When I first travelled to Israel in January 2012, I was excited to finally visit a place that I had heard so much about. I did not necessarily have a strong connection to Israel before I went and, unlike many of the other Birthright participants, I did not instantly feel connected upon landing in Tel-Aviv. I thought the country was beautiful and I thought the Jerusalem stone buildings appeared stunningly authentic, but that did not foster a deep connection. It was not until visiting an area in Jerusalem where you could literally see the layers of history that I truly felt a connection to the land. I was able to see the layers where Jerusalem was torn down and later rebuilt over itself. Even more incredible, though, was my experience visiting the Robinson’s Arch area. Seeing not only the excavations in the area showing how people making pilgrimage would have entered the Temple but also the area where the top of the wall was torn down, I connected to the deep history of Jerusalem and of the Jewish people.
Zionism, to me, is the desire to have a free and democratic state in the land of Israel where all Jews are welcome both to visit and to stay. This state serves many different purposes. It is a haven for Jews fleeing Europe to some and a tourist stop for Jews wishing to rediscover their heritage to others. Still, it is one united country where Jewish bible scholars can study and learn fully immersed in Judaism and where Jewish scientists can develop some of the greatest technological advancements of our time all while living under the umbrella of the Jewish state. With such a broad dream, it is sometimes difficult to establish exactly what the role of a Zionist is, but the biggest responsibility we have in the modern age is to stand up for Israel when others will not.
On liberal college campuses, especially, the trend towards criticism of Israel can be seen clearly. As more campuses bring in SJP speakers and propose BDS resolutions, we must not be afraid to stand up against these attacks. On my campus last year, I counted three events I would consider to be anti-Israel that were co-sponsored by different departments within my University. Among these was Steven Salaita who was preemptively relieved of his position at the University of Illinois Champagne for his anti-Israel posts on Twitter. In these cases, I took it upon myself to attend the event to ask serious questions as well as bring up to the school the ways in which bringing in these speakers hurts the campus community. Especially where other, pro-Israel, speakers are not brought in to establish a balance, these events are generally harmful and further anti-Israel and anti-Semitic feelings on campus.
The importance of standing up for the State of Israel goes beyond the college campus and smaller communities, though. This is an issue which must be addressed on a larger scale. Illinois recently passed a bill effectively boycotting the BDS movement. This is not only a statement that the state of Illinois will stand with Israel against BDS, but also that it will stand by the democratic values of the United States and outwardly show support for its one major democratic ally in the Middle East. In the US it is becoming increasingly more difficult to stand up in support for Israel, with more people joining the anti-Israel bandwagon. It is precisely at this time, though, that it is most important to stand up in support of Israel.