Judaic Studies begins Zionism lecture series with guest …

Posted By on March 8, 2022

Joshua Shanes, associate professor of Jewish studies and the director of the Arnold Center for Israel Studies at the College of Charleston, argued that Zionism is both ancient and modern in a lecture Thursday evening.

On Thursday night, College of Charleston professor Joshua Shanes spoke about Zionism as part of the Karen and Pace Robinson Lecture on Modern Israel series through the department of religious studies. Shanes is an associate professor of Jewish studies and the director of the Arnold Center for Israel Studies at the College of Charleston.

Shanes lecture was entitled Zionism: Ancient Dream or Modern Revolution and discussed the history of the movement and where it stands today.

Zionism is deeply rooted in Judaism, a religion that is over three thousand years old, but it is also a modern form of Jewish nationalism that arose in the 19th century. As Shanes put it later on in the lecture when speaking about identity, thats what Zionism is. Its a way of being Jewish without being religious in the traditional sense.

For many Jewish people, according to Shanes, their religion has more to do with the area they are from and the rituals they observe rather than going back to a homeland that they might have been generations before.

Zionism was officially established as a movement in 1897 when Theodor Herzl thought that there was a need for the Jewish community to have a nation, like Israel or Palestine. He created the first Zionist Congress as well as the World Zionist Organization, where he served as the first president.

Shanes spoke on the topic of nationalism which claims to express spontaneous and primordial sentiments of national community. The roots of nationalism can be found in the American and French Revolutions to Zionism itself.

Something that Zionists have believed in since that time is the notion of self-help, or essentially taking care of themselves and whatever they may be facing rather than allowing for others, including the Messiah, to offer a hand.

Shanes displayed this self-determination with flyers and propaganda that were made through the 20th century, which show Zionists as strong and faithful characters that dont need to rely on others outside of the movement or outside of Judaism.

With Zionism, there has been a retelling of Jewish traditions and practices so that it is more modern and appeals to the ideologies of self-help and of forming their own nation. This has led to Zionists claiming that this is the most authentic form of Judaism, but according to Shanes, it is one form of Judaism among many.

Zionism is a modern form of Judaism. Like all modern forms of Judaism Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, et cetera Zionism is a modern ideology that appropriates pre-modern symbols in constructing its own worldview, Shanes said.

Pace Robinson, who endows the lecture series with his wife Karen, is the retired CEO of Modern Supply Co. and is a third generation Tennessean who is passionate about giving back to his community.

Robinson is on UTs Board of Visitors and is a frequent contributor to the Fern and Manfred Steinfeld program in Judaic Studies. He was in attendance and asked about some of the rhetoric used when talking about Zionists.

I dont know if its historically, but how did the you hear the quote today, the Arabs used the term hate the Zionist pig or the Zionist entity or whatever, Robinson said. How did they seize on this term or rhetoric, hatred?

Shanes responded with an answer that was historical as well as ideological.

From a Palestinian perspective, Zionism is not a national liberation movement. Its a colonization movement, Shanes said. Jews coming from all over the world saying but we used to live here two thousand years ago. Maybe they did and maybe theres a way to share the land, but from their perspective Zionism is a movement of occupation.

To show how there are many forms of Zionism, Shanes spoke about the overlapping national identities of many European Jews. He shared an anecdote of former prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu telling a Jewish audience in France that they should come to Israel. They responded by singing the French national anthem, showing that while they were Jewish, they were also French, and that both identities were important to them.

On March 8, the lecture series will continue with the theme of Zionism, but from a World War I perspective. This lecture will be held virtually and the speaker will be Jan Rybak from the University of London.

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