This article is currently featured in WIZO Lapid:
The word Zionism is guaranteed to elicit some of the most passionate emotions. For Jews the word Zionism is synonymous with our identity and the love of Israel, for our detractors it is a word that is maligned, criticized and questioned. Zionism in a nutshell can be described as “the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland”. Relatively simple but Zionism is also about the inalienable right for the Jewish people to organize themselves politically.
The Jews must be the only people in history who have had their national aspirations scorned, derided and singled out for opprobrium. Who could forget the infamous UN Resolution that was passed in 1975 declaring Zionism to be racism? Even though this was eventually refuted, it left a lasting stigma associated with the word. Zionists have been blamed for every canard and conspiracy theory – from 9/11 and creating ISIS to the more ridiculous training of Mossad spy sharks and shoe theft.
It is not all doom and gloom. Israel is growing and thriving and the world is changing. Zionism is also changing to adapt to world trends.
The Zionist movement has its roots in human rights. Theodore Herzl, the founding father of modern Zionism, envisioned a state that would live up to the Jewish ideal of tikkun olam (contributing to the world) and be inclusive of minority communities. He wrote this in his manifesto, Altneuland. While Herzl would never live long enough to witness the birth of his dream, his tenacity and unfaltering belief that “if you will it, it is no dream” has been realized and today Israel is a thriving, cosmopolitan kaleidoscope of culture, creativity and innovation, proudly holding her own in the family of nations.
During the country’s brief 67years, the impact the Jewish state has made on the world is extraordinary. Few are aware of the Jewish state’s history of helping beleaguered African countries in the 1950’s and 1960’s by establishing youth training programmes and agricultural cooperatives as well as medical infrastructure and industrial enterprises. Today, Israel continues to help post-colonial Africa with groundbreaking medical and agricultural technology. Africa is just one example.
Practical Zionism that exhibits “tachlis” or results is very attractive to the millennial generation. This is a generation for whom the language of human rights is very important. Zionism has been in effect, hijacked by Israel’s detractors in order to frame their argument that Israel is a racist, Apartheid state that is guilty of human rights. This is used effectively on campuses and many students who are supporters of Israel are targeted and harassed. In many cases it is difficult for students to confidently show their support because it makes them vulnerable to attacks.
So how do we claim back the narrative? How do we make it safe for a new generation to express themselves and their identity?
There are many ways to promote Zionism other than the political sphere. While it is my personal belief that we should all become pro-activists for Israel, for some, especially the millennial generation, the political arguments seem daunting and overwhelming. This is a generation that has always known Israel to be a strong and secure country. This is a generation for whom Israel is about start-ups and Birthright, the IDF and Ben Yehuda Street. We need to take back the narrative that Zionism is about human rights and frame it in a language and use the tools that they understand. We need to appeal to their inner rebel and make it current. It is a fallacy that the younger generation do not identify with Zionism – they do, they just express it differently to what many are used to.
Zionism if you think about it is quite rebellious and revolutionary. Zionists don’t conform. We take ideas and change the world with them. At the outset, nobody, save for Herzl, could conceive of a state being born out of a manifesto and followed by a movement and eventually a state. Zionism is proof that anything, in fact, miracles ARE possible. This is rebellious. It bucks the status quo, and appeals to the inner romantic and the rebel. How could this not be appealing to students who become politically aware and socially conscious once they start university?
Zionism is the story of triumph over tragedy. Zionists punch above our weight. This is evident in the way that Israel is always first on scene in time of natural disasters like we were recently in Nepal. Zionism is sexy and innovative – if there is an app or hot new start up, you can bet that you can find it here and that it is attracting investment.
Zionists are humanists – while we may fervently defend our right to protect ourselves, we are dismayed at the injustice and persecution that our neighbours endure through despotic and hegemonic regimes. We open our arms to providing our life saving and revolutionary medical technology to children from enemy countries, desperately in need of care.
Zionism is about creativity and the freedom of expression – discourse and debate is the order of the day and the test of being a Zionist is being brave enough to challenge the policies and status quo we disagree with in order to build a better Israel. When the going gets tough, we get introspective and discuss. Zionism is about creating the space for individuality and the collective.
All this should fire up the millennials and it does! These are the messages that they relate to. This is attractive, unique and all about bridging the gaps between past and future. It is time to make Zionism relevant again and adapt to a new generation and we can only do this effectively by listening to them.
And they are aware of the challenges. They are the frontline – they are looking at things from a different perspective and finding creative ways to engage.
One of my favourite quotes of all times is “be moved by your message and your message will move the world” and we are making Zionism sexy again.
Rolene Marks is a passionate advocate for Israel and appears on radio, television and has been published in numerous global publications. Rolene is a member of the Media Team Israel, an advocacy body that fights media bias as well as Truth be Told.
Rolene volunteers for WIZO and is a member of the World WIZO Executive and previously represented the organisation on the World Zionist Congress. Rolene can be heard every Monday on the Chai Drive on Chai FM, a Johannesburg based radio station giving political commentary on Israel and the Middle East.
In 2007 Rolene participated in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Young Jewish Diplomats Leadership course and is the owner of Rolene Marks Consulting, specialising in Media, Public Relations, Social Media Marketing as well as Israel Advocacy Training. Rolene Marks is available for interviews and lectures upon request.