Reclaiming an intersectional Zionism

Zionism is misunderstood, and it's time to clear things up.  

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The other day, I told my friend I was a Zionist. He said, "Oh, like the city in The Matrix?" I replied, "No, not quite." He said, "Then like that song by Bob Marley, right?" "No, not that either." By that point, I was frustrated, not just with my friend, but with the world at large; nobody seems to know what Zionism is. 

At the most basic level, Zionism is the ideology that promotes a Jewish state in Israel. Judaism is not like other religions-such as Christianity; it's a people, one who share a distinct tie to the land of Israel.  A people who have been discriminated against, persecuted, and massacred. A people who have always needed to fight for self-determination, freedom from subjugation, and a land of their own. A people who have the right to prosper in a land of milk and honey. This is Zionism. 

Zionism, the movement of Jews wishing to regain social and political autonomy in their ancestral homeland, dates back over 2,000 years. Zionism is the complex interplay of regaining the land stripped from the people of Israel and empowering a group that has been systematically discriminated against across every region and every era.  

You might think that a movement so devoted to the empowerment of an oppressed group would be supported by progressive rights movements; in actuality, it's condemned. Which brings me to my primary concern-Zionism is misunderstood, and it's time to clear things up.  

In America, it is a commonly held belief that Zionism is incompatible with progressive movements or politics. Progressive movements stand for the empowerment of oppressed groups and the elimination of oppression across all peoples. This notion is what is meant when people talk about intersectionality: that my liberation is tied up with yours, is tied up with the liberation of every other person on the planet. Intersectionality is the basis of a free and democratic society when instituted correctly, but, unfortunately, we have had some difficulty doing so. 

Intersectionality is predicated on empowering every individual from every group. But what about my empowerment? What about the empowerment of the Jewish people in having a state of Israel to call home? Why are we left out of the conversation? Herein lies the problem. Intersectionality has been weaponized by anti-Israel activists with the result of turning the progressive opinion against the state of Israel. So even though Zionism is a movement devoted to empowerment, it is condemned by progressive activists.  

I am not here to claim that Israel is faultless in the ongoing conflict with the Palestinian people, nor do I seek to assert that there isn't legitimacy to the Palestinian cause. What I am trying to say is that Zionism, which is the fundamental basis of the state of Israel, is a movement that stands for freedom and safety for Jews, and that progressive movements should stand in support of it-not against it. Zionism supports the existence of Israel, not its political climate. The Israeli administration has made choices that many Zionists disagree with, yet that shouldn't undermine the right of the state to exist. We can reform Israel without questioning its right to exist. Yet, Israel has been vilified in the eyes of progressive activists, leading to a further problem: Jews are increasingly the targets of anti-Zionism that has crossed the line into anti-Semitism.  

In a 2016 article from  The Tower , UC Berkeley students Arielle Mokhtarzadeh and Ben Rosenberg shared their experience of attending the Students of Color Conference, where they ended up being the targets of blatant anti-Semitism. "It quickly dawned on me that it wasn't that they don't like us because we're pro-Israel-they don't like us because we're Jews," wrote Rosenberg.  

It gets worse. On the campus of Northeastern University, the chapter advisor of Students for Justice in Palestine was recorded telling members that he was proud to be called an anti-Semite, that he wore it as a "sign of distinction [that] proves that I'm working for the right side, the just cause." I am a Jew who will soon be in college, someone who has Jewish friends who go to Northeastern, and as such, hearing this attack on my religion and my beliefs is slightly terrifying. 

In my personal experience, I have heard people indict Zionism as racism, or the state of Israel as an occupation, both of which are notions stemming from a lack of understanding. Zionism is about empowering a people and ensuring them a safe place to call home. It's no wonder that Zionism fueled the creation of the State of Israel after the Holocaust, when six million Jews were murdered.  

It is a complex problem which demands a solution equally as complex, but it begins with education; educate yourself on the ideology and origins of Zionism. 

Beyond education, Omer Benjakob outlines in a Haaretz article how Zionists can support both Black Lives Matter and the state of Israel. His basic premise: Do not allow yourself to give up your beliefs. Stand up, show up, and don't let anyone sway your conviction that you are standing up for what is right. Because what matters is not what everyone thinks of your politics, or what label they assign you-what matters is the real action you take and the real change you make.  

Zionism is not, and never has been, about oppression. It is about a people who faced genocide, a nation spread across the world, and empowering a group that has been marginalized for so long. And when you see Zionism in this way-in the way it was meant to be understood-suddenly it makes sense to see Zionists and feminists and activists for racial equity standing together, marching together under one mission of empowerment.  

Because intersectionality is about embracing all identities, not just certain intersections, and this-this is my intersection. 

Sarah Bloom is a junior at Evanston Township High School. She originally wrote a longer version of this commentary as a speech for a high school speech and debate team competition.  

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