For many of today’s mainstream progressives, opposing the Jewish state is part of a complete breakfast. In order to be progressive, we must stand against the racist Zionist agenda — at least, that’s what we have been taught. But, if you take the time to look deeper, you might be surprised to find that progressivism and Zionism are closely intertwined. I know I was.
What is Zionism? At its core, Zionism is the Jewish liberation movement. It is the movement for self-determination of the Hebrews in their indigenous homeland. Self-determination, essentially, is the right of a people to sovereign statehood and self-governance. Modern Zionism was developed in the 19th century, though Jewishness has always been intricately linked to Jerusalem and the surrounding land, and a Jewish community, though small, remained in the land. The Jewish state is an example for all indigenous peoples, like the Kurds: a hope of what could be.
Zionism is not a monolith. It doesn’t mean you have to support a particular political party. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything the Israeli government does. It doesn’t mean you have to hate Muslims or convert to Judaism. It doesn’t mean you cannot support a two-state solution, or the Palestinian right to self-determination. It just means that you support an indigenous people’s right to self-determination in their historical homeland. And that is an inherently progressive belief.
Progressivism has a rich history of Zionism. Many civil rights and gay rights activists of the past have been Zionists. A few you may recognize are Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and black, gay advocate Bayard Rustin. None of them were Jewish, but they recognized the importance of standing with other people in support of their liberation. The NAACP and the Zionist Organization of America used to have representatives sit on each other’s boards. And contrary to recent claims, feminism and Zionism are not mutually exclusive; feminist giants like Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique,” and Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who won Roe v. Wade, were ardent Zionists.
At the heart of progressivism is the concept of intersectionality, that our many identities intersect and affect our treatment by society. Increasingly, the progressive movement can exclude Jews from that conversation in the name of anti-Zionism. For example, my friend Laurie was kicked out of the Chicago Dyke March this summer for carrying a rainbow flag bearing the Star of David. According to what she was told, the flag was considered “a symbol of oppression.” Zionist feminists were deliberately obstructed when they tried to march in SlutWalk this year. It seems that Jews are only welcome in progressive circles if they disavow their homeland. In the words of Friedan, “All human rights are indivisible,” and therefore, applying a double standard “solely to the self-determination of the Jewish people” is wrong.
Zionism is not a dirty word. Supporting the liberation of one group does not mean supporting the oppression of others. Progressivism is not a zero-sum game. It is about raising up all peoples and creating a world that respects diversity and human rights. Zionism is and always has been essential to that goal.
Nadiya Al-Noor is a CAMERA on-campus fellow and a second-year graduate student pursuing a master’s of student affairs administration and masters of public administration.