This past month or so has been Israel's holiday season. Just as around Christmas and New Year's Eve in America people here are in a frenzy as we approach our string of high holidays (holy days): Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish new year), Yom Kippur (the day of atonement), Sukkot (the festival of tabernacles), and Simchat Torah (celebration of reading the entire the Torah). Stores have sales, decorations for Sukkahs line store aisles, arrangement for meals with family and friends are made; as one can imagine it is a joyous and exciting season for a Jewish State.
Unfortunately it is not just flowers and rainbows. As with anything in Israel things are complicated. The past few weeks have been full of unfortunate headlines. Jews want to visit the Temple Mount, where the Al Aqsa Mosque sits, aggravating the Islamic extremist population and thus causing increased violence. There are several reports of stabbings, shootings and molotov cocktail throwing. This morning I woke up to see that two parents were shot and killed in front of their 4 young children. How sad to attend funerals when we should be attending holiday parties.
This week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) addressed the UN. He spoke strongly about the nuclear threat of Iran, the difficult and stagnant peace process with the Palestinian Authority, and about Israel and the amazing nation it is. I will admit I'm not extremely happy with the current coalition government. When I voted for the first time as an Israeli I did not expect this outcome. We have many problems here, social and economic, that need to be fixed on top of our struggles of being the odd man out in the Middle East. But Bibi's speech at the UN rang true to me and inspired me to think about my Zionism. Despite these issues in Israel I will always remain a Zionist. I will always support Israel's right to exist as a refuge for Jews from around the world and it's right to defend itself from the seemingly never-ending evil that threatens it.
Almost 2 years ago I was applying for my Masa program and I wrote a short essay for a scholarship about what it means to be a Zionist today. After watching Bibi's speech I went back to read it and I really want to share it with you all:
In his address to the First Zionist Congress (1897), the great Theodore Herzl said, “Zionism, or self help for the Jews…is simply a peacemaker. And it suffers the usual fate of peacemakers, in being forced to fight more than anyone else.” With the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the nature of today’s global politics, this statement seems to define the experience of present day Zionists. I have personally been forced to fight for Zionist ideals on my college campus. Just as the forefathers of Zionism saw their ideas challenged, the current campus climate in regards to Israel is one of extreme demonization. In a false co-optation of liberal, progressive values, both students and faculty call upon others to boycott Israel, and falsely claim Israel is committing genocide and apartheid, and pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing.
As a Zionist student, I have been yelled and cursed at while handing out fliers about the 800,000 Jewish Refugees from Arab states. I have been harassed and photographed without my permission on campus at department-sponsored anti-Israel conferences, been called a racist, colonizer, and Islamaphobe, and watched trains featuring maps attempting to rewrite Jewish history run through the center of campus. I have even been told I was not allowed into student events simply because I support the Jew’s fundamental right to self-determination.
The reality is that Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people of the world have a right to self-determination: the right to a place to call home and a national culture of their own. Throughout history the Jewish people have been denied this right, persecuted, expelled, and discriminated against by foreign powers. Although the most obvious manifestation of this dream is the creation of the State of Israel, I believe that Zionists have also become defenders of basic human rights and democracy, and a hope for peace among humanity. Israel is the only Jewish nation in the entire world and the only true democracy in the Middle East. Israel has made great strides in medical, technological, and environmental innovations, and is home to more start-up companies per capita, has more Nobel Prize winners per capita, and has the highest number of university degrees per capita than any other country in the world. It is one of the first nations on the scene of any natural disaster and even sends food, fuel, and medical supplies into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I would never try to convince anyone that Israel is a perfect nation. I do not believe Israel, or any country, is perfect, and I understand that there are issues within Israeli society and political policy that need to be addressed.
Thus my conclusion is this: As Zionists today, our job is to not only to continue to carry on the legacy created by the great original Zionist minds, but also to defend the fact that the Israeli people are amazing, intelligent, and driven, and in effect, their country at only 65 years old is responsible for some of the most amazing developments in the world. We must remind the world that the Jewish people have the same right to self-determination as all other people and spread the truth that the State of Israel remains a beacon of light among the nations.
So hello, my name is Amy and I am a Zionist. In case that was not clear, here it is now. I am very unsure about several things in my life, but this is simply not one of them. If it bothers you then that is a personal problem. If you have questions about it, please ask me.