The simple mention of the word stirs emotions in Jews, Muslims and Christians. Most argue that this is because people do not know what the word means. I disagree. I believe the problem lies in the fact that the word no longer has any meaning at all.
I have felt this in the back of my mind for some time now, but it was not until I was faced directly with the question earlier today that I fully realized it.
A little background: Among the many things that has fascinated me about Facebook is the roundabout way I have developed friendships there. A perfect example is “Kate”. I got to know Kate after becoming Facebook friends with someone that I met on a discussion thread, “Bill”. I became Bill’s friend because I enjoyed debating with him. However I quickly learned that Bill was not as open-minded as he believed himself to be. He had bought into a lot that was hard for me to swallow. I neared my limit when in the name of “wanting to hear all views” Bill welcomed a White Supremacist into our conversations. Shortly after that, when Bill referred to the number of Holocaust victims as “perhaps overstated”, I “defriended” him.
However, through Bill I got to know Kate. Kate had clearly been exposed to much of the same dogma as Bill. Kate, however, was very open to multiple view points. We often disagree, but I truly enjoy her thirst for knowledge. She is the first to admit that there is much she does not know about the Israeli Palestinian crisis, and she genuinely seeks knowledge from people of all different backgrounds and opinions as she works towards a fuller understanding.
Earlier today I got the following message from Kate:
Thank you for being my “cultural sensitivity sounding board”–I’m sure politicians have to have them too!
The word “Zionist”–to me it has always merely meant the desire of the Jewish people to have a homeland. However, many of my friends use the word to describe the policies of the Israeli government to essentially negate the residency/land/human/civil rights of the Palestinian people.
Daniel Oz and Yossi Ashkenazi describe themselves as Zionists but do not support the oppression of the Palestinian people.
Do you consider yourself a Zionist? Any comments on how that word is used as a negative “label”? [name withheld] banned the word from her wall as too inflammatory. I’m not using the word as it is too confusing for me. If I were to say I were a Zionist, many would think I support the repression of the Palestinians, which as you know, I don’t.
Anyway, thanks again for helping me see this from a culturally respectful perspective–
The more I contemplated Kate’s core questions the more I realized that the word Zionist means so many different things to so many people that it has become useless.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition defines Zionism as “A Jewish movement that arose in the late 19th century in response to growing anti-Semitism and sought to reestablish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Modern Zionism is concerned with the support and development of the state of Israel.”
Yet almost all Arab schoolchildren are taught about Zionism using The Protocols of The Elders Of Zion as their textbook.
The Protocols appeared in print in Russia as early as 1903. It appeared again in 1905 as a final chapter (Chapter XII) of a second edition of the book Velikoe v malom i antikhrist (The Great in the Small & Antichrist), and again in 1906 in pamphlet form.
These first three (and subsequently more) Russian language imprints were published and circulated in the Russian Empire during 1903–1906 period as a tool for scapegoating Jews, blamed by the monarchists for the defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and the 1905 Russian Revolution. Common to all three texts is the idea that Jews aim for world domination. The Protocols are presented as the retelling of a document stolen from a secret Jewish organization, with the alleged original stolen manuscript never presented. During the 1917 Revolution fleeing white Russians carried this document along as they fled westward and it assumed a new purpose. Until the Bolshevik Revolution, The Protocols had remained obscure; but now it became an instrument for blaming Jews for the Russian Revolution – a political weapon used against the Bolshevikis who were depicted as overwhelmingly Jews, allegedly executing the “plan” embodied in The Protocols.
This resulted in essentially two “accepted” definitions of Zionist, the dictionary definition and the one presented in The Protocols.
This became even more confusing with the founding of Israel, which lead to a rift between actual Zionists. Zionists split into two camps, Religious Zionists (also referred to as Biblical Zionists) and Political Zionists. Political Zionists believe in an Israel based on the needs of the Jewish people to assure their safety and cultural survival through the reestablishment of the Jewish homeland around what was once Judea. Religious Zionists, on the other hand, believe in a strict biblical interpretation of a Jewish State. A Religious Zionist is incapable of considering the division of Jerusalem because the Old Testament declares that the Third Temple must be built on that location for the Messiah to come.
So far we have three definitions of Zionist, the false definition created by The Protocols as a tool of anti-Semitism, Political Zionists, and Religious Zionists. But guess what? We are not done yet.
Religious Zionism falls into three different categories. The Jewish Right-Wing Religious Zionists believe that God has mandated that they hold onto “Greater Israel”. The Jewish Left -Wing Religious Zionists believe that God gave them “Greater Israel” but without a mandate as to what to do with it. Finally, Evangelical Zionists are Evangelical Christians who believe that an Israel with a united Jerusalem is required for the second (to Jews the first) coming of Messiah at which time all those who have not accepted Christ as their savior will be left behind.
So to summarize:
Mythical Zionists: Zionists as defined in The Protocols
Political Zionists: Those, mostly Jewish, who believe in the absolute need for an Israeli Nation, but are open to the 1967 borders and in many cases a Palestinian East Jerusalem
Jewish Right-Wing Religious Zionists: Believe in a “Greater Israel”
Jewish Left-Wing Religious Zionists: Mostly accepting of a two state solution but somewhat divided over the fate of East Jerusalem and some other West Bank sites.
Evangelical Zionists: Believe in an Israel with a unified Jerusalem so that the Jews can build the temple and then get left behind.
In the end what all of this tells us is that when someone simply uses the word Zionist without qualification they either don’t know what they are talking about or they are intentionally trying to obscure the issue. The standalone use of the word Zionist is often an attempt to define all Jews and Israelis as having a single world view and perhaps even a secret handshake.
So if you must use the word Zionist be very clear on what you mean and who your audience is. While Kate’s friend may have gone a little far in banning the word from her wall, I can understand why she would decide to do so. Unless everyone is willing to contextualize the word by stating what form of Zionism they are referring to, confusion will reign and tempers will flare. The odds of that contextualization being provided on, say for example, a Facebook wall or Huffington Post comment? About nil. Better to just say what you mean and not attach a word to it.
After all, the subtitle of this blog is Issues, not “isms.”