Bruins for Israel recently launched a campaign called “We, the Zionists” to combat negative connotations surrounding Zionism and to teach students about the origins of the movement.
Zionism is a national movement advocating for Jewish people’s right to a homeland, said Omer Hit, a third-year neuroscience student and incoming president of Bruins for Israel.
For the campaign, Bruins for Israel will take photos of students and ask them how they define Zionism, Hit said. They will also talk with students about how Zionism may be relevant in the context of their personal lives, he added.
Hit said he thinks the negative connotations surrounding Zionism can stem from a lack of understanding and knowledge of the history of the movement.
Some people have used the word Zionism to refer to the Jewish people as an oppressive force, Hit said. He added that some use the term “zio” from Zionism as a derogatory, racial slur for someone who defends an apartheid state.
Eytan Davidovits, a fourth-year economics student and current president of Bruins for Israel, said he thinks some people immediately associate the word “Zionism” with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It is false to believe that self-determination for a Jewish homeland means denying the self-determination of the Palestinian people,” Davidovits said.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a regional dispute over the occupation of the West Bank by the Israeli military and the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, among other issues.
Many people have criticized Israel for its policies and actions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The conflict has also been a heated topic on campus over the years. In November, the Undergraduate Students Association Council passed a resolution recommending the University of California divest from American companies that some say profit from human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Bruins for Israel has been facilitating talks among campus organizations, such as the Olive Tree Initiative, on the topic of Zionism, Hit said.
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said there are many forms of Zionism, including socialist, political, cultural, religious and bi-nationalist Zionism.
Seidler-Feller said the fragmentation of Zionism into different branches resulted from modern influences and ideas.
“People drew on different political (and) philosophical movements to reflect their values onto their own definitions of Zionism,” Seidler-Feller said.
Hit said he thinks people should combat the negativity surrounding Zionism by educating others on what it is and help individuals see it as relevant to their own lives.
Hit said he thinks that because Zionism came before the existence of Israel, it is crucial for people to understand the origins of the idea before looking just at the ongoing conflict in the region.
Hit said he thinks the discussion on campus has polarized views and politicized identities, preventing people from understanding the different narratives that are out there.
Omar Zahzah, a graduate student in comparative literature and president of Students for Justice in Palestine, said he thinks it is important to talk about criticisms of Israel when discussing the conflict.
“Any discussion (about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) is incomplete if there is no mentioning of the oppression and discrimination of the Palestinian people,” Zahzah said.
Bruins for Israel plans to upload the campaign photos on Facebook and put them up in Bruin Plaza on Thursday for the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, Hit said.