What is the Zioness Movement?
The Zioness Movement is unabashedly progressive and unapologetically Zionist. We are Jewish activists and allies across the country who are fighting for domestic progressive policies and values. We are also committed to fighting for Zionism and the inclusion of Zionists in social justice spaces, because Zionism is itself a progressive value and movement for the Jewish people––a long persecuted minority. We are rooted in Jewish values, stand for justice, and fight against all forms of oppression.
Why do we need Zioness?
Antisemitism, sometimes under the guise of “anti-Zionism” (which is itself innately antisemitic), is rising across the globe and across the political spectrum. Our progressive movements have been particularly vulnerable to this growing antisemitic “anti-Zionism,” which perversely identifies Jews, and anyone who supports a safe Israel, as “oppressors”––despite the fact that Zionism is the liberation movement of a long-enduring persecuted and marginalized minority community. Social justice leaders have overwhelmingly failed to identify, prioritize and address antisemitism in their work to advance a broader agenda for equity, inclusion, and community security. Zioness seeks to address that antisemitism head on, refusing to cede our space in the fights for our lives, our neighbors’ lives, and ultimately, a more just and equal America. Zioness has created a new home for Jewish progressive activists and their allies where they can be unapologetic in their Zionism and feel empowered to confront antisemitism in progressive spaces while advancing a comprehensive domestic progressive agenda.
Together, we can address antisemitism and anti-Zionism to create stronger, more unified and successful movements for social change, free from all forms of bigotry.
How does Zioness Define Zionism?
Zionism is the movement for Jewish emancipation through Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish homeland. Zionism is the fulfillment of the Jewish people’s millennia-long dream to return home.
Zionism is about the Jewish people and no other people. But Jewish self-determination is consistent with Palestinian self-determination. The overwhelming majority of Zionists around the world, including in Israel, believe that a two-state solution, including a Palestinian state, is a necessary component of the Zionist vision.
Jews are the people of Zion, the children of Zion, hailing originally from Mount Zion (used interchangeably in Jewish text with Jerusalem and/or the Land of Israel), and Zionism is the expression of our peoplehood, our faith, our history, our story and our identity. Zionism and the yearning for Zion united the Jewish people across the diaspora for thousands of years, during exile, pogroms and genocide, as our ancestors prayed toward Jerusalem (Zion) from whatever corner of the globe and in whatever diverse cultures and communities they lived.
We ask those who believe in civil rights, human rights, liberty, justice and equality for people of color, LGBTQ individuals, Native people, immigrants and refugees, to recognize that Zionism, as the Jewish liberation movement, is a progressive movement and value, and we ask that Jewish voices describing their own identity be understood, respected, and most importantly, protected.
What is the relationship between Zionism and the Jewish People?
As was mentioned above, the Jewish people are referenced in every religious text as the people of Israel, or the people of Zion, or the children of Zion, hailing from Mount Zion (Jerusalem, Israel). “Zion”, “Jerusalem”, and the “Land of Israel” are often used interchangeably in the Jewish religion and in discussions of Jewish peoplehood. The word “Zion” is mentioned 152 times in the Hebrew Bible.
Jews are unique in how we are identified because we are first and foremost a people––a nation, “Am Yisrael”––with a shared history, a shared destiny, a Jewish identity, a unique language (Hebrew), ancient in origin but still in use. The Jewish people have a shared practice and tradition in our commitment to the Jewish religion and the Jewish values we are taught from generation to generation, l’dor v’dor.
In the Jewish religion, we pray toward Zion, and we pray about Zion. As a Jewish nation, we are the Children of Zion––we are Zionists. Love for and connection to Zion is one of the inherent values and principles of both Jewish peoplehood and Jewish faith, and it is inextricable from our identities as Jews. The Jewish people’s connection to Zion is, of course the foundational principle of Zionism. When put into its proper context, it becomes clear that Zionism, culminating in the modern reestablishment of the State of Israel, is the very definition of anti-colonialism. It is the reunification of a people with their ancient, indigenous, ancestral, and religious home, and a turning over of political leadership to a persecuted community, the Children of Zion, who spent thousands of years yearning for sovereignty, praying about and toward Zion, and pronouncing their dreams with cries of “Next Year in Jerusalem” on momentous Jewish occasions. It is justice; it is a guarantee of safety and freedom for the Jewish people all over the world, including the 850,000 Jews of the Middle East and North Africa who were demonized and marginalized as “Zionists” in the 20th century until they were forced to flee their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs and find safe haven in the diverse, pluralistic, and democratic State of Israel.
What is the relationship between Zionism and the State of Israel?
Zionism is the movement for emancipation and self-determination for the Jewish people, the world’s oldest persecuted community, in our ancestral homeland in the land of Israel, after millennia of exile, oppression and genocide. Today, practically speaking, Zionism means supporting the State of Israel’s legitimacy as the world’s only Jewish state––a commitment held by the vast majority of Jews in the world.
The modern political Zionist movement began in the late 19th century, a time of terrible oppression of Jews in Europe. Its leaders pushed the international community to understand the Jewish people’s historic and inalienable right to self-determination, as well as our 4,000 year connection to the land. The movement culminated in the reestablishment of the contemporary State of Israel, formally recognized by the international community via the United Nations in 1949. The movement strived for, and ultimately succeeded in creating, a modern state that was both Jewish and democratic––an aspiration to which most Zionists around the world remain deeply committed.
The contemporary State of Israel gives Jews a sense of security, of destiny, of continuity and of existentialism. For most Jews today, Zionism represents their commitment to protecting the State of Israel, which faces serious existential physical threats and an international delegitimization campaign, but which must remain safe, secure and sovereign if the Jewish people are to be protected. With rising antisemitism all over the globe, including in many of our physical, political, social and civic communities in America, the psychological benefit of Israel’s existence and security is literally invaluable to this small minority community which will suffer from intergenerational trauma in perpetuity.
What About The Palestinan People?
Zionism is about the Jewish people and no other people. Being a Zionist does not negate one’s ability––nor in our mind, commitment––to believing in self-determination for any other group. Zionism is compatible with other movements for self-determination, including the movement for Palestinian statehood––which is why the majority of Jews on earth, including in Israel, support two states for two peoples, and have since they accepted the United Nations Partition Plan in 1947. While Zioness does not take organizational positions on Israeli nor Palestinian policy and politics, we strongly support Palestinian self-determination and the goal of two states living side by side in peace.
How did Zioness start?
Amanda Berman founded Zioness after grappling with her own feelings of isolation from the progressive movement, her natural ideological home, because of her commitment to Zionism. She spent time talking to many friends who held all the same ideological views, and realized that so many young, progressive, feminist Jews were all feeling the same way. While Zionism is largely misunderstood and often demonized in progressive spaces, Amanda realized that these challenges existed largely because Jews––who have always been on the forefront of American movements for social justice, human dignity and equality for all––were marginalized when they identified proudly as Zionists, so they were either checking that piece of their identities at the door in their activism, or just staying home.
We live in a political moment in which Amanda, and the thousands of American Jews just like her, did not have the luxury of sitting out or staying home from the progressive movements that could fight for a stronger, safer, more just and representative America. But they knew that they would be stronger as organizers, activists and leaders if they were participating proudly, with all of their authentic selves, unwilling to overlook the antisemitism that was dividing the movements that mattered more than ever before.
They found that there was a void in the Jewish organizational landscape for a domestic activist organization where Jews could stand unapologetically as Zionists, fighting for progressive values while simultaneously explaining what Zionism means to us and how intrinsic it is to our Jewish identities. Amanda was working as a Jewish civil rights attorney at the time, but she launched Zioness in late 2017 and worked tirelessly to build it, on nights and weekends, alongside a burgeoning board of directors made up of iconic progressive leaders, until it was sustainable enough to leave her job and become its Executive Director in January, 2019.
How is Zioness set up and who are its leaders?
Zioness is a New York based corporation and an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Its leadership is comprised of professional staff and local lay activists, committed to civil rights and social justice, all over the country. We have a national grassroots infrastructure with chapters from coast to coast, each of which is organized and galvanized by its own local Zionesses.
Zioness is also overseen by a national board of iconic progressive leaders, proud of their Zionist identities and hailing from diverse communities and social justice spaces––from feminism to LGBTQ equality, racial justice to environmentalism, homelessness to animal welfare, poverty to international humanitarian aid.
If Zioness is progressive, why has the organization criticized some progressive groups for antisemitism? Shouldn’t we focus on attacking the right?
Movement-building is hard, and we encourage all marginalized people to raise their voices within their own organizing spaces to ensure that the movements they’re creating are fully just and equitable from the start. Zioness launched in an era in which the British Labour Party has been decimated by antisemitism, most frequently manifesting as anti-Zionism, dividing the entire movement from within––despite the fact that British Jews helped build the Labour Party. We know from other historical examples, as well, that antisemitism, like other forms of bigotry, has the potential to destroy movements for social change, and the only way to protect the integrity of the progressive left is to fight oppressive behavior within it. We hold our organic political home, and our friends and allies within it, to the high standard of true equity and equality, and firmly believe that silently accepting antisemitism and anti-Zionism in the progressive movements we care about leaves them weaker, less effective, and vulnerable to political attack. Ultimately, we raise our voices about antisemitism and anti-Zionism in the progressive movement because we want movements for justice to succeed.
Zioness is committed to a strong, indivisible, powerful progressive left––which demands that we summon the courage to strengthen our movement by pushing the increasing and devastating antisemitism out from within it. We should not be having a competition over where antisemitism is more pervasive or dangerous, pointing elsewhere to justify attempts to dismiss it from our own movements and circles. While domestic violent terror threats to American Jews are largely coming from far right white nationalist groups, we believe that it is critical that movements for justice hold themselves to the highest standard of inclusivity and equity––and that includes fighting antisemitism within them.
What are Zioness’s views on Israel?
As we explained above, today, practically speaking, Zionism means supporting the State of Israel’s legitimacy as the world’s only Jewish state––a commitment held by the vast majority of Jews in the world, including by Zioness.
Zionism transcends the policies and practices of any particular Israeli government, and American Jews can be proud and committed Zionists no matter what they think about contemporary Israeli politics and policy––or even if they know nothing about it.
Our members, who love Israel and fervently support its continued existence as a safe haven for our brothers and sisters who live there, hold a variety of views on Israeli politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While we encourage and learn from internal debate, Zioness does not take any organizational positions on such issues.
Having said that, Zioness affirms Israel’s legitimacy as a member of the community of nations and rejects outright, as antisemitic, any commentary that suggests otherwise. Like all states recognized as independent political entities by the United Nations, Israel’s contemporary creation was not without tribalism, ethnic conflict or bloodshed. But Israel was the 59th recognized UN Member State, in the first third of UN members, out of 192 Member States today. None of the other 191 Member States face an international delegitimization campaign, and there is transparent antisemitism at the core of the disproportionate focus on Israel. The actions of any government in the world is fair game for criticism––but there is a clear distinction between criticism of government policy and delegitimization of the state itself. These lines are not properly drawn when it comes to Israel, particularly in progressive movements, and the antisemitic delegitimization of the Jewish state often manifests as marginalization or even demonization of Jewish activists within those movements.
What do you mean when you talk about “litmus tests” imposed on American Jews in social justice movements?
American Jews who want to be active in progressive movements for a stronger, more just, more equitable America should not be “tested” on their progressive bona fides with questions on their relationship to Israel, its current government, or its politics or policies. A Jewish feminist has no obligation whatsoever to have, to formulate, and certainly not to declare a position on the complicated politics and/or policies of a foreign state thousands of miles away, under a government for which she does not vote, in order to prove her progressive credentials to be welcomed in a movement ostensibly committed to women’s equality in America. An American Jewish woman must be able to fight for her bodily integrity and autonomy in the country in which she votes, without submitting herself to any test whatsoever on her position on Israel.
It is inherently antisemitic to suggest that an American Jew is not sufficiently progressive unless they qualify their Zionism––or, in many circles today, declare themselves to be “anti-Zionist”––by criticizing/demonizing Israel or its government. The reality that Jews face when these litmus tests are imposed on them, or when someone demands that they submit to the false choice between being a progressive or a Zionist, leave members of our community confused, uncomfortable, and ultimately, politically disenfranchised. Moreover, it actually silences legitimate criticism of Israeli policy by Jews who know that any criticism they share openly will be used by those who work to delegitimize the Jewish state entirely. Moreover, the simple fact that there is no similar litmus test for progressive activists with deep connections to other cultures, nations, and governments whose track records on women’s equality, or general human rights, are unquestionably worse than Israel’s, shows that the imposition of the litmus tests themselves are a manifestation of anti-Jewish bias.
Anti-Jewish racists throughout history have attempted to classify Jews as “good Jews” or “bad Jews” depending, too often, on their willingness to reject their community in order to assimilate into a broader society that erases the Jewish cultural identity and commitment to Jewish particularism. What is happening in progressive movements in America fits squarely into this pattern. Under this formula, progressive leadership attempts to classify the “good Jews” as the ones who reject Zionism and/or criticize Israel to prove their allyship––and under this formula, the very vast majority of American Jews, who identify proudly as Zionists, would be “bad Jews”. Our justice movements simply cannot survive such hypocrisy or segmentation.
These litmus tests divide our movements and must be outright rejected––hence our refusal to engage in a debate on Israeli politics. When Jews are made to feel unwelcome because they are held accountable for Israel’s wrongdoing (real or ostensible), committed Jewish activists choose to stay home, leaving the movements themselves weaker and divided. When Jews feel unwelcome in the left, but repulsed by the right, we end up unrepresented and disenfranchised. This division in the progressive movement has played into the hands of the white supremacists seeking to divide and attack us.
Who are Zioness grassroots and what are they up to?
We have over 30 grassroots chapters across the country: from LA to NYC, from Philadelphia to Denver and from Tucson to Florida you’ll find Zionesses in action! We are fighting for a more equitable and just America as Jews, Zionists and allies! On any given day you will see Zionesses fighting for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, criminal justice, immigrants and refugees, gun control, climate change and more, all while rejecting litmus tests imposed on Jewish identity around Zionism. Zionesses show up as our authentic selves, Jewish, Zionist and progressive, and refuse to back down or be removed from movements for justice because of our heritage.
What should I expect if I join Zioness?
Zioness is a welcoming and inclusive movement that is growing everyday. Joining our local chapters means you will be provided with opportunities for training, community, and direct social action. You can join your local Zioness Facebook page to see what your group has been up to and get involved. If there is no local group in your area, reach out to Team Zioness and we can help you start one! Our private Facebook groups are places for conversation and information sharing. Chapter leaders work with staff and groups to create exciting and engaging opportunities for action, which are then shared with the wider local network. Zioness staff provide training and opportunities for action, coaching and mobilizing effective activists in your community and around the country. Zioness staff are available to speak at local community events, as well, or, better yet, can help prepare you to speak proudly as a Zioness!
How does Zioness engage with civic, social and political leaders? How can I make sure that my representatives know about and work with Zioness?
Zioness engages with civic, social, and political leaders first and foremost by showing up as allies in fights for social justice as proud Jews and Zionists. In addition, Zioness engages in educational events such as teach-ins and activist events alongside these leaders. Further, Zioness members engage with elected officials at Town Halls and other events. We encourage Zionesses to set up in-district meetings to ensure their voices are heard––and our team is happy to help.
Zioness has been attacked by the left and the right. What’s the story?
There are those on the right who say that one cannot be Zionist if they identify as progressive. And there are those on the left who say that one cannot be a progressive if they identify as a Zionist. We flatly reject the attempted weaponization of antisemitism for political gain from any movement, and we refuse to let anyone else define our community or our values. This has, of course, made us the target of both groups––which shows that our work is both pivotal and effective.
Zioness is regularly attacked by those on the right who do not share our values and instead promote anti-progressive policies that harm women, children, communities of color, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants and refugees, and members of all marginalized populations. It is typical for progressive organizations to be attacked from the political right, and we are no different. But often, attacks on Zioness from the right suggest that we are “not Zionist enough” or “not pro-Israel enough” and stem from our refusal to take positions on the politics and policies of Israel. There are some on the right that attempt to claim Zionism and support for Israel as their own––a move that stokes division among Jews and seeks partisan political gain. It won’t work: American Jews will not abandon their progressive commitments, and will not fall for these craven attempts to turn us against our allies to focus exclusively on ourselves. By providing an inclusive home for American Jews and our allies, who overwhelmingly identify as both progressive and Zionist, Zioness is frustrating the efforts of those who wish to use the Jewish community as political pawns. For this, they attack us.
Zioness is simultaneously organizing and expanding the coalition of Jews and our allies who wish to join and participate in progressive causes. In doing so, we are educating our activists on how to be better allies and advocates on issues affecting other communities, including those who have been abandoned or even attacked by the political right: women, immigrants and refugees, Muslims, LGBTQ individuals, people of color, and others. We oppose bigotry and support equity at every turn––and for this, we are also proud to be attacked by those who do not share our values.
Unfortunately, because we are Zionists, Zioness has also been attacked by members of the progressive movement, in spite of the fact that we’re mobilizing Jewish activists to support it. Our sin is believing that Jews deserve national self-determination. Zioness believes that progressive movements must live their values. We demand accountability and evolution from movement leaders when they engage in any form of bigotry, including, of course, antisemitism. At times, our work holding allies to a high anti-bias standard has made us powerful enemies of people who are not as committed to these values as we believe progressives should be. While we wish this weren’t the case, we believe unequivocally that holding ourselves and all others in the progressive space to these standards is worth it, because exclusionary movements that fail to live the values they preach ultimately cannot achieve the change America desperately needs. Regardless of intention, movements that stoke community discord strengthen the hand of white nationalists, who revel in community tension and division. We want and are fighting for an inclusive, equitable, progressive movement for change. That’s worth fighting for––and worth being attacked over. The attacks say more about our attackers’ values than they say about us.
Zioness is also attacked from the left by people who believe exactly the fallacy that Zioness exists to dismantle: the suggestion that one cannot be both progressive and Zionist. Our name makes clear that we will never abandon our Zionist identities in our domestic social justice activism, and for those who are either uneducated about Zionism or hold antisemitic views about Zionism, that commitment means that we simply have no place in the progressive left. Until the individuals who take these positions are challenged, their voices will continue to divide the left and make our shared goals––the advancement of the progressive agenda in America––impossible to achieve.