By DAN ILLOUZ originally posted in Jpost
Ever since the UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 of 1975 declared Zionism is a form of racism, the word Zionism has lost some of its public appeal.
The movement that represented a fight for freedom became branded a movement of discrimination.
As the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for the delegitimization of Israel gains ground and becomes a strategic threat, it has become important to go back to those very basic principles: the basic values which the Jewish state represents.
The principles outlined here are principles with universal relevance. My claim is that Zionism is a movement which should be a great inspiration for all people: both Jews and non-Jews.
There are many more of these principles, but this sample should suffice to give a clear message: The BDS movement is an enemy not only of Israel, but of all the universal values outlined below.
Zionism as a symbol of historical justice The story of Zionism starts 2,000 years ago. At that time, the Jewish nation was violently kicked out of its homeland. It was then it started yearning and dreaming to come back.
S.Y. Agnon, Nobel Laureate in literature, put it best in his 1966 acceptance speech for the prize: “As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the exile.
But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed a similar historical outlook, in a speech he gave to the US Congress: “In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. We are not the British in India; we are not the Belgians in the Congo. This is the land of our forefathers, the Land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one God, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace. No distortion of history can deny the 4,000-year-old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.”
Two thousand years ago, the Jews were exiled from their land. The violent ethnic cleansing of the area that took place so long ago could have been forgotten by history. However, history remembered the Jews, since the Jews never forgot their homeland. And almost 2,000 years later, historic justice was achieved, when the Jews returned to the Land of Israel and reestablished their own independent state.
The establishment of the State of Israel is nothing less than a symbol of historic justice. No amount of delegitimization, revisionist history or “alternative narratives” will change this plain fact.
Zionism as a symbol of positive nationalism Nationalism has been given a negative reputation in the past few decades. The reason is obvious: Fascism is considered by many to be a form of nationalism.
As such, after seeing the results of fascism, people want to run as far away as possible from anything relating to fascism.
However, true nationalism is not about hating others.
True nationalism is about loving your own.
Nationalism is not about negative feelings towards those who are different, but rather about a positive feeling of solidarity towards those who are a member of your own nation. Just as a brother’s love for his sister does not mean he will hate all other humans, so too the feeling of national solidarity should not translate into negative feelings towards others.
Zionism is deeply rooted in Jewish nationalism.
Jewish nationalism has its roots in the Hebrew Bible, where God told Abraham: “And I will make you a great nation […] And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 2:2-3). This nationalism is, in its very essence, a positive nationalism. Yes, the Jewish nation is a separate nation. However, the goal of this nation is to bring good to the world.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, Jewish nationalism has contributed a lot to humanity. I am not only referring to the disproportionate number of Nobel laureates, or the hi-tech innovation which has earned Israel the title of “Start-up Nation.”
Whenever there is a humanitarian crisis caused by natural disasters, Israel is the first to respond. Israel’s national army, whose goal is to defend the nation of Israel, sees its role as defending other nations in crisis.
It sees its role as doing good.
Israel is a unique symbol of a truly positive nationalism.
Zionism as a symbol of freedom While Jews yearned to go back to the Land of Israel for almost 2,000 years, their yearning never translated into political action. What happened in the late 19th century for Zionism to emerge as a political movement? With the rise of liberalism, the idea of freedom became central to the political discourse.
It is this political discourse which led Jews to also ask for freedom. First, they tried to do so through the “Jewish Enlightenment,” as part of the nation in which they resided. As all individuals were granted liberties, the Jews asked to receive those same rights.
Yet very quickly, it became clear that in order to get those rights, they would have to sacrifice their Jewishness: “Be a Jew inside your home, and a man on the street.”
However, Judaism is not a religion like Christianity that can be confined to one’s home, but rather touches all aspects of one’s life – including national, historical and cultural identity. It is impossible to be fully Jewish while keeping one’s Jewishness “inside.”
The next step divided the Jewish people between those who considered complete assimilation, and those who understood Zionism was the answer.
If Jews could not get their freedom in Europe, maybe it had become time to go back to their historical homeland and get freedom there? National freedom for the Jewish people, who have been under foreign rule for thousands of years, would translate into the opportunity for individual freedom. Zionism was the movement for the freedom of the Jewish people.
Of course, Zionism is not only a symbol for the national freedom of the Jewish nation. It has also, over time, become a symbol for individual freedoms – in its ability to maximize the individual freedoms given to minorities, while not sacrificing the national identity as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
A lot of books have been written with theoretical academic analysis of the best ways to balance national identity and the rights of minorities. In most countries, those questions remain theoretical. In Israel, these questions are relevant every day. Israel has done a remarkable job of dealing with these complex issues.
Zionism as a symbol of democracy Israel is also, of course, a democracy. Israel is the only stable democracy in the Middle East.
Looking at a map, Israel is geographically located on the front line of a battle between civilizations: those who embrace democracy, and those who do not.
This frontline is not only geographic, as Israel’s enemies who attack it today do not hide the fact that their enemy is the Western democratic world as a whole. Israel just happens to be the easiest target right now.
Democracy is more than simply a type of regime.
Democracy is a way to ensure that citizens participate in the system of government. The nation is not subservient to a ruler, but rather the ruler is subservient to the nation.
Almost no democracy has been able to stay as stable as Israel has been from its establishment. In America, when democracy was established, it was very limited, since it only represented the will of white males. In France, democracy did not survive very long, until Napoleon came along as a dictator.
There were many reasons to think that Israel would also fail in establishing a stable democracy. Most of its citizens came from non-democratic countries (both eastern European and Arab countries). They did not have a democratic culture.
Also, war is a time in which even the most democratic countries temporarily put democratic principles on hold (look at the US in World War II). Israel has been in a state of constant war since its establishment, and yet democracy has survived – even as the deep divisions in Israeli society could also fuel non-democratic behavior.
Zionism’s astounding success in building a stable democracy makes it a symbol for democracy, not only in the Middle East, but all around the world.
What do you oppose when opposing Zionism? There are many more values for which Zionism serves as an ambassador. However, these small examples can help give a clear message: Those who support the BDS movement and oppose Zionism should know that when opposing Zionism, they are in fact opposing the principles of justice, freedom and democracy.
Their fight against Israel’s right to exist is a fight for a world without these great values.
Those of us who believe in these values should join together and defend Israel against this new strategic threat.