I’m afraid to say it out loud sometimes because it’s become a bad word of late. I believe in Israel’s right to exist and its necessity. I put great faith in the Jewish right to self-determination and have a deep love for the State of Israel. This makes me a Zionist.
On Thursday, Feb. 16, the well-known political scientist and Israel critic Norman Finkelstein repeatedly equated Zionism with ethnic cleansing. He called Zionism a denial of historical truth and compared Zionist endeavors to Stalin’s.
But the Palestinian population in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories has increased eightfold since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. If the Palestinian population of the region has swelled since Israel’s conception, Zionism cannot possibly espouse ethnic cleansing.
Zionism, instead, is the Jewish movement for self-determination. The founders of the State of Israel were Zionists, but they did not enshrine rights for only one group of people. On the contrary, the Israeli Declaration of Independence states that Israel will “foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants [and] it will be based on freedom, justice and peace.” Israel has sometimes erred on its path, but the Zionism described in the nation’s founding document has nothing to do with the ethnic cleansing that Finkelstein mentioned.
In fact, many famous figures are proud to be Zionists, like Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel. He decried genocide — a form of ethnic cleansing itself — but was also unfaltering in his Zionism, finding no conflict between the two. Like Wiesel, I see no contradiction between Zionism and my values of human rights. I believe in Israel’s founding ideology, and like many others, see it as a movement of “freedom, justice and peace.”
In that vein, I realize that many, on campus and elsewhere, may disagree with my views. But instead of charging all Zionists with ethnic cleansing, I invite you to engage a Zionist in conversation. You will find that many of us are liberals, peacemakers, and warriors for human rights. Ask a proponent of the ideology why they continue to adhere to it. It may be that they find Israel’s existence necessary; it also may be, however, that they find Zionism good and just, even though Finkelstein might disagree.
Leora Eisenberg is a freshman from Eagan, Minn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.