Zionism is Not a Dirty Word
Written by Scott A. Shay
Today many young Americans are taught that Zionism is a dirty word. They believe living in the diaspora is the only legitimate option for Jews. The truth is precisely the opposite. Israel should serve as a model for the many peoples still fighting for their own sovereignty.
Many peoples today still do not have self-government. Today Native American communities who negotiated nation-to nation treaties with the American government only to have them revoked still do not any status resembling self-determination. In the Middle East, the Kurds are one of many groups similarly suffering. In 1918 Middle Eastern peoples such as the Maronite Lebanese and the Assyrians also pleaded for national self-determination at the Versailles Peace Conference. None of them have it today. In Asia, Tibetans and Uighurs do not control their present or their future. Sadly, these are just a few examples.
The price for being without an independent state (or even genuine autonomy) for these peoples has been extremely high. Native Americans who survived the expropriation of their lands (Northwest Ordinance) and explicitly genocidal policies (Buffalo hunting being just one) in the nineteenth century, continued to face enforced poverty and cultural assimilation (through boarding schools) in the twentieth century. There are many Native Americans gen X or millennials who are the first to raise their own children. Native American lands have also been disproportionately poisoned by fossil fuel, mining and hydroelectric corporations.
In the Middle East the Kurds, spread across four countries, have endured forced assimilation (Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Iran) and physical genocide in Iraq, In Iran, Kurdish leaders are still routinely hanged. Assyrians now live primarily in the diaspora having fled their homeland (also divided between Syria, Iraq, and Turkey) because of repressive measures of cultural assimilation and oppression. Maronite Christians who achieved independence in a power sharing arrangement with Arab Sunnis and Shiites in modern Lebanon, rather than national self-determination, have paid another price. Those who had emigrated before the creation of modern Lebanon were forbidden from returning. Others had to flee during the civil war which pitted Maronite Christians against Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
In Asia Tibetans face a policy of oppressive Sinification under the Chinese government who hope to make the Han Chinese a majority in addition to the religious restrictions. Uighurs have faced mass incarceration. Emigres in the West from all of these peoples live in freedom but not in their language, culture, or land.
Before the creation of the state of Israel Jews lived completely under the political influence of other peoples, whether in the land of Israel or in the Diaspora. Even as citizens in the modern period, they could not ensure their security or property (facing genocide (Europe) and expulsions (North Africa and the Middle East) or their cultural continuity (the Soviet Union and satellite states). This has now radically changed with the creation of the state of Israel, which guarantees both.
The story of Israel is remarkable because Jews were able to recover their national self- determination in their indigenous land despite massive obstacles. These included the loss of their traditional language except as a written language, acculturation to very different cultures in the diaspora, hundred of years without political experience of self-rule, and intense opposition by neighboring countries and by the descendants of those empires that had conquered their ancient homelands, most notably the Palestinian Arabs, descendants of the Arabs colonists who settled the region after the Arab conquests. This not to mention the experience of genocide and dispossession of the Jews in Europe and the dispossession of wealth and lands of the Jews in North Africa and the Middle East.
Israel still faces the challenge that many of its neighbors are still actively at war with it either militarily on in the media. The Abraham Accords between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain have been such a watershed since it is the first time that Arab countries have accepted that Israel as a legitimate state. This means that these nations have revised their own imperialist narrative that Arabs must rule the entire region and subject the Jews and Christians within it. Nevertheless, the Arab and Islamic view that Arabs and Muslims should rule overs persists in many regimes and movements in the entire region spanning from Iran to Morocco.
While these challenges seem idiosyncratic, most nations who still seek national self- determination will have to face them as well. That is why Israel is already a model for other peoples. Indeed, all people who are not currently sovereign have been colonized in some form. A return to sovereignty means facing these legacies, whether it is reconstituting a "dying" or dead language, gathering in exiled or émigré citizens with different experiences, or dealing with the descendants of former colonizers who still populate the land, or finally maintaining ties between a diaspora and a homeland. An independent Kurdistan, or Tibet will have to deal with all of these issues, as would sovereign Native American states.
Representatives of all of these groups have already quietly been in touch with Jews and Israelis on all of these issues far from the din of those who falsely accuse Israel of itself being a settler colonialist state.
Zionism is not a dirty word. Israel is an amazing accomplishment. It is also for many peoples, an example, which albeit far from perfect, has a great deal to teach. The ancient Hebrew Prophets foretold that one day the Jewish nation would rebuild and whether one is a believer or not, remarkably this process in now underway. Isaiah's affirmation that the Jews of the Land of Israel would serve as a light unto to the nations is also becoming clear for those willing to embrace it.