Enough with the Sniveling Zionists! Since the Gaza eruption, I have endured dozens of handwringing Zooms obsessed with “bringing back Progressives.” Most discussions assume “we” erred, and if we would only repent, or “get” better PR, the megaphoned minority of un-Jews undoing modern Jewry’s core consensus uniting peoplehood, religion and statehood would repent. But critics using our enemies’ language to attack their own people aren’t open to reason. Remember Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s advice regarding anti-Zionists: don’t accuse the accused, accuse their accusers.
Sniveling violates the Zionist ethos of Jewish pride and dignity. Rooted in “mucus,” snyflung or snofl in late Old English, it means to “run at the nose,” be plaintive, tearful.
American Jew’ Achilles Heel is only on the left foot. Contempt from the Left unnerves them. It feels unnatural, like unkosher gefilte fish. Right-wing Jew-hatred confirms that all is right with the universe, providing just the right enemies.
Left-wing anti-Zionism, however, comes from those whose approval most American Jews desperately seek. This most-unwelcome hatred festers in the secular churches most wish to join, especially Blue-Jew America’s holy-of-holies, the universities. The result is a megaphone effect, giving Progressive critiques of Israel disproportionate power.
Unfortunately, America’s ideological winds are shifting. Liberalism and Zionism are Siamese Twins, conjoined at the hip, sharing much DNA, without being identical. But while Zionism is inherently liberal, Wokeness is fundamentally illiberal. Wokeness, including Critical Race Theory, encourages blaming and shaming, with a strong totalitarian streak ever-so-quick to cancel. As a movement of liberal-nationalism and national liberation, Zionism takes responsibility and problem-solves, fostering a strong democratic political culture ever-so-slow to excommunicate, because so many arguments are so robust.
I am a Big Tent guy. Jews need an expansive, welcoming Zionist conversation from Left to Right. The Trumpified-Zionist Right is too defensive, too suffocating, not tolerating the debate and self-criticism democratic communities need to grow. The anti-Zionist Left is too offensive, too delegitimizing, not tolerating the kinds of defensive actions every sovereign country sometimes needs to survive. Between those two extremes, there’s much room to maneuver – and a large platform suiting most Jews today, the silenced majority – including the 83 percent of American Jews who support Israel.
By definition, every community needs boundaries. Our Zionist tent therefore, no matter how broad and blue-and-white, requires red lines. That is why we must lean in without falling over. That is why I shudder at so many spineless leaders, fearing the young, refusing to call out the few, the loud, the un-proud, who long ago stopped listening, the Woke who cannot even be shaken awake by the shrieks of missiles launched against their people or the muffled cries of traumatized Israeli children in bomb shelters.
Ideologies cannot protect themselves by debasing themselves. Remember the Zionist Pilates slogan: strengthen your core! That internal strengthening comes from effective messaging. Yes, reach out to the left enough to reassure liberal Zionists, but stop overreaching, neglecting the center while wooing the unwooable.
Too many apologists indulge Yasir Arafat’s conceit that every Israel conversation must be about the Palestinians. That obsession distorts reality. It defines last year by Gaza, not the Abraham Accords. It defines the last half-century by the “intractable” Palestinian conflict, not Israel’s progress with Egypt, Jordan, even Saudi Arabia. And it defines the last 75 years by Israel fighting, not Israel thriving, building, ever-improving. My Israel timeline is not ’48, ‘56’ ’67… war-war-war. My chronology pivots around the Forties, the Fifties, the Sixties…. – viewing the conflict in context, not making the conflict the context.
Most modern anti-Zionism is not logical or ideological but sociological – and irrational. In his important book The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth , Jonathan Rauch quotes social science research proving that “believing is belonging.” Most people cater their arguments and, increasingly, their truths, to reinforce their defining reference group.
These hyper-critical Jews are most committed to being Woke, to fitting in with Social Justice Warriors. They may sing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, but they overlook Cohen’s lesson during the 1973 Yom Kippur, when Montreal’s legendary singer-songwriter traveled the Sinai, singing to buoy Israel’s troops. Asked what he was doing there, despite having criticized Israel harshly, he explained: “I am joining my brothers fighting in the desert…. A Jew remains a Jew. Now it’s war and there’s no need for explanations. My name is Cohen, no?”
“A Jew remains a Jew” is the strategic insight – and ideological stance – shaping Identity Zionism. Emphasizing belonging invites Jews to dream about what we can become working together, tapping into our rich heritage. It’s about values and vision, community and continuity, patriotism and pride. We didn’t come to Israel to build what the writer Herman Melville called a snivelization – we mastered that for millennia in Exile!
Snivelized types feel “dreadful about their souls,” Melville warned; civilized types know how to nurture what the Home Depot philanthropist Bernard Marcus calls “a generation of proud Jews connected to Israel and the Jewish people.” Through the teen trips Marcus sponsors, through Birthright, Masa, and other Israel Experiences, we don’t start the conversation with “what’s wrong with us” or even “where do we stand politically.” We start with “who are we,” “who have we been” and “who can we become?”
That’s the recipe for long-term pride. That the recipe for a Zionism which isn’t about twisting ourselves into pretzels – that’s junk food! — but baking tasty Gen Z challahs: evoking warm memories, braiding us and our ideas together, while leaving us satisfied yet hungry for more.
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,and the author of nine books on American History, his book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.