The Baltimore Zionist District hosted “The History Of Modern Zionism,” Sept. 1. The Zoom discussion, led by Valeria Chazin, chairwoman and co-founder of Students Supporting Israel, looked at Zionist leaders, history and anti-Semitism. Nearly 40 people attended.
Adi Ratzon, the BZD’s Israel shlicha (emissary), welcomed guests and introduced Chazin. Chazin then explained her background and how she started her organization to educate Jewish college students about Zionism.
“It is something that is very easy to explain to high school students to help them realize where they’re at,” Chazin said. “Take this as talking points to spread the message of Zionism.”
Chazin started the presentation with the question of whether the listeners considered themselves Zionists. When she presents to college campuses, she said, sometimes Jewish students will not raise their hand to this question.
“When [a student] cannot confidently call them self a Zionist, there is a need to explain what it is,” Chazin said.
She defined Zionism from the biblical word Zion, a synonym for Jerusalem and the land of Israel. Chazin said Zionism has been a part of Judaism since its beginning. As an example, she pointed to the practice of breaking a glass at weddings as an expression of the hope of a return to the homeland.
“Jews have expressed their yearning, their remembrance of Israel, for thousands of years,” Chazin said. While the current nation of Israel is young, Diaspora Jews have felt connected to it for centuries.
This brought the talk to modern Zionism, which Chazin said grew from the original idea of Zionism and made it into an active movement, inspired by the time period. If anti-Semitism had not flourished from religious and racial prejudices, she argued, there may not have been a drive to create political action.
Zionism was also a result of Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment or political movement of Jews to assimilate into society in order to assuage persecution. This failed, and so anti-Semitic pogroms continued, such as the 1903 massacre of Kishinev. Or, for example, people like Moses Hess of 1844 were accused of a blood libel. Or, there was the Dreyfus Affair, where a French Jewish officer was accused of treason. “A lot of people behind the square were shouting ‘kill the Jews,’” Chazin said of this event, which is known as ‘L’Affaire. Theodore Herzl, a journalist at the time, witnessed it and decided that moments like these showed how assimilation would never work.
“No matter where you go, we can’t be safe [from] hate,” Chazin said.
Herzl officially established modern Zionism in 1897 with the First Zionist Congress in Switzerland. Chazin noted that his ideas were aligned with the nationalist feelings that were sweeping through Europe.
While nationalism like that is often correlated with hateful movements, Chazin quoted Daniel Gordis’ statement that, “Nationalism can simply be a community’s expression of the self-esteem and sense of history that every human being needs.” She continued that nationalism does not have to be violent. “There is nothing about Zionism that is racist,” she continued. Rather, to her it is more about freedom.
“Zionism was and is a very pluralistic movement,” Chazin noted. For example, there were many different writers from different ends of the spectrum when it comes to Zionism, from Dr. Arthur Ruppin and practical Zionism, to revisionist Zionism by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, or spiritual Zionism by Ahad Ha’am. “Arguably, they were all pieces of the puzzle.”
While these figures may have successfully established a Jewish state, she said there is more work for modern Zionists to do. First, Chazin believes, modern Zionists need to encourage the gathering of Diaspora Jews; second is to preserve the unity and continuity of Jewish people; and third is to educate about Israel.
Another large part of modern Zionism involves the idea of anti-Semitism. She defined three types of anti-Semitism: classical (refers to religious); modern (refers to racist and nationalistic); and today anti-Semitism (refers to anti-Zionism).
“It’s OK to criticize Israel. It’s when the criticism crosses the line that it’s anti-Semitism,” she said.
To discern whether criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, she asks if it deligitimizes Israel, demonizes Israel and subjects Israel to double standards.
To demonstrate modern anti-Semitism and/or anti-Zionism, Chazin pointed to 1975, when the United National adopted (and later revoked) a resolution to equate Zionism as racism. She then pointed to protests against Israel on college campuses in recent years.
You can learn more at SSIMovement.org
The full recorded webinar will be available on BZD.org.