The Zionist Conspiracy

A clandestine undertaking on behalf of Israel, the Jets and the Jews.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2004
'Zionism' As An Epithet

On the Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein writes:

One thing I've noticed is that the Muslim/Palestinian/Campus Left (an odd alliance, to say the least) has managed to make the words "Zionism" and "Zionist" into epithets, so much so that people don't even know what the word means, they just know it's something bad. More than once I've seen Jewish students quoted as saying things like "I support Israel's right to exist with secure borders as a Jewish state, but I'm not a Zionist."

No doubt the situation is far worse now, but even in 1994, during my first semester at Columbia Law School, upon overhearing a heated discussion in which I was defending Israel, a non-Jewish friend of mine asked me, "What are you a Zionist or something?"

For different reasons, in right-wing Orthodox Jewish circles, the term "Zionism" is also often deemed as negative. That's mostly because the early Zionist leaders were - with a few exceptions - staunch secularists who derided religion and promoted Zionist activities as an alternative to religious observance. Theological questions about whether a Jewish state should be formed in Israel also played a part. While today the overwhelming majority of charedi Jews inside and outside Israel support Israel (with a small but vocal minority continuing to express hostility to the State's existence), the rabbinic leadership continues to feel ambivalence (or worse) toward the State. In the U.S., most charedi Jews feel a close connection to Israel, yet decline to identify themselves as Zionist, even though in reality they are among Israel's most reliable supporters.