Reprinted from Gush Shalom
My stock answer is: "Depends on what you mean by Zionism."
This is quite sincere. The term Zionism can mean many different things. Like the term socialism, for example. Francois Hollande is a socialist. So was Joe Stalin. Any resemblance?
WHEN I was young, there was a joke making the rounds in Germany: "A Zionist is a Jew who asks a second Jew for money in order to settle a third Jew in Palestine." My father was such a Zionist. That was before the Nazis came to power, or course. I suspect that this definition applies nowadays to many American Zionists.
Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, did not really want to go to Zion, a hill in Jerusalem. He did not like Palestine at all. In the first draft of the Zionist Bible, Der Judenstaat, he proposed Patagonia as the preferred site of the Jewish state, because of its mild climate. Also, because it was sparsely populated after a genocidal campaign by Argentina.
When the movement turned towards Zion, Zionism still meant many different things to different people. Some wanted the country to become merely a spiritual center of the Jews. Others wanted it to become a socialist Utopia. Others wanted it to become a nationalist bastion based on military force.
The renewal of the Hebrew language, which has become such an integral part of our lives, was not a part of the Zionist project at all. Herzl, whose initial ambition was to become a great German writer, thought that we would speak German. Others would have preferred Yiddish. The fanatical desire to rejuvenate Hebrew came from below.
Even the desire to found a Jewish State was not unanimous. Some ardent Zionists, like Martin Buber, dreamed of a bi-national state, half Arab, half Jewish. "Practical" Zionists wanted to fulfill the Zionist dream by patient settlement in the country, "Revisionist" Zionists wanted to achieve at once an international "charter."
Religious Zionists want a state based on and dominated by the Jewish religion. National-religious Zionists believe that God has sent the Jews into "exile" because of their sins, and wanted to compel God by their deeds to send the Messiah now. Atheist Zionists declare the Jews are a nation, not a religion, and want nothing to do with the Jewish faith.
And so on.
SO WHAT does Zionism mean nowadays? The word is bandied about in Israel without much thought. Almost every party wants to be seen as Zionist and brands its adversaries as anti-Zionist -- a deadly accusation in Israeli politics. Only small minorities at the edges decline the honor. Communists on one side, ultra-Orthodox on another. (These believe that it is a great sin to go back to the Land of Israel in large numbers without God's express permission.)
For many Israelis, Zionism means nothing more than Israeli patriotism. If you want Israel to exist as a "Jewish state" (whatever that means) you are a Zionist. Also, you have to believe that Israel is a part of the world-wide "Jewish people" and its leader, a kind of command-center. In up-to-date terminology: "the Nation-State of the Jewish people."
In a deeper sense, Zionism may mean the profound belief that all the world's Jews will eventually come to Israel, either by their own free will or driven here by anti-Semitism. The inevitable victory of anti-Semitism in each and every country is taken for granted. Therefore any real or imagined anti-Semitic wave -- like the present one in France -- is greeted with secret satisfaction ("We told you so").
WHERE DO I stand?
A few years before the foundation of the State of Israel, a group of young people in this country, mostly artists and writers, declared that they were not Jews, but Hebrews. They were nicknamed "the Canaanites."
Their gospel was that the Hebrew-speaking young people in this country were not a part of the world-wide Jewish community, but a separate new Hebrew nation. They wanted nothing to do with the Jews. Some of their announcements sounded positively anti-Semitic. They conceived the Hebrew nation as a continuation -- after a brief interval of a few thousand years -- of the original pre-Biblical Canaanite people. Hence the nickname.