Zionism: A Call for Moral and Spiritual Integrity
For our world to truly appreciate and respect us, Zionism's brand must evolve.
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When I tell Israelis that I started a TV streaming company, IZZY, to use Israeli TV and films to enhance the world’s relationship with Israel, they almost always respond by saying something like, “That is very Zionist” — complete with cynical undertones.
Sure, they are mildly impressed by a Los Angeles native who moved to Israel and founded a company with such a mission, but they do not truly appreciate our cause, and they certainly cannot relate to it.
In many Israelis’ hearts and minds, “Zionism” is an antiquated concept that pays minimal (if any) dividends to their day-to-day lives, and it is positioned them smack-dab in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an emotional, psychological, and seemingly never-ending form of taxation.
Two years ago, I had the chance to meet with one of the children of a former Israeli prime minister. When I used the word “Zionism” in our meeting, this person told me: “We don’t use that word anymore.” Again, this was the child of a former Israeli prime minister.
Around the world, Zionism has also become a dirty word. Its modern-day form, especially for people who do not have a dog in the fight, conjures up thoughts of imperialism, occupation, entitlement, prejudice, discrimination, and racism.
As with many terms that are hash-tagged, commercialized, and weaponized, “Zionism” has been distorted and casually thrown around online, in academic discourse, by the media, and across so-called social justice spaces. This causes people to either dismiss the term entirely, or engage with it in a way that displaces the actual meaning of the word.
Such is the story of the Jewish People, which for 2,000 years was continuously subject to erasure, extraction, and oppression virtually wherever our predecessors went. Yet for these 2,000 years, since the fall of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, we have been yearning to return to the Land of Israel, our obvious indigenous homeland.
Hence why this 2,000-year Jewish dream is explicitly embedded into the Israeli national anthem “HaTikva,” which was adopted from a poem written in 1878 (two decades before the First Zionist Congress convened, and 70 years before the State of Israel was founded).
“Our hope is not yet lost, the hope of two thousand years,” the anthem’s lyrics go, “to be a free nation in our own land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Call it a coincidence? I think not.
We know as a matter of fact that the birthplace of the Jewish People is called the Land of Israel (in Hebrew: Eretz Yisrael). There, a significant part of our nation’s long history was enacted, of which the first thousand years are recorded in the Hebrew Bible.
Moreover, the Jewish People’s cultural, religious, and national identities were formed in the Land of Israel; and there, our physical presence has been maintained through the centuries, even after the Jewish majority was forced into exile.
While many presume that the Jewish return to our indigenous homeland started in or around the Holocaust circa 1939, our initial pioneers arrived in the mid-1800s. For example, Sir Moses Montefiore, famous for his intervention in favor of Jews around the world, established a colony for Jews in Ottoman-era Palestine in 1860.
In 1878, Petah Tikva was founded by Orthodox Jewish visionaries from Europe who purchased the land from two Christian businessmen. Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II allowed the purchase because of the land’s poor quality.1
Jewish immigration to Ottoman-era Palestine started earnestly from there, including the official beginning of the construction of the “New Yishuv” (new Jewish communities), which is usually dated to the arrival of the Bilu group circa 1882.
Most immigrants came from the Russian Empire, escaping the frequent pogroms and state-led persecution in what are now Ukraine and Poland. They founded a number of agricultural settlements with financial support from Jewish philanthropists in Western Europe.
A new era opened with the publication in 1879 of Eliezer Ben‑Yehuda’s article entitled “A Burning Question.” The use of Hebrew as a spoken language was to be for Ben‑Yehuda one of the most important aspects of the new plan for Jewish resettlement in the Land of Israel (then Ottoman-era Palestine), and he led the creation of a modern version of the ancient language.
“If we wish that the name Israel be not extinguished, then we are in duty bound to create something which may serve as a center for our entire people,” said Ben-Yehuda, “like the heart in an organism, from which the blood will stream into all the arteries of the national body and fill it with life.”
Today, well into the 21st century, the State of Israel has been alive and kicking for 75 years, and it has quickly become among the world leaders in technology, defense, medicine, agriculture, academia, security, and other arenas. Our proverbial heart is damn well strong and only getting stronger, with more recent global breakthroughs in entertainment, sports, and culinary arts.
In fact, Israel is the world’s only country that has more trees today than it had 50 years ago. Israel has more museums per capita than any other country. The IDF is a leader in saving people trapped by natural and man-made disasters. Israel is home to the world’s only theater company composed entirely of deaf and blind actors.
At 82 years, life expectancy in Israel is among the highest in the world. Coffee and cafés are so good in Israel, it is the only country where Starbucks failed trying to break into the local market. Israel tops the list of countries when it comes to the annual production of scientific papers per capita.
First launched in Israel in 2011, mini libraries at bus stops which offer free books have inspired similar initiatives in other countries. Israel has the world’s highest rate of university degrees per capita. Israel has more in-vitro fertilization per capita than any other country, and it is free. Despite the “tough” neighborhood we live in, numerous studies rank Israelis among the happiest people living in Western nations.
“I once called Zionism an infinite ideal, and I truly believe that even after we achieve our land, the Land of Israel, it will not cease to be an ideal,” said Theodor Herzl. “Zionism, as I see it, entails not only an aspiration for a piece of land legally ours, but also for moral and spiritual integrity.”
I could not agree more with Herzl: Every day that the State of Israel, in the Land of Israel, continues to exist, we become a stronger Israeli nation, and a stronger Jewish People who embolden our right to self-determination.
And we cannot, for one second, overlook or take for granted this incredible country that so many Jews in our history have envisioned, and that we are so fortunate to experience; nor can we forget what our ancestors have suffered and sacrificed to put us in this unprecedented position. We must continue to plow forward with the same fervor that they embodied.
But we must also understand that, in a world where most countries are becoming increasingly inclusive, Israel remains one of the few places of exclusivity; that is, Israel is the unquestionable home of the Jews, and we must do everything in our power to keep it this way.
This doesn’t mean that we do not welcome visitors, refugees, and non-Jewish residents; of course we welcome them, and we must treat them with the impeccable Israeli hospitality.
It does mean, though, that Israel must unapologetically remain a Jewish state, with a Jewish society, a Jewish culture, and an overwhelming Jewish majority — evolving as every savvy civilization does, while never renouncing our Jewish moral and spiritual integrity. This is what I will call Israel’s “product.”
Every great company, however, knows that a great product is not enough to be a great company; a great product must be accompanied by a great brand to last the test of time.
Is Starbucks, for example, a great company because it makes great coffee? Some might say yes, but many would argue that Starbucks’ coffee is burnt and overpriced. Most everyone agrees, though, that Starbucks has an amazing brand, which compels millions of people to buy their inferior-tasting, expensive coffee.
Israel, like Starbucks, will never have a perfect product. The Palestinians are not going anywhere, and as long as they are the “underdog,” they will always have “fans” rooting for them.
Meanwhile, the IDF and Mossad will continue to do their dirty work, which will inevitably ruffle people’s feathers and spark animosity. And no matter how much we try to fight antisemitism, it is a force that will likely last in perpetuity.
So, yes, Israel’s product should absolutely remain Zionism — an ardent conviction that the State of Israel has the right to exist, that Jews have the right to self-determination.
But for our world to truly appreciate and respect us, Zionism’s brand must evolve. And we, as the next generation of unrelenting Zionists must change the conversation about our country we so dearly love.
Yaari, Avraham (1958). “The Goodly Heritage: Memoirs Describing the Life of the Jewish Community of Eretz Yisrael From the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Centuries.”