The Meaning of Zionisms

David R. Adler
3 min readMay 6, 2024
Ahad Ha’am (Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg), journalist, pre-state theorist of Cultural Zionism, 1856–1927

I am posting on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, looking at reports of NYU students chanting “Zionism Will Fall! Israel Will Fall!” and a rollicking drum circle at MIT with a protester leading a megaphone chant, translated from Arabic: “From the water to the water, Palestine is Arab. From the water to the water, death to Zionists.”

I was recently privy to an exchange in which a writer, someone I know who works with words and describes complex things for a living, referred to Zionism as a “hateful and genocidal creed.”

I’d be thankful if people would read this open-access article by my friend David Hirsh: “How the Word ‘Zionist’ Functions in Antisemitic Vocabulary,” from the Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism, 2022.

There are resources to understand this phenomenon, which many of us have warned about for over 20 years. We were told, over and over, and still today, that antizionism is not antisemitism (true, except when it is); that we were “weaponizing” antisemitism (we were identifying it); that our real motive could only be to stifle any and all criticism of Israel. Terms like “paid Zionist shills” got thrown around, all the time.

I remember in grad school reading Mitchell Cohen’s Zion and State: Nation, Class, and the Shaping of Modern Israel, first publication 1987 (“incisive and fascinating” — The Nation). The blurb reads: “Zion and State explores the origins of the struggle between the left and right in Israel and the Zionist movement. … Cohen shows how the Zionist Labor movement led by David Ben-Gurion defeated the challenge of the right-wing Revisionist Zionists led by Vladimir Jabotinsky[.]”

Labor Zionism, the dominant political force in the first decades after Israel’s founding, was staunchly secular and socialist. Israel was not “founded for a religion,” as those ignorant on the topic sometimes say, although of course the roles of religion and state remain problematic and hotly contested, as in many other countries.

Labor Zionism was a Jewish movement, but in fuller historical context part of a broader European socialist tradition, represented by such figures as Henri de Saint-Simon, David Ricardo, Robert Owen and Charles Fourier.

This is who Zionists of the 19th century were. They were our Jewish ancestors, intellectuals like Ahad Ha’am and Leon Pinsker, responding to centuries of murderous antisemitism and looking for a way forward. Their descendants would soon be annihilated in the Holocaust. Yet Palestine propagandists would have us believe the early Zionists were akin to Nazis, coldly plotting what would become the nakba.

The ideology of the militant West Bank settler movement is one strain of Zionism. Over many years it has steadily gained state power, a terrifying development, and a moral failure that our Jewish community will have to reckon with for a long time. Many American Jews, including myself, and far more Israelis, have put themselves on the line opposing this vision of Zionism. To Palestine propagandists, we’re all the same, and our history means absolutely nothing. To take part in the chant “Zionism Will Fall,” or to support those doing so, is to endorse that view.

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David R. Adler

Writer, guitarist and music educator based in Wakefield, United Kingdom.