Culture, Identity, Israel, Politics

No Zio!

israel_flag1As the post-J Street news coverage and tweets came and went, I was commiserating with a friend over how out-of-touch some of us feel amongst our more radical peers. Unlike many, we have two Jewish parents. We were given a traditional Jewish education through day schools and family involvement. And like many Jews fifteen or more years our elder, but unlike many our own age, we don’t shy away from calling ourselves “Zionists”.
We try to explain that “Zionism” is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people — that it aimed to restore the dignity and independence taken from our ancestors in ancient times through a return to our homeland and the building of a sovereign Jewish society. After the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, Zionists support the continued development, safety, and flowering of this restored autochthonous civilization to live up to its ideals and dreams and to be all it can be.
We believe that the best kind of Zionism is expressed through the democratic institutions, the rule of law, human rights and civil rights that flow naturally from the writings of our Prophetic forebears. We think that Zionism done right yields empowerment and dignity not just for Jews, but for non-Jewish minority groups in Israel. And we sincerely hold that the Zionist dream is yet incomplete as long as our neighbors the Palestinians are denied their own due dignity and sovereignty as well.
Unfortunately, it gets harder and harder to function under the Z-label. A wily conspiracy of Hamasniks and Kachniks, joining Palestinian terrorists with ultra-right Jewish… terrorists has been trampling the word “Zionism” lately, trying to make it mean the identical, yet despicable, things that they want it to mean.
It’s getting so you can barely call yourself a Zionist anymore in many progressive scenes without getting dirty looks!
But fret not, my old-school liberal Zionist friends! Inspired by the smashing successes of “NO HOMO” and “NO FEMO“, here are the only two words you need to remember in order to keep your rep tight in this strange, new world, lest anyone think you’re ‘one of those’:

“NO ZIO”

It can be used in political pontifications…
“I believe that the Palestinian people should not be denied their national rights. The Jews too, for that matter. (no zio)”
It can be used in questions during casual conversations with friends…
“Jamie is leaving for Ecuador on December 13th. Is that before or after we come back from our Birthright trip? (no zio)”
It can be used on shidduch dates…
“The matchmaker says you learned after high school at a seminary in Jerusalem? I was at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat. (no zio)”
It can even be used during prayers…
“Vehavi’enu leshalom mei’arba kanfot ha’arets, vetolichenu komemiut le’artsenu. (no zio)”
Use it in good health, and spread it around like some creamy, tasty chumus. No zio.

20 thoughts on “No Zio!

  1. development, safety, and flowering of this restored autochthonous civilization
    Unless you believe the book of Chronicles, Jews/Israelites never thought they were autochthonous. They came from “The other side of the River” (Josh. 24) or Egypt.

  2. Yeah, while Judaism is almost certainly originated in the Levant, those who founded the religion seem to have came from elsewhere. Also, as many from elsewhere converted since too, leaving the the autochthonous claim dubious at best.

    We think that Zionism done right yields empowerment and dignity not just for Jews, but for non-Jewish minority groups in Israel.

    Note that if Israel is to defined as from the Jordan to the sea as many Zionists insist, it seems it is Jews who are the minority group currently.

  3. I was surprised how the term Zionism was not used at JStreet, Jeffrey Goldberg’s “Say it..Say it!” interview notwithstanding. I think the savvy messagers have it right, defining yourself in terms of a hundred year old ideology just doesn’t do it for many. Great that it does for you, and good luck with the reclamation, but I don’t think you are fully grappling with the contradictions in the ideology that have caused its aging not so well.

  4. Kyle – Why stop at the Jordan River? True revanchists define The Land of Israel only ending past Amman and Damascus! Go for the gold! Don’t leave out the region the Bible calls “Over the River”, or “Prime Muttontown”..
    (History lesson: “Many Zionists” were never “Greater Land”-types. For instance, the Balfour Declaration only gave “favour” to “the establishment IN Palestine OF a national home for the Jewish People,” not “the establishment OF Palestine AS a national home for the Jewish People”. This kind of very-recent misconception about what normative Zionism means & has meant was what the post was talking about…. well, if you want to ignore the fun & silliness.)

  5. Amit – if you want to be picky about my favorite word, that’s okay. But keep in mind that most secular academic historians don’t find evidence for the Biblical history and do find evidence that Israelite society developed in Canaan. And I’d say that even Biblical texts reveal a difference in Israelite self-identity (national versus multitribal) before and after the establishment of the Monarchy.

  6. Trayf – thanks for the mixed encouragement. It’s hard for me to imagine that Zionism is dead, however, since the Palestinians keep working so hard at something really similar to it!…as did the south Slavic nations in the past 20 years, along with the Baltic peoples, Timor Leste, etc. Even Wales and Scotland are attempting cultural renaissances while trying to tug as much self-governance as they can get out of what’s left of the British Empire.
    Sure as an ideology it shows its age sometimes, but (if we want to engage in a serious discussion about it) I think that a lot more young Jews feel alienated from it because: (a) they never learned enough Jewish history to understand how and why it developed; (b) because in places like America they’ve been privileged to not live the life of a typical historical diaspora Jew, while reaping the bounty of a mixed, post-modern society that gives them as many identities beyond culture/religion as they want; and (c) because certain people have worked so hard to make “Zionist” a dirty word by defining it by its most ugly claimants.

  7. Chillul who? I more or less agree with your analysis of why younger Jews often don’t get with Zionism. However, given that is the case, I don’t think your efforts are going to do much to change it and I question whether it is the best use of your energy to try to undo the larger forces at work. A better question might be, what common goals could you work for that would animate this crew better than what some call the “dead brand” of Zionism? I do not share your beliefs, but putting myself in them, I might try to focus on improving Israel itself (however you take that) to improve the root of the bad pr, not its surface.

  8. “I was surprised how the term Zionism was not used at JStreet”
    Pro-israelism is Zionism. J street uses the latter term because it is not yet as tarnished, but the ideological positions are the same. The problem with Zionism, of course, is not the valence of the word, but the nature of the ideology. I don’t mean kahanists, I mean meretz Zionism, which is riven with contradictions.
    Yes, I’ve been “privileged to not live the life of a typical historical diaspora Jew, while reaping the bounty of a mixed, post-modern society that gives them as many identities beyond culture/religion as they want,” and I think it’s a pretty good life, and I would like to see all people have this oppourtunity. The only point I would differ on is that it need not be atypical. Yes, prior to liberalism and in illiberal societies this possibility did not exist, but now it does. Why would we want to advocate for the creation of an illiberal society (which is the core focus of Zionism, a political ideology that demands the state favor favor one group over another) rather than advocate for the creation of liberal societies so that American Jewish experience is not anomolous?

  9. Why would we want to advocate for the creation of an illiberal society (which is the core focus of Zionism, a political ideology that demands the state favor favor one group over another) rather than advocate for the creation of liberal societies so that American Jewish experience is not anomolous?
    Because Western liberalism is not the be all and end all of existence?
    I mean meretz Zionism, which is riven with contradictions.
    It is, and we should just come out and say as much: The state of Israel will never be a pure liberal Western democracy–and that’s fine (at least with me.)

  10. It is interesting that we hear much about not imposing our way of life and our style of government on foreign societies, be they in Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, China or elsewhere. Yet, Israel is deprived of its very legitimacy to exist if it does not comply totally with an ideal of liberal democracy that few nations have achieved, if any, under much less stressful conditions. Moreover, this ideal of democracy is being held as uniquely acceptable, with local acclimations termed the most obscene expletives imaginable – racist, fascist, apartheid.
    Why, exactly, must Israeli democracy mirror that of Sweden? Why cannot Israeli society strike its own national compact between rights, government, and the values, culture and faith of its inhabitants? Is there only one way to “do” democracy?
    One of the things I learned from watching videos of the JStreet conference – this coming from Yglesias – is that the Israeli Right of Return is not at all unique among modern democracies. Indeed, many, if not most European nations have similar repatriation laws – Ireland and Germany among them (he mentioned a Nordic country as well, but I don’t remember which one). Such examples don’t often enter the discourse over the Law of Return. Are Germany and Ireland racist, apartheid countries?
    More specific to CoA’s points, just as I reject the opinions of those in Israel who believe that a modern Jew cannot self-actualize except by making aliyah, so too I reject this notion that the American Jewish experience must be simplistically imposed on other Jewish communities.
    America has struck a social, political and cultural balance which has favored the Jewish minority, as it has favored all American citizens, by (gradually) leveling the playing field in the attainment of the American dream. That balance was struck after exterminating the natives, violently purging any notions of secession, and attaining a critical mass of uniform culture that could absorb social stress.
    To impose this experience on the Jews of Israel, facing a radically different set of circumstances, is to first dispossess them in their land, and then to disarm them for the bloodbath that ensues.

  11. chillul Who?,

    History lesson: “Many Zionists” were never “Greater Land”-types.

    Logic lesson: that doesn’t change the fact that many were, and many are.

    For instance, the Balfour Declaration only gave “favour” to “the establishment IN Palestine OF a national home for the Jewish People,” not “the establishment OF Palestine AS a national home for the Jewish People”.

    Sure, that is what the British offered, but Chaim Weizmann had bigger plans, and he is far from alone in that.

    This kind of very-recent misconception about what normative Zionism means…

    I was speaking of terms what the Zionist has been and continues to do in reality, not in abstract terms of ideology.

  12. Kyle – Considering how few Israelis actually want to stay in the territories, except as a security measure, I’d say that the “Greater Land” types are heavily out-numbered, and have been for a while.
    Avigdor – I agree with you, up until the end. 🙂 I don’t think that Israel should become a more dugri version of America. (There’s that quote I keep seeing online: ‘Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you’) But I do think that there are some clear areas where Israeli society can remake itself kinder, most equitable, and more honoring of human dignity — all values that come from the Tanach. Good point about the Irish Law of Return, btw: folks like to forget that Israel’s not the only country trying to (re)build itself by gathering in its diaspora. More “acceptable” nation-states do it all the time, to little complaint.

  13. Why, exactly, must Israeli democracy mirror that of Sweden? Why cannot Israeli society strike its own national compact between rights, government, and the values, culture and faith of its inhabitants? Is there only one way to “do” democracy?
    Agreed 100%. The American system, for instance, has worked gloriously well for America. But not every country/situtation is America.
    And, frankly, the nations which won WWII–including the USA that two nuclear bombs–afterward went about deliniating a set of timeless “rights,” to which all “civilized” nations must agree, less they be branded “rogue” nations.
    Israel indeed should attempt to take the best ideals from liberal Western democracy, and from socialism, and from our Jewish sources . . .. but we don’t need to worship on some concept of “liberalism.”
    We should never consider apologizing for the Law of Return, or that Hebrew is the national language, or that the Jewish holidays are the national holidays, or that Jewish education is part of the school curriculum, or that the budget priorities go to the Jewish majority, or that the government sees itself as responisble for world Jewry, or that–if we partition the Land–we you should do so in a way that transfers certain Palestinian-populated areas to Palestine, etc., etc.

  14. I do think that there are some clear areas where [EVERY] society can remake itself kinder, most equitable, and more honoring of human dignity
    Having just gotten jumped by seven or eight men while walking to my car after dark – they didn’t even rob me, just wanted to hurt someone – I couldn’t agree with you more, Chillul Who.
    Incidentally, the last time I was rapidly approached by several men at night was when I spent a night on the beach in Tel Aviv with a friend (we missed the last bus to Netanya and decided to wing it). They set up a hookah, insisted we have some wine and went skinny dipping.

  15. chillul Who?,

    …I’d say that the “Greater Land” types are heavily out-numbered, and have been for a while.

    Sure, but the many who are adamant about the idea of “Greater Israel” are far more determined to achieve their goal, and the settlements continue to expand.

  16. Unless you believe the book of Chronicles, Jews/Israelites never thought they were autochthonous. They came from “The other side of the River” (Josh. 24) or Egypt.
    Amit, as we just finished Lech Lecha, this is as good a time as any to discredit the statement you made. Abraham was a descendant of Shem. Shem, one of the three sons of Noah, received the Levant as his portion during partitioning of the world after the flood.
    When Abram came into the land, the Caananites (descendants of Ham) were in the process of conquering it from the descendants of Shem. Thus, G-d promised Abram that the land would be returned to him, a descendant of Shem.
    The Levant rightly belongs to the children of Shem, and more specifically, underwritten by a covenant between Abraham and G-d, to the Israelites.

  17. Sure, but the many who are adamant about the idea of “Greater Israel” are far more determined to achieve their goal
    True.

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