Uri Avnery, the grand old man of the Israeli Left, recently wrote that with the establishment of the State of Israel, Zionism had lost its utility and even its meaning.
Zionism, as is commonly known, was born as a term at the end of the 19th century and came to express a perfectly simple idea – to take the Jews out of the Diaspora and concentrate them in the Land of Israel. It was indeed a revolutionary idea – a geographic revolution that was inevitably an ideological revolution: turning the Jews from an ethno-religious community dispersed around the world into a modern “nation” concentrated in one country, in the spirit of nationalism that was intensifying in Europe. …
From Herzl’s point of view, the term “American Zionist” is an oxymoron, an absurd contradiction in terms. To him, a Jewish American could be a Zionist for a few months, but to stay one he had to board a ship heading for Ottoman Palestine. This Zionism, the real Zionism, of Herzl’s came to an end with Israel’s establishment as a state. The idea had been realized. Israel’s citizens are a nation, as he dreamed. Like every nation they want their state to thrive, while the Jews throughout the world remain an ethno-religious community, as they were before the birth of Zionism. …
In this day, in this reality, the Zionist brand is unnecessary and a hindrance. It’s confusing and serves as a tool for politicians who seek to extort money and political support from Jews around the world. It’s a false brand misused for fraud.
In a different world, this might make sense. In a world where Israel was treated like the “normal” nation Herzl aspired to, we could dispense with Zionism. Do Italian-Americans in New York argue about whether they support the Risorgimento? Nobody today thinks there should not be a unified state of Italy (except perhaps some jihadists who want to conquer Rome).
But we did not achieve normalcy. Despite a pedigree in historical provenance and international law that is matched by almost no modern nation, half the world thinks that the creation of the state was a crime, and much of it would be happy to see it disappear. Zionism today is the ideology that insists that not only is it just that there is a Jewish state, but that it is essential for the survival of the Jewish people and must be protected. The Zionist revolution that Avnery talks about has not been completely realized, and perhaps never will – not because of the Jews who demanded self-determination, but because of those who have never stopped fighting to deny it to them.
Israel feels like a normal nation from within, with political quarrels, social issues, popular culture, and of course the day-to-day activity of trying to make a living and raise a family. But from without – in the halls of the UN and the countless organizations, governments, media, and places of evil council where she is seen as a pariah which should not exist, she is anything but normal. Nazi ideas about the corrupt and corrupting Jew have been moved up one level of abstraction, and are now applied to the Jewish state. Plans to weaken and ultimately destroy her are pursued in numerous venues, sometimes by mutual enemies who could never find anything else to agree upon.
Against Avnery, I would say that Zionism is an international movement to oppose the forces arrayed against the Jewish state, something both meaningful and useful – even essential. It did not end when the state was declared; thanks to our enemies, Zionism is a continuing struggle.
It therefore makes perfect sense that someone living in Los Angeles can be a Zionist even if he doesn’t choose to live in Eretz Israel.
Benjamin Franklin, when asked if the new United States of America would be a republic or a monarchy, answered, “a republic – if you can keep it.”
After several thousand years, the Jewish people again have a nation-state – if they can keep it.