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A group of Jewish students at Columbia University in New York have published a letter explaining their position regarding the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel protests on campus. Troubled by the loud voices of Jewish students who identify with the protests, they report that the ongoing uprising forced them to comes to terms with their identity as Jews. The letter is a statement of Jewish Pride and a declaration of their allegiance to Zionism. The letter concludes:

“One thing is for sure. We will not stop standing up for ourselves. We are proud to be Jews, and we are proud to be Zionists. We came to Columbia because we wanted to expand our minds and engage in complex conversations. While campus may be riddled with hateful rhetoric and simplistic binaries now, it is never too late to start repairing the fractures and begin developing meaningful relationships across political and religious divides. Our tradition tells us, ‘Love peace and pursue peace.’ We hope you will join us in earnestly pursuing peace, truth, and empathy. Together we can repair our campus.”

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Their goal is to continue learning in peace at Columbia University in New York. No mention of Aliyah in their long letter. No mention of learning and living in the Zionist State. Zionism without Zion.

Throughout the turmoil on American college campuses the response of Jewish students has been relatively minor. Instead of fighting against the outspoken hatred of Jews they have maintained a low profile. While Jewish students are known to speak out against causes decrying social injustice, on the battle over the Jewish Homeland they have been silent. Tragically, many have voiced their support of the virulent diatribe against Israel.

What is happening with the Jewish youth of America and throughout the Diaspora? Why are a large number of Jewish youth feeling not just an estrangement towards Zionism, but also an antipathy? How did we let this happen?

The reason that Zionism has lost its appeal and sense of excitement to the vast majority of Jewish youth in the world is because it has become an empty message. If the Jewish leaders throughout the Diaspora hold up a watered-down and liberalized banner of Zionism in order to find favor with the social winds of the time, and to cover over their own deep-seated love affair with the comforts of Jewish life in England, America, South Africa, Canada, Australia, and France, why should any young Jewish person follow so vapid a Zionist message?   Why should Jewish youth make Aliyah when the Jewish leadership in the Diaspora  don’t follow the Zionist call, and the call of the Torah, to relocate to Zion themselves?

In an op-ed called,  “Jewish Leaders are Failing Our Youth,” written several years ago for Israel National News by Harry Saul Markham, a young Jewish student in England, he writes: “Zionism in our postmodernist world has been turned into a dirty word. On campuses, one can find a plethora of literature that equates Zionism with colonialism, racism and extremism.  Why should any young Jew therefore identify with such a word?”

In one sense, the group of Jewish students at Columbia who published the letter affirming their support of Zionism deserve a “yasher koach” – more power to you. After all, the timid Jewish leadership in the Diaspora, in its obsession too be politically correct, has promoted a new form of Zionism to cope with this dilemma – an intellectual Zionism which fosters an allegiance to Israel while feeling free to criticize Israel’s policies, and to even explain the terror-filled Palestinian struggle in an apologetic light.

Markham writes: “In my view, this is an absurdity that is condemned to fail. The notion that Jewish students will feel more Zionist if you criticize Israel is nonsense… These Jewish leaders are regarded as esteemed members of our community. Is it any wonder therefore that young Jews, who look up to these leaders as role models, think to themselves, why should I be a Zionist? The current strategy – such as it is – is not working.  It leads young Jews to feel either that they can have no relationship to Zionism, or only one that is riddled with doubt and guilt.”

Of course, trying to justify Zionism with all kinds of apologetic, convoluted, liberal progressive chatter isn’t going to inspire anyone to pack his or her bag and set off toward the Promised Land like our Zionist pioneers of old. To be an example, Jewish leaders must set an example themselves. They must not babble in general terms about Zionism, then retire to comfortable estates in the meadowlands outside of London or make Aliyah to South Florida.

In Markham’s essay, he extols the fearless Zionist pride of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Joseph Trumpeldor, Dov Gruner, Menachem Begin, and holds them up as models to be admired. These and other brave and selfless Zionist leaders bid goodbye to Diaspora life and undertook the journey to the Land of Israel, ready to take up arms and sacrifice their lives for the dream of rebuilding Zion. Today, with the onslaught of assimilation steadily gnawing away at Jewish communities all over the world, and the very real dangers of anti-Semitism, an  injection of Jewish pride, as displayed in the letter of the Jewish students at Columbia, is not enough to save the Jews still clinging to the foreign cultures and Gentile lands. If the so-called Jewish leaders in the Diaspora can’t lead the way themselves, then they should at least urge Jewish youth to rise up to the Zionist challenge and continue their lives in the Promised Land – their one and only true home. If the aging Zionist leadership doesn’t have the mettle to lead the way to Zion, then the hour demands that spirited young people snatch the extinguished torch from their hands and relight it by calling upon their youthful brethren to follow the path of the Zionist heroes whose yearning for Zion brought them to the shores of the Promised Land to resettle its Biblical borders and chase its British occupiers out of the country.

Today, in light of the spreading anti-Semitism, it is not enough to be an armchair Zionist in the Diaspora. The Diaspora must be erased. It is time for all Jews to come home! That was Jabotinsky’s cry and that must be the cry of the major Jewish organizations in America and throughout the Diaspora.  Today’s spiritless Jewish leadership in America has taken the Zion out of Zionism, transforming it into an “ism” like any other, raping its exalted message and adorning it with a badge of shame in the eyes of Jewish youth. The Jewish establishment in America and in England and France and Australia has turned Zionism into a hollow, progressive movement for social justice like so many others, demanding equal rights in Israel for Arabs and Jews alike, and often calling for the partition of our Israelite Homeland. No wonder so many Jewish youth have turned away.

How very different and filled with invincible Jewish faith was Ze’ev Jabotinsky who wrote to an assimilated Socialist, Jewish writer who enthusiastically pledged his allegiance to the Russian people and Russian culture: “I would like to emphasize the firm, compact, iron-clad determination of my fellow Zionists to remain true to the flag which others have abandoned, and to serve the Jewish cause to the furthest level – with our heads, hands, and teeth, with truth and untruth, with honor and revenge, at any price. You deserted to the ‘rich neighbor’ (the Russian cultural establishment), but we turn our backs upon his beauty and kindnesses. You have worshipped his values and have left our father’s heritage to rot, but we will clench our teeth, and from the depths of our soul, we will cry out to the world that every Hebrew-speaking toddler (in Israel) is dearer to us than anything on Earth.”

We call upon the proud Jewish students at Columbia to join us today – in Zion.

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Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.