WAYNE MYERS

I'm a nice Jewish boy from North West London. I was brought up in a family that was never particularly religious - we belonged to a Reform synagogue, As a teenager, I was heavily involved in RSY-Netzer, the Zionist Jewish youth movement affiliated with the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain. In 1987, at the age of 16, I spent a summer in Israel with RSY, and two years later took a gap-year there. Half that year was spent on Kibbutz Lotan, one of the two Reform Synagogue affiliated kibbutzim, and the other half was spent on a course known colloquially as 'Machon', at the Institute For Youth Leaders From Abroad in Jerusalem, run by an arm of the Israeli state known as the Jewish Agency.

'HASBARAH'

On Machon, along with dozens of other young Jews of my own age from a range of different Zionist youth movements, I received training in youth leadership skills, Jewish history, and what is known in Hebrew as 'hasbarah'. Hasbarah literally means 'explaining', but it has another meaning, which is essentially 'propaganda'.

RSY-Netzer was at that point one of the three most left-wing Zionist youth movements - the other two are the explicitly socialist Habonim-Dror and HaShomer HaTzair. We were encouraged - and at the age of 18 or 19 we needed no encouragement - to spend much time discussing and arguing the fine points of Zionist ideology and Israeli politics both among ourselves and with members of the other movements.

The left-wingers among us were highly critical of many of Israel's actions from the War in Lebanon to the whole of the Occupation, and we all argued strenuously that it was a fundamental necessity for Israel to behave ethically at all times; moreover we left-wingers argued that it was of prime importance that we as Zionists stood up and criticised Israel when it did not do so.

However, none of that criticism was ever allowed to cross the red line of rejecting the idea of the Jewish State itself. We did not go so far as to accept the idea that Zionism was racism or that Israel ought not exist - indeed we had special sessions on Machon where we were explicitly taught strategies for arguing against these ideas. The concept of a democratic secular one-state solution for all inhabitants of the Holy Land, under which Jews and Palestinians would be equal citizens in the eyes of the law, was not at any point on the table.

Unlike most of my colleagues on the Machon course, I made a particular point of learning Hebrew, and while in Jerusalem I met and fell in love with Ayelet, an Israeli girl my own age. She was not long out of basic Army training and had taken up a post as a remedial Hebrew teacher at an Israeli Army school. We spoke only in Hebrew and were for a while very much in love, though she thought I was a complete lunatic not just for being a Zionist - among Israelis the word 'Zionist' means something somewhat different to its meaning in the wider Jewish community - but also for being on the Machon course at all and for seriously considering moving to Israel permanently: her ambition at the

time was to move to New York.

SEXUAL ZIONISM

I remember joking then that the most potent form of Zionism was not Religious Zionism, Revisionist Zionism, Political Zionism, or Cultural Zionism, all of which we had been taught about in class at Machon, but was rather Sexual Zionism, which we had not been taught about even once. Looking back, I now understand why hardly anyone, Ayelet included, found my joke funny.

As a Jew, despite being born in London, I had and still have the right at any time to move to Israel and immediately take up Israeli citizenship under the Israeli Law of Return. The only reason that I did not do so straight away was that I had a place at Oxford for which, as a state-school applicant, I had worked very hard, and on which I had no intention of missing out. My plan at the time was to get my degree from Oxford and move to Israel afterwards.

Once back in the UK, my obsession with Zionism continued. At Oxford I changed my degree from Maths and Philosophy to Oriental Studies (Hebrew), a course comprising Hebrew literature and Jewish history; on the history side I made a special study of Zionism up to 1948. It astonished me at the time that my parents were implacably against the idea of me becoming an Israeli, but I was 19 and - like all 19 year olds - knew deeply that I was as right about everything as my parents were wrong about everything.

Life at university was something of a shock for two reasons. The first was that as a state-schooler at Oxford, surrounded by the products of public and private school educations, the trappings of extreme privilege to which most of my contemporaries were so effortlessly accustomed seemed enormously strange and discomforting to me. Despite this I largely fit in well at my college, Balliol, which had a reputation for being very left-wing.  The second shock was that for the first time in my life I was meeting both Jewish and non-Jewish anti-Zionists.

All my Hasbarah training came out.

I became involved with both the Oxford Jewish Society and the Oxford Israel Society, and ended up spending a lot of time arguing with people about Israel on all sides. With those on my right, I was arguing that Israel was not and had not for some time been behaving ethically, and that it was the absolute duty of anyone who called themselves a Zionist or a supporter of Israel to stand up and call Israel out on these ethical transgressions. With those on my left I was arguing that while Israel might indeed be as ethically dubious a state as any other state on the planet, nothing that it did in any way impinged on its right to exist as a Jewish State.

Many of my left-wing friends at Balliol were utterly shocked to find that I was a Zionist, but I continued to argue passionately for a position on the extreme left of Zionism; I was critical of Israel's moral transgressions, critical of the Occupation, supportive of the putative Palestinian state, supportive of the idea that Jerusalem should be again partitioned de jure (as it already is de facto) so it could be both the capital of that Palestinian state as well as the capital of Israel, but at no point did I dare to cross the red line that questioned the legitimacy of the Jewish State itself. (Continued)

           –The Independent