Opinion: Why be Zionist? | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Opinion: Why be Zionist? 


Israel’s supporters should feel confident that standing up for the world’s only Jewish state, while acknowledging there are difficult challenges, is the right thing to do.   

 A growing number of university professors across the country along with so-called progressive politicians and activist speakers are advancing the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, because they believe and support the most pernicious lies about the meaning of Zionism and even question Israel’s legitimacy. 

 Reading and listening to the falsehoods promoted by advocates of this movement has left me stunned, so I feel compelled to respond to such allegations. 

The bitter enmity and subsequent violence against the original Zionists might be explained or even understood if they were simply unscrupulous profiteers intent on exploiting the local inhabitants and stealing their land, but that was not the case. Many of the land purchases involved large tracts of land belonging to absentee Turkish landlords, often sold at exorbitant prices. Much of this land was left uncultivated because it was either rocky, sandy or swampy. There was little evidence that the previous owners possessed either the resources or training needed to develop the land. 

It was the Jewish pioneers who developed the new farming and irrigation methods that greatly improved the soil and crop cultivation and were soon emulated by Arab farmers. The steady reduction of the previously high infant mortality rate was a result of the improved health and sanitary conditions established by these same new immigrants. Learning about the complex history as well as some of the key individuals who contributed so much to the greater good of everyone in the area should reinforce one’s commitment to supporting Israel. 

Henrietta Szold and Israel Kligler 

The following two people help illustrate how Zionism not only benefitted both Arabs and Jews, it literally changed the landscape of Palestine. 

Henrietta Szold was born in 1860 in Baltimore, Maryland.  She is a glowing testament to what one person with a vision can accomplish.  She founded Hadassah in 1912 and called for Zionism to take a proactive role in helping to meet the needs of all of Palestine’s people.  The new organization started collecting money and sent two nurses to Palestine in 1913 to provide pasteurized milk to new infants and to eradicate trachoma, an eye disease that was rampant in the Middle East. Bringing advanced medical care to everyone regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality earned Hadassah hospitals a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. 

Israel Kligler was born 1888 in what is now Ukraine and moved to New York City when he was 13. He became a groundbreaking microbiologist who was the first person to devise a systematic plan to eradicate malaria in Palestine. What he found after moving there in 1920 was a land devastated by malaria. He quickly established the first malaria research station in Haifa with money he received from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and immediately initiated a wellplanned campaign to battle the disease. This was the first time that anyone in the world tried to fight malaria on a national scale and success came quickly. The declining number of cases continued into the 1930s and 1940s and in 1968, Israel was declared malaria free.  It was the first country in Asia to be rid of the disease. Pretty impressive.   

Arab Leadership, Resolution 181, War of Independence 

The media has been reminding us for years now that elections have consequences, and they do.  The same can be said for decades of harmful decisions made by Arab leadership resulting in enormous loss of life and untold suffering on both sides for just one reason: to deny the Jewish people their right to a state of their own.   

On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations adopted resolution 181, known as the 1947 Partition Plan, in the General Assembly by a vote 33-12 with 10 abstentions. The resolution recommended the creation of independent Arab (not Palestinian) and Jewish states. The plan was accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine but emphatically rejected by the local Arab population and Arab states. Within hours after Israel declared its independence at midnight on May 14, 1948, Arab armies from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq joined the Palestinian militias and invaded the nascent Jewish state seeking its annihilation.  This was a harbinger of things to come.    

When the war ended, Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip and Jordan annexed the West Bank.  So why did neither of them attempt to initiate the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territory they controlled for 19 years until the Six Day War of 1967? The answer was clear. Doing so would mean accepting Resolution 181 thereby allowing the existence of a Jewish state, a sentiment considered intolerable at that time.   

Israel’s success over the last 70 years is a painful thorn in the side of the people and movements who constantly vilify its very existence. Galvanizing the collective hard work, fortitude and expertise of their people, the Jewish state has become a diverse and thriving democracy.  Israeli ingenuity benefitting the world by way of agricultural innovation, medical technology and software development “Is Real and secures Israel’s rightful place in the family of nations.    

Richard Lieberman lives in Mequon with his wife, Laurie. He owned a printing company in Milwaukee for 40 years and is now retired.