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An Open Letter From Our Founder: Zionism commands a Jewish *democracy*

Dear Zionesses,

We feel the gravity of this moment and know that the Zioness community is struggling as we watch what is unfolding in our beloved Israel. We are writing to share some reflections, in hopes that we can give voice to your feelings, too.

First and foremost, we recommit to our founding belief: in spite of the struggle––and sometimes, because of it––Zionism is, and will continue to be, an intrinsic piece of our Jewish identities in the diaspora. Zionism is the story of Jewish history, Jewish religion and Jewish peoplehood, and a commitment to Jewish sovereignty in our ancestral homeland––not a commitment to the internal politics of the modern Jewish state. A proud Zionist can support, oppose, or be indifferent to any Israeli leader, policy, or governing coalition in any given moment.

As you know, at Zioness, we empower progressive American Jews to own our Zionism unapologetically, engage in the social justice activism we care about, and confront anti-Zionism whenever necessary. As a domestic American organization that holds Zionism as a core component of our Jewishness, and not a reflection of our views vis-a-vis any other government, Zioness does not take institutional positions on the politics and policies of Israel. This foundational element of the Zioness mission has been tested before, and is being tested again today.

But we also see something uplifting happening amid the chaos that we believe can advance a crucial goal of our movement: providing clarity on the distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and “anti-Zionism.” Today, our community––American Jews, patriotic Israelis, the Jewish diaspora––is modeling what it means to critique Israel *as Zionists*, and to do so in the spirit of concern, disappointment, solidarity, hope, and most importantly, love. Today, we are showing the world that genuine criticism of Israel is not only *not antisemitic*, it can be affirmatively Zionist. We are illustrating that it is not criticism, but rather demonization or delegitimization of Israel, that is both anti-Zionist and antisemitic.

At Zioness, we reject the antisemitic litmus test too often applied to Jewish Americans that demands we “take a position” on issues concerning our identities, our safety, our Israeli family, our Jewish collective future. While we certainly can hold opinions, and declare public positions, on Israeli politics and policies––and doing so, especially under current circumstances, can be profoundly impactful––being proudly Zionist does not mean we *have to*, or that we have anything to prove to anyone by doing so.

Today, we want to. The illiberal and dangerous political crusade by newly empowered coalition members does not reflect our Jewish or democratic values––the ingredients which, in equal parts, form the bedrock of modern Zionism. Anyone advocating for a Jewish state while attacking the democratic character of that state is acting contrary to the mandate of the Zionist pioneers who envisioned it, and dishonoring the heroes who fought and sacrificed to build and sustain it.

In challenging times of past and present––and a commitment we pray will endure long into the future––our response is not to abandon Jewish peoplehood or Zionism, but to fight for it with even more devotion.

Last weekend, I proudly attended the demonstration in Tel Aviv. I was standing between my Ethiopian-Israeli and Israeli-Arab friends on my right, and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert on my left. I was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people of all stripes: religious and secular, right-wing and left-wing, peaceniks and IDF reservists, students and great-grandparents, sabras and olim (and yes, the occasional Jewish American). I couldn’t stop thinking about a call-and-response chant I have bellowed over and over again at protests across America: “Show Me What Democracy Looks Like!” “This is What Democracy Looks Like!” As I looked at the crowds, and the never-ending sea of Israeli flags, I was overcome by the beauty and power of this reclamation and declaration of Zionism.

At Zioness, we are unabashedly progressive and unapologetically Zionist. We know that modern Zionism is a miraculous, radical and improbable progressive achievement, the liberation and national self-determination of a long-persecuted minority community. We believe in the potential for flawed humans and imperfect nations to progress—to grow according to our vision and our values. We are also realists who know that the profound, substantial progress we seek is rarely linear. While we pray for a more united and perpetually democratic Israel, we will continue to work to advance the progressive agenda at home in the U.S., where there is also much work to be done. Let’s live our Zioness values together.

In solidarity,


Founder and Executive Director

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