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A Zionist Agenda for the Twenty First Century

By Marcie Natan

We stand here today on the Eve of the High Holidays, the season of tshuva. That word is often translated as repentance, but it really means return, to the truth, to our values, to the source of our strength as our people. This is a personal process, but also a national one. When the Kohen HaGadol goes into the Holy of Holies to get the blessing for the coming year for the Jewish people, he does it in one place only: Jerusalem. To this audience, I don't have to tell you that in Hadassah, we have no ambivalence about this.

We are a model for action and doing. For the last 100 years, we have not wavered from our commitment to building and partnering. For us, there is only one center of Jewish life, though we may live throughout the world. Our grandparents, great grandparents for 120 generations dreamt of Jerusalem. We are the privileged generation to experience Jerusalem.

Ambassador Dore Gold has taught all the three prongs of attack of our enemies in modern anti-Semitism.

The first and most lethal is the claim that we do not have these roots and don't belong here. A few months before his death, Martin Luther King, Jr was questioned by a student who was critical of Zionism. Dr. King’s response was: “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.”

The second prong is that we have do not have the right to act like a sovereign nation, to defend ourselves, to decide who is a citizen, what is our destiny.

The third is what we call "the big bad Israel." Listen to the language used against us. Occupiers? That's a World War II word. Apartheid? Deniers of health care? As the National President of Hadassah, I can tell you that there isn't a day when we don't treat patients from the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the other Arab countries surrounding Israel.

This brings me to the second quotation I want to cite, from Abba Eban. He said, “There is no difference between anti-Semitism and the denial of Israel’s statehood. Classical anti-Semitism denies the equal right of Jews as citizens within society. Anti-Zionism denies the equal rights of the Jewish people its lawful sovereignty within the community of nations. The common principle in the two cases is discrimination.”

All of us here know that when it comes to the nations of the world—and their faults as perceived by others—many judge Israel according to a standard they apply to no one else. All nations are guilty, but the Jewish nation is uniquely guilty and deserves unique censure.

More people died in the three-year Bosnian conflict than have lost their lives during 63 years of Arab-Israeli conflict. More people died during three months in Rwanda than in all the Arab-Israel wars and battles combined.

And that’s even before we get into who attacked and who was simply practicing legitimate self-defense.

But have you ever heard anyone suggest that Bosnia, or Serbia or Rwanda has no right to exist?

Why, then, the obsession among so many in the modern world with Israel and Zionism? Why the shying away from Zionism even among otherwise committed Jews?

For the people closest to us, it’s a lack of understanding.

We all know that Zionism’s original essence was the commitment to establishing a national home for the Jewish people in our ancient land. That movement and that aspiration were approved by the UN General Assembly, making Israel the first nation born with explicit international sanction.

After Israel achieved independence, Zionism’s core principle became the centrality of Israel in Jewish destiny and support for the growth, development and flourishing of the state.

The Zionist revolution was one of many that emerged in the twentieth century. And it was clearly the most successful. One indicator of success was Israel’s admission last year into the elite group of world economies, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Of the 150-plus nations that emerged from the collapsed empires after World War II, this is a distinction shared only by Israel and South Korea.

As we all know from life, success often breeds contempt. For those with a predisposition against the Jewish people, Israel’s success itself is a provocation.

Zionism didn’t begin with the First Zionist Congress in 1897. The real wonder is not that this movement has flourished in the open for the past 114 years, but that the seeds of Zionism grew in the dark for 2,000 years.

Zionism began with our exile and was renewed every day, across the centuries, in Jewish prayers. It gathered force whenever Jews, in small or large numbers, returned to Israel. It took on greater momentum from a variety of nineteenth century streams of immigration.

1897 marks not the beginning of Zionism, but only the start of its fast-forward phase. Each of us is a link in the 2,000-year chain of Zionist momentum and renewal.

So what should we be saying to those who don’t even know about the roots and development of modern Zionism?

First, we need to tell them that today’s Jewish vibrancy, success, pride and sense of global unity are all products of Zionism. Until the Zionist movement blossomed, Jewish communities were largely isolated from one another. The improvement of global communication and the rise of a common Jewish purpose under the Zionist umbrella are inextricably bound.

Next, we need to be frank. While there may be some sincere people who believe they can condemn Zionism and still profess admiration for the Jewish people, there is no question that delegitimization of Zionism is driven by people and movements guilty of classical anti-Semitism. In many of the countries which do not recognize Israel there is no line separating the demonization of Israel from the demonization of Jews.

Many of our enemies have discovered that anti-Semitism is frowned upon and so they mask their hatred of Jews by condemning Zionism. Unfortunately, some people in Western nations, including Jews, have been taken in by this tactic.

We also need to tell those who are committed to Israel but would just like to retire the word “Zionism” that they are deluding themselves. Changing your name might have been a successful strategy for some Jews in the early years of Hollywood, but it won’t fool those who hate us. If you are a Zionist in all but name, embrace the label.

Finally, we need to speak from the heart. Many people who could be reached, whether Jews or non-Jews, have either never spoken to a committed Zionist or don’t realize that they have. We need to make the Zionist story explicit.

We need to tell them not only what we believe but show them what we do. So I’d like to end with a word about Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

Hadassah was a pioneer not only in building Israel but also nurturing it as a caring and ethical society. Our reputation for healing, educating and hiring Israel’s Arab community as well as the Jewish population has brought us accolades from around the world. In 2005, this reputation earned the Hadassah Medical Organization a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

And everything Hadassah does is Zionism.

Indeed, I wouldn’t say Hadassah PRACTICES Zionism.

Hadassah IS Zionism.

So let’s stop letting others, whether they are true enemies or misguided friends, tell us what Zionism is.

Let’s take back our name. WE ARE PROUD TO BE ZIONISTS.

We can meet together and we can all agree. But what will come out of these meetings? Our focus needs to be how to get our message beyond the walls of this conference.
We turn to you Minister Edelstein, to help us with this. This is our collective challenge.

Hadassah is proud to contribute to making Israel a light unto the nations, and we celebrate the many other institutions and individuals that done so as well. Let’s all make sure, first and foremost, that the people closest to us understand Zionism.

Let each and every one of us be a light unto our own people.

Date: 10/3/2011 12:00:00 AM

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