Meretz USA President’s speech to the 2010 World Zionist Congress

Meretz USA President’s speech to the 2010 World Zionist Congress

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Twenty-five years ago, a fellow member of the Hashomer Hatzair movement, stood in a Congress very much like this and called Zionism a monster. However, back then, her remarks were just an exercise in rhetoric.

Today, I’m afraid, all over the world, Zionism is readily associated with occupation and militarism. Many progressive historians are fond of showing that Zionist history was imperialistic and even racist from its beginnings. And even right-wing Zionist movements want to limit the de facto definition of Zionism as a movement that unconditionally supports the Israeli government, even when its policies are pro-occupation and militarist.  “Zionism” has become so dreadful, that even progressive pro-Israel organizations are afraid to use it.

This connection has left thousands of young Jews, who are largely liberal, with an uneasy feeling that often leads to a disconnection from Israel, and sometimes to outright rejection of Israel and Zionism. The current state of affairs is deeply ironic; it was not always this way.

Over a century ago, Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism, proposed the creation of a State for the Jews as the only way for the Jewish people to end its abnormal status as a stateless nation, loathed and rejected everywhere it settled. This political dream, however, could not come without a price, both human and political. As evidenced by his utopian novel Altneuland, Herzl understood this. He therefore believed that the only way to validate the Zionist enterprise was to build “a light unto the nations” that would be a progressive model of justice, democracy, equality and prosperity. Most other Zionist leaders of the time, like Ber Borochov, Nahman Syrkin, or A.D. Gordon, also saw in the birth of the Jewish state the opportunity to create a utopia, and the justification for such an enterprise in the possibility of creating an egalitarian society based on human rights and dignity.

Within a few years, however, Zionists ran up against the reality that the Palestinians also had their own national aspirations, triggering a military conflict that would cost tens of thousands of lives, and corrupt their early idealism. Moreover, the Zionist visionaries would have never imagined that the Jewish national utopia would end up as an occupying power, mainly shaped by pragmatic factors emanating from violent conflict, criticized by much of the world, justifiably or not, as a major violator of human rights. Zionism, at its root, is not only a movement to establish a Jewish homeland, but a philosophical and ideological movement in which the establishment of a Jewish state was seen as a step to affirm humanistic values.

Zionism is not over. The dreams of Herzl and the founders of the movement will not be realized until Israel becomes the exemplary society that they envisioned. It is our job, our duty to reclaim Zionism.  It is our job to teach the world that groups that support occupation ARE NOT Zionist!  Groups that support discrimination and racism ARE NOT Zionist!

I don’t know at what point exactly the world shifted its view of Zionism, which was supported by the left as a social-democratic movement whose progressive achievements included founding the socialist kibbutz. Perhaps it was after the 1967 war.

I believe it is time for a paradigm shift. The peace camp must reclaim Zionism.  Progressive Jews need to speak out for the emergence of a renewed movement whose goal will be to realize the humanistic ideals of the original Zionism: an Israel that will be at the forefront of the fight for human rights and dignity; a prosperous and productive Israel that will rival the rest of the world intellectually and technologically, and use its knowledge for the betterment of humanity; an Israel in which education will be a priority and a major national enterprise, in which children will learn to think critically and creatively, and open to diversity; an Israel in which the Jewish people will feel proud to be part of the renewed Zionist enterprise.

Therefore, I present the following resolution in which we propose that any movement who does not support the core Zionist values of democracy, equality, and freedom of expression should be expelled from the Zionist movement.

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