In light of UCLA’s recent and tremendously successful campaign #WeTheZionists, TZN held a discussed with Eytan Davidovitz, outgoing President of UCLA’s Bruins for Israel, Omer Hit, incoming President of UCLA’s Bruins for Israel, Mati Geula Cohen, founder of the Young Jewish Zionists, and David Chernobylsky, Editor in Chief of The Zionist Narrative, to discuss this revolutionary campaign leading up to the Yom Hatzmaut festivities on the UCLA campus, and the collective visions and commentary of these active Zionist leaders of the Zionist revival.
This comes at a time following many intensely deliberate anti-Semitic and discriminatory actions on the UCLA campus, including but not limited to various forms of divestment, as well as the recent events concerning Rachel Beyda, a UCLA student that was “initially turned down for a student government post after questions were raised about whether her Jewish faith would affect her impartiality.” Thankfully, Rachel Beyda’s story has been covered by CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, The Inquisitr, CBS Los Angeles Local News, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The Huffington Post, UCLA’s own Daily Bruin and Ha’Am, as well as a vast array of many other news outlets. The Daily Bruin even wrote an extensive objection against using “Religious affiliations and ethnic identity [as a means to] disqualify someone from being an effective judge.”
For these very reasons, the #WeTheZionists campaign comes at a crucial time in UCLA history. Taken from the Bruins for Israel Facebook Page, #WeTheZionists has been a campaign “intended to retake the meaning of the term Zionism, as the National Liberation movement of the Jewish people, and do away with misconceptions and foreign labels which have prevented a revival of the use of the terminology in the past.”
The need for the #WeTheZionists campaign
Eytan: At the end of last quarter we did a comprehensive re-thinking of our pro-Israel activism on campus. We came to the realization that there were two levels of this conversation and that we were busy talking about level 2 when many people in Bruins for Israel didn’t have a solid grasp of that first level, Zionism. So we decided to start from the beginning and teach our roots in order to get a solid grasp of our foundations before even touching Israel. That, in turn, led to the campaign to display the diversity of our own community and their quotes force them to think critically about Zionism and how it relates to them. Furthermore, it put a face to Zionism and has been making people think twice about using it with a dirty connotation.
Omer: Due to the lingering ignorance surrounding the term Zionism, I think this “WetheZionist” campaign was essential. In our campus setting of UCLA, Israel and international affairs can take center stage of campus climate and unfortunately due to the overwhelming ignorance about the true issues and matters on the ground, negative grandstanding conclusions can be formed due to a misrepresentation of the facts and lack of dialogue. One way to try and better this is to spread awareness in a big way to show everyone exactly what this term means to us and shed light on how the negative association made with it are extreme and unfortunate. Additionally, we wanted to have this campaign to give Jewish and Pro-Israel students who choose a platform to be proud of their Zionism and show what it means to them and why they believe in the term.
Mati: We live in a time when Zionism, the term and ideology, is no longer commonplace in the lexicon of the average Jewish or Pro Israel individual, and especially amongst college students. Yet when Zionism is used and discussed, it is commonly associated negatively by its detractors and as a result becomes a taboo topic amongst its supporters. It is therefore essential to self-identify oneself as a Zionist, if one is, in order to negate the negativity that we have allowed to engulf this unique narrative. When we self-identify, educate ourselves on the ideology, and express ourselves, we humanize Zionism, and bring it back, in its diversity, to the conversation.
TZN: What is your perception of Zionism and why do you think Zionism, as well as its revival, is important for students on college campuses today?
Eytan: To be honest, when I first got to UCLA, I wasn’t really sure about the meaning of Zionism and when I began to hear it be used in such a derogatory way I was only more confused. Getting further involved in pro-Israel advocacy only further propelled me to understand that we were always missing a crucial part of our ideology. Zionism is that basis. It helps us understand the past, present and future of the Jewish state and Israel. Reviving the term to bring it back to the present is essential for us in order to do anything. Not understand Zionism yet fighting for Israel is like teaching a first grader Calculus without teaching them how to add or subtract.
Omer: To me, Zionism is the beautiful concept that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination in their homeland. It is the simple idea that the Jewish people, just like any other people, have a right to their own agency through self-determination. To me, Zionism also means constantly working to better Israel, criticizing it to enable it to fulfill all that it is destined to be. I think reminding everyone what the term means is incredibly important as many people do not even know what Zionism is. Additionally, many people taint the word Zionist and use it as a dirty word, associating it with terrible things, so to the apathetic majority who hear whatever is spewed around; all they will have to understand the term are the terrible representations that are currently out there. Mostly, the revival of the term is necessary to fill a void of ignorance.
Mati: Zionism to me represents civil rights, equality, and justice for the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland. Zionism is simple, yet full of depth. It is ancient, but still very revenant. It is the culmination of our two thousand year old yearning to return back to the borders from which we were brutally exiled from. When we talk about Israel without understanding Jewish indigenous roots or the depth of thought within the Zionist narrative; we do Israel injustice as we are removing from it the depth which makes it so unique and important to the Jewish people. A revival of Zionism on college campuses would change and deepen the conversations regarding Israel, and campaigns like #WeTheZionists on college campuses are first step in actualizing that.
TZN: What were your expectations for the campaign and do you think the campaign has been successful?
Eytan: We started with pretty humble expectations. The word Zionism has been dealt a pretty serious blow and we didn’t expect many people to want to put themselves out there. But once the campaign started it picked up a lot of steam. Our most popular post received over 350 likes and had over 10,000 unique views. We’ve actually been overwhelmed with the demand to participate. We initially planned to have it end by Yom Haatzmaut but we have many more photos to post, so our intention is to keep it going until we run out of people, or the quarter ends.
Omer: We expected as a board that in taking this campaign on that we as an organization would get a platform to spread awareness on a term that is so often misconstrued and why it is so critical the Jewish narrative. Looking at where we are now, I think the campaign has been incredibly successful. Through our picture campaign we are allowing people to specifically show their pride in being a Zionist and explain how they perceive the idea as an individual. Furthermore, through kicking off the event, we are able to have a platform to present to other organizations invested in political conversations to describe where Zionism came from, how Zionism is critical to the Jewish narrative, and how Zionism manifests itself differently to various groups of people. I am excited to see where the campaign grows from here.
Mati: From the campaign’s planning and conception, the revolutionary implications were very apparent to me. If done right, in terms of delivery and presentation of Zionism, the campaign would represent the first organized campaign to revive Zionism, in term and ideology, on a college campus. We see today that this campaign not only succeeded in achieving its humble objectives, but has begun to historically change the conversation amongst Jewish and Pro Israel students at UCLA. The climate has changed for the better. Speakers and events have become more centered on Zionism and the student population has shown their desire to participate. This amazing success can be attributed to Bruins for Israel’s ability to identify and implement needed change, and the leadership of Eytan and Omer, who have worked hard to achieve this success.
TZN: What is your vision for other campuses who wish to emulate this position on Zionism. How do you see this spreading beyond UCLA?
Eytan: Other schools have already reached out to us regarding this campaign and we encourage other schools to take this on as well. It’s important to take the conversation back to a foundational basis to make sure that is built up properly. I hope and would love to see this spread to many more schools around the country.
Omer: This campaign should be spread to other campuses and pro-Israel groups as it is a simple one to instill yet is effective in its outreach. It can start with a simple social media campaign of taking photos of individuals and having them explain what Zionism means to them. In running this campaign, students from various campuses can bring awareness to all about what Zionism is and can clear misconceptions on what it really means.
Mati: I believe strong ties between unified Israel groups on campuses must be established and utilized in order to spread campaigns such as this, and other programs which work towards the revival of Zionism. Young Jewish Zionists works to establish and strengthen ties between Israel groups and help facilitate the creation of campaigns, programs, and campus climates that foster such a Zionist revival, with the goal of advancing our collective Zionist Narratives.
TZN: How do you view the Zionist Narrative as a platform to advance this Zionist revival?
Omer: The Zionist Narrative is something that is central to our organization and I think one way it can shape future actions is to keep defining it so people can feel welcome to learn as much about it and our views as they would like.
David: The Zionist Narrative is a platform which can be used to unify the proponents of the Zionist revival as we see the active participation of implementing and advancing such a revival. As such implementation continues to emerge The Zionist Narrative will work to empower those who share our desire to revive Zionism to the front page of our collective conversations.
TZN: Closing remarks by the incoming Bruins for Israel President:
Omer: I see Zionism as a central backbone for our organization as it is a fundamental to understand the core of our views. I think we vocalize this through all the things that we do as we individually are Zionists and thus represent Zionism through our actions. To more publicly vocalize this, I look forward to see who wants to keep joining the Facebook campaign and inviting groups to have conversations with us about what Zionism means to us.