The Modern Case For Zionism

Ready to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday? Canadian Jews should mark this occasion in three ways.

The Canadian Jewish News

March 20, 2018

The Modern Case For Zionism

R eady to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday? Canadian Jews should mark this occasion in three ways.

First, let’s party. Israel’s a miracle that symbolizes Jewish renewal and Western liberal democracy at their best. Second, let’s toast Canadian Jewry’s deep friendship with Israel. And finally, let’s renew our Zionist commitment by taking Zionism personally again.

Simply celebrating Israel is extra difficult in this day and age. It’s bad enough that our enemies have politicized Israel to the extent that too many Jews cannot even stand Israel, let alone celebrate it. Beyond that, too many of us take Israel’s existence for granted. In the early 1960s, few North American Jews visited the country – and many forgot the miracle of 1948. Fears of losing Israel before the Six-Day War shook that generation out of its complacency. Why not use a happy birthday to shake us out of ours?

Zionism isn’t just about Jewish self-defence, but about Jewish ideals

Canadian Jewry is not American Jewry. It’s ironic, or perhaps quintessentially Jewish, that, by any indicator – per capita visits, philanthropy, or sheer love of the Jewish state – Canadian Jews are usually more enthusiastic about Israel than American Jews. Yet, Americans in general are more enthusiastic about Israel than Canadians.

Perhaps America’s support for Israel makes American Jews complacent, and free to be more critical. Perhaps Canadian wariness about Israel makes Canadian Jews rally around the blue-and-white flag. But what it really comes down to is Jewish identity and Jewish pride.

In general, Canadian Jews are more Jewishly literate, observant and sophisticated than their American counterparts. Thus, Canadian Jewry confirms that the more committed you are to Judaism and the Jewish people, the more pro-Israel you are. That insight should shape our ideological and educational strategies.

Former Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion taught us that Zionism wasn’t just a revolution to create a new Jewish state – it created a new kind of Jew. Zionism wasn’t just fighting anti-Semitism, it was fighting assimilation by organizing a romantic nationalist revival in our ancient homeland.

In that spirit, Prof. Irwin Cotler, the founder of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and former justice minister and attorney general of Canada, calls Jews the “original aboriginal people.” As one of the Jewish people’s great advocates, Cotler affirms our clear rights to the Land of Israel, without ignoring the rights of the Palestinian people. In the selection of his writings I chose to publish in my new book, The Zionist Ideas , Cotler explains why we should all embrace Zionist ideals.

“Today, Zionism doesn’t just protect us from that which is inconceivable yet possible – it opens up all kinds of new possibilities. We are … one people, with a common heritage and with a common destiny, and with values that underpin that common heritage and destiny, wherever we are,” Cotler writes.

“We should always remember that this is the people that has ‘the rule of law’ as our heritage, that has the notion of Jewish humanitarian law as our doctrine, that has ‘tzedek, tzedek, tirdof ’ – ‘justice, justice, shall you pursue’ – as a moral imperative, that has ‘shalom, shalom!’ – ‘peace, peace!’ – as our abiding hope, as our abiding dream, as our abiding will.”

Zionism isn’t just about Jewish self-defence, but about Jewish ideals. It’s not just about politically defending Jews over there, but helping us find Jewish meaning over here. And that’s Zionism not just with a Canadian accent, but a Jewish sensibility.

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Gil Troy  is the author of  The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s . His forthcoming book, The Zionist Ideas, which updates Arthur Hertzberg’s classic work, will be published by The Jewish Publication Society in Spring 2018. Professor Gil Troy is Distinguished Scholar in North American History at McGill University.

Follow on Twitter  @GilTroy .

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