Yes we can Zionism

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 7-16-09

I recently attended a plenary session at a major Zionist organization. The plenary was off the record, so I won’t identify the organization. Some speakers invoked “Obama’s way” as a model, marvelling at the extraordinary fundraising and community-building network that U.S. President Barack Obama and his people developed during the 2008 campaign.

Yes, we can learn a lot from Obama and company’s networking skills. But we must remember that much of the magic of the moment came from Obama’s message. Without a clear vision, without a compelling and positive message, all the networking skills in the world won’t revitalize Zionism – or modern Judaism.

Obama’s “Yes, We Can” slogan captured the sense of hope, renewal, youth that Obama’s network then spread so effectively. Embedded in his positive “Yes, we can” messaging was a “No, we are not” message too. The dynamics of the Democrats’ successful 2008 campaign began as a reaction against then-president George W. Bush and the Republicans. But Obama’s marketing genius was to transform that negative into a positive.

Especially in our apathetic, distracted society, people often react more to negative stimuli than to positive stimuli. Usually, terrifying headlines about disasters or failures grab our attention. But in our happy-dappy, entertainment-addicted society, we don’t want to dwell in that negative space.

A great leader – and shrewd marketer – builds momentum off fear to fulfil longings and achieve something positive. I would say that one of the weakest and most worrying aspects of Obama’s initial approach to foreign policy is that he is too stuck in his “No, we are not” George W. Bush counter-reaction phase and has not yet shaped a positive foreign policy vision that fits the world’s ugly realities while moving forward.

The struggle between the negative and the positive looms as a central challenge for the modern Zionist movement, too. During the “good old days” of the 1990s, when Israel flourished economically and seemed headed for peace, most Diaspora Jews ignored Israel. When the Palestinians rejected the Oslo peace process and turned to terror, all of the sudden, many Jews began rallying around Israel. Too many “Israel advocates” are caught in the cat-and-mouse game against the ugly alliance of amoral moralizers linking the left with pro-Palestinian forces, especially on campus. The fight galvanizes, but ultimately it distracts and demoralizes.

We must evolve away from our sorry situation, which makes the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his fellow Palestinian terrorists – of Hamas, Hezbollah and Fatah – the most effective tools for raising Jewish and Zionist consciousness. Like Obama during his campaign, we should build momentum from the “No, we are not.” We should say, “No, we are not deluded by the politically correct cant that demonizes Israel, that singles out Israel. No, we are not swayed by the distorted reasoning that rationalizes Palestinian terrorism and excuses Palestinian – and Islamist – authoritarianism, sexism, racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism.”

But as we build our networks we must master our messaging. We should say “Yes, we can” to Zionism, not just as a movement of national self-preservation to protect us against the Israel bashers’ one-sidedness, disproportionality, anti-Semitism and irrationality. We should say “Yes, we can” to a Zionism of hope and of vision, of individual and collective fulfilment. We should say “Yes, we can” to a Zionism that uses Jewish history, Jewish nationalism, and the extraordinary opportunity of building a modern democratic Jewish state to answer our deepest existential needs. “Yes, we can” have a Zionist revolution about inspiration. “Yes, we can” look at Israel and the Jewish national project as vehicles for finding meaning, values, a sense of mission in the world today.

“Yes, we can” have a Zionist movement that invites us in, saying we are so lucky to be living in this historical moment, when by spending time in Israel, learning about Israel, viewing the world through a Zionist lens, we can grow as individuals, but remember that humans flourish best and accomplish the most when they’re rooted in enduring values, and when they’re working, building, and dreaming together in larger frameworks that pull us beyond ourselves without sacrificing our selves.

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