Zionism's Been Stolen
"Look at him," said the tall skinny settler to his six years old brother, as my friends and I were standing in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on the last Jerusalem Day celebrations, serving as a human barrier to prevent him and his friends from attacking a group of Palestinian kids.
"Look at him," said he who lives in a house taken from second time refugees thrown to the street with no compensation so that extreme religious settlers, funded by American tax-free money, can enter their erstwhile homes under the auspices of the Jerusalem police. "He [me, HBS] looks like us with his Kippah and Zizith," he told his younger brother who was standing there, quite bewildered. "He looks like us but he is not. He is a traitor who defends Arabs. In fact, he's not even a Jew."
Ever since that incident, when I was not only stripped of my right to profess my Zionism but also of my Jewishness, I stopped caring about what “Zionism” means. I stopped asking whether what I think is right and good for the future of Israel and the Jewish people is or is not Zionism.
For a growing number of Israelis, many at the steering wheel of the country, the narrowest definition of Zionism —Zionism as us and anti-Zionists as them— became the only proper use of the term. In Israel today, Zionism is a term that defines the ever more narrowing borders of free speech, protest and action. Current Knesset bills necessitate a pledge of allegiance to Israel's "Jewish character," or prohibit a commemoration of the Palestinian narrative about 1948 (the Nakba law), or closely monitor the activity of left-wing and human rights NGOs. Those who justify the rhetoric of these bills call themselves Zionists; they are the ones that claim the label. In fact, a heavily funded movement called "Im Tirzu" has set precisely this as their agenda — they seek to generate what they call "the second Zionist revolution," which means to denounce and silence any version of Zionism that is not in line with their version.
In contemporary Israel, you can’t express values of human rights, tolerance, ideological pluralism, or critique the occupation or the militarization of Israeli society. If you do, leading public figures, Knesset members, and government officials will denounce you as undermining the existence of Israel. The anti-Zionist trump card is waived whenever a public figure of any color or denomination questions the hegemonic economy of hatred and fear towards Arabs, Europeans, Democrats, or anyone that doesn't recite the mantra that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. The fact that many founding Zionists would have strongly opposed such a narrow definition the term matters little to this loud and somewhat paranoid crowd of Jewish McCarthys.
As long as the word Zionism no longer refers simply to the right of a people to self definition, but rather to a means of determining who is on "our" side and who is a traitor, Zionism will not serve me as a useful component of identity. For me, the apologetic task of trying to defend (or re-conquer) the term is futile, because it necessitates endless ordeals; none of which could ever legitimize what could have been Zionism for me. Many of those who call themselves Zionists miss this point: The label “Zionist” as used today in Israel does not mean what they think it does. It might not apply to them, the way it is used today in Israel. It has been stolen by that settler boy in Sheikh Jarrah, and it might not be worth trying to get it back.