Zionism is at its essence a movement advocating for the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. Whether Jews were fleeing the Nazis in Europe, Arab dictatorships in the Middle East, or brutal crackdowns in Ethiopia, Zionism has always dedicated itself to preserving the lives and freedoms of Jews around the world. The Zionist movement strives to provide the Jewish people a place in their historical homeland, where they can seek refuge from all types of persecution. Zionism means supporting a country built by refugees and immigrants, a country which provides full rights for women and LGBT+ citizens, a country the size of New Jersey that has created more medical and technological advancements than nearly any other, the Middle East’s strongest democracy, Israel.
On campus however, Zionism has a very different meaning and connotation. Identifying as a Zionist often results in being cursed at and told that you are not welcome on campus. It can also lead to hate filled accusations of racism, fascism, genocide, or whatever else protestors can rhyme together. Although Zionists are few and far in between on campuses across the country, this is not a result of animosity towards the Zionist ideology, but a lack of exposure to what Zionism really means. What being a Zionist does not mean is supporting everything the Israeli government does, or everything Benjamin Netanyahu says. There is no standardized political position held by all Zionists nor should there be. You don’t support the construction of settlements in the disputed territories of the West Bank? Great, you can still be a Zionist. You believe that there should be a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Wonderful, we’d love to hear your ideas. Zionism does not advocate for the prioritization of Jewish citizens over Arab citizens of Israel or the separation of the two groups, but rather, strives for the Jewish people to have the basic right to coexist in peace.
Zionism is a movement dedicated to giving my family and millions of others the basic right of self determination. It catalyzed the rebirth of the Jewish people from the ashes of the Holocaust, advocated for people like my grandparents who were trapped in the Soviet Union, and gave my family a home in Israel where they were treated as full citizens for the first time. To us, Israel symbolizes all that was lost and found, cried over and celebrated, saved and destroyed across the precarious journey of the Jewish people until their return home and the ultimate fulfillment of the Zionist dream. If you support the right of families like mine to control their own futures, you’re already a Zionist.
This semester, Texans for Israel tabled on the West Mall to raise awareness for what Zionism means and why it is important to so many members of the UT community. We received an outpouring of support from the student body and were able to have many spirited discussions with students interested in learning about what Zionism means and the importance of self-determination. However, our campaign was unfortunately met with aggressive protests and calls for “Zionists off our campus” and “racists off our campus” in addition to the traditional tactics used by anti-Israel campus groups. Although we have no problem with spirited discourse, what we will not tolerate is having our students labeled racists, told they are not welcome on campus because of a differing belief, or cursed at and made to fear for their safety for voicing their opinions on our diverse campus. Nonetheless, we were excited to have these opportunities to openly discuss Zionism, self-determination, and the necessity for both in a world in which injustices ranging from racism to anti-Semitism sadly persist.
Contributed by Eliav Terk, CAMERA Fellow at University of Texas, Austin