Less Talking Points, More Ethos
By Samuel J. Hyde
Step by step, as the Jewish State and Arab world make peace, many young Arabs living in countries that constitute the Abraham Accords have woken up from a decades-long 'dream' to realize Zionism is not their enemy. Some are going as far as referring to themselves as Arab Zionists. While antisemitism has most certainly not been purified from the structures and societies of the Arab world, we have seen a shift in engagement with the Jewish state. Unsurprisingly, the western savior complex rushed in to fill the void left by these Arab States, further indulging the 'Palestinian imagination,' many of them giving the stamp of approval to the cause behind the denial of a Jewish State's right to exist in any part of the land between "the river to the sea."
The anti-Zionist cause, now taken up by the "do-gooders" in the west, flaunting blindly-confident ahistorical claims that Israel is a colonial entity and therefore a state born in sin, can only be defeated in one way - More Zionism. To effectively utilize the strength that lies within Zionism, one needs to dig deeper than the talking points. Instead, Jews must take the necessary action by living up to its 'rebellious' ethos.
Meaning, it's all good and well knowing the definition of any word, let's say, in this case, honesty, but if one does not adhere to its actionable call of telling the truth, the definition and meaning of the term itself are ineffective in its use and value.
So what is the ethos? Zionism was a refusal to accept the role that others had assigned to Jews—an ongoing rebellion against millennia-long power structures that assigned Jews a "proper place" in society. As increasingly seen today, the idea of liberated Jews being masters of their fate — still grates on the minds of peoples and societies that were structured on the presumption that the Jews should have headed to the dustbin of history. Zionism rejects their notion with self-assertion and represents a revolution in Jewish life as well as heeding the call for its continuation.
In the immediate aftermath of the Roman exile, the Jews might have thought of their return to the land as a realistic possibility. By the 19th century, the concept of return had evolved into a Messianic dream expressed predominantly through rituals and prayer. A descendant of King David would one day arise and lead the Jewish people into a life of sovereignty in their land. Its faith remained unwavering, with Jews repeating phrases like "next year in Jerusalem" throughout the generations, but it required little to no human action. Zionism was a rebellion against this Jewish passivity.
What gave birth to this ethos? In ancient times, antisemitism rested on religious themes that deemed the Jew a moral failure. The mere existence of Jews continuing to practice their belief implied a rejection of Christianity and Islam's "new, improved and enlightened" belief systems. Hence, the Jew could not be viewed as a moral being choosing wisely between good and evil. At best, Jews could be tolerated as relics against progress and the pathway to heaven. At worst, their continued existence was intolerable and should come at a cost.
Later, the promise of integration into European society led Jews out of the bottom of the valley to the top of the hill. Jewish achievements from science to art and literature were noticeable, but rather than falling 'prey' to Christian or Islamic theology, their continued exclusion came under the guise of the new "scientific" ideology of anti-Semitism, a term popularized by an anti-Jewish bigot named Wilhelm Marr in 1879. Marr intended to rationalize his anti-Jewish prejudice and make it sound more respectable by using the term anti-Semitism to suggest that Jews – "Semites" - belonged to an inferior race. We all know where that led.
Theodor Herzl and other Jews, who initially believed that they were lucky enough to live in an age of progress, equality, and tolerance, came to realize that while Europe spoke of equality, it failed to practice it. So by taking destiny into their own hands, the Jews’ two-millennia-long estrangement from humanity would finally come to an end, and by returning to where it all began we would be accepted into the family of nations.
It is not surprising in a time of intersectionality that so many Jews, inspired by the revolutionary ethos of Zionism, seek to share it with others and bring forth its message that victimhood is not destiny. But when they are refused entry to the 'room' because of their Zionism or support of Israel, a dark cloud forms above their heads. In reality, though, it's not a loss for Jews; those who exclude pro-Israel or Zionist Jews from supporting intersectional causes of other persecuted people are depriving only themselves of the most impressive sources of inspiration to human action.
Just as the land of Israel inspired the early Zionists, today's Zionists can find inspiration in the story of the State of Israel. Today's rebellion against the anti-Zionist cause in the west could draw motivation directly from Israel's self-assertion that cried out to its enemies: I refuse to exist in my land as you wish me to. It was only due to this uncompromising willpower and refusal to bend the knee to its neighboring enemies that Israel later became an appealing partner for others in the Arab world against the mutual threat of Iran.
Therefore, chasing our tails expecting rational debate to garner support for Israel can no longer be the predominant focus. A colleague of mine Ben M. Freeman, the founder of the modern-day Jewish Pride movement, wrote in his book Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People, a poignant acknowledgment in the movement’s manifesto:
“Jew-hate is not a Jewish problem; it is a non-Jewish problem that impacts the lives of Jews. It is irrational and it imposes non-Jewish fantasies on to Jews (and now, the Jewish state). A great tragedy of this is that Jews have absorbed these fantasies and we have had our identity and experience defined by those who hate us. Jewish Pride is the reclamation of Jewishness. It is the rejection of the shame of Jew-hate as well as non-Jewish definitions of Jewish identity. And it is the Jewish future.”
To this acknowledgment, to defeat the anti-Zionist cause in the west, one must recognize one essential factor: Antisemitism has never been a rational critique of the Jewish people, just as anti-Zionism is not a reasonable critique of the Jewish State. Instead, it is a tell-tale sign of a society on the brink of an identity crisis desperately seeking its scapegoat. Anti-Zionism is in-fact not a critique at all, it is simply put - blame. Blame the Jews and Israel for anything and everything. The way forward is simple - cry out with the same self-assurance Israel has to its surrounding enemies: As long as the world is divided into some 200 countries, based on the principles of self-determination for peoples and nations, the Jewish people have a right to this and will maintain their right to this. No more, or no less than anyone else. You may not like it, but you're just going to have to deal with it.