isolate ourselves, focusing only on fighting anti-Semitism. Nor can we allow our identity and movement to be co-opted by one political group or another. Instead, we need to be on the forefront of the battle for the existence of indigenous peoples worldwide, and for indigenous autonomy, revival, and protection. Already we have set an example, and have ties with numerous indigenous groups worldwide. Let’s use these advantages to create wider connections between different native peoples and unite to secure our future together.