A Post-Zionist World Organisation

October 10, 2011 by Isi Leibler
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A recently published Jewish Telegraphic Association (JTA) news report reinforces the view that the World Zionist Organization (WZO) has now truly passed its expiry date, and is engaged in activities which could even be considered to be undermining Zionist objectives…writes Isi Leibler.

Isi Leibler

The report relates to a tour, involving four dozen or so Israelis in their early twenties, cosponsored by the WZO and Habonim Dror, the Labor Zionist youth movement.

The cash strapped WZO, continuously whining that it lacks sufficient funds to adequately perform Hasbara activities on behalf of Israel, has invested major efforts in organizing this tour which was subsidized by Habonim Dror.

The project was described by the organizers as an educational expedition tailored for young Israelis to retrace Herzl’s movements in Europe and make them appreciate that it was important to “move beyond an Israel only view of world Jewry”. As WZO Vice Chairman David Breakstone explained, “Zionism in its very essence is a concern with Jewish peoplehood. That’s not going to happen only in the land of Israel”. So far so good. Most Zionists would unhesitatingly endorse such a viewpoint.

But as a Zionist project, the tour appeared to go off the rails. Breakstone rationalized the importance of the trip on the grounds that “we are kind of rudderless. We need to find some direction again”. The cosponsoring secretary general of Habonim Dror, Silvio Joskowicz, added that the tour was designed to provide “inspiration for what we must do” and “replace the old guard with a new generation”.

But in terms of Zionist education the outcome was somewhat disconcerting. One participant summed up her experience by saying that “the tour convinced her that Jews can make a home in Europe” adding that “what I have seen of young Jews and what they are creating in Europe – they are more useful here than they would be in Israel.”

Wow! Surely, a somewhat bizarre conclusion emerging from a “Zionist” sponsored tour. The Zionist founding fathers including Labor leader David Ben-Gurion would certainly have been stunned and outraged with “Zionists” condoning a message which effectively negates the centrality of Israel in global Jewish life.

One could argue that this was just an isolated event. But that was not the case. The tour was headed by a partnership of the vice chairman of the WZO (indisputably a genuinely devoted Zionist) and the secretary general of the leading Labor Zionist youth movement. Yet it implicitly endorsed a new vision of a “flowering diaspora”, of a bipolar Jewish world divided into two separate presumably equal components – Israel and Diaspora. To be blunt, it amounted to an inversion of core Zionist concepts.

Let me state emphatically that I have always condemned “Shlilut Hagalut” – the negation of diaspora Jewish life. Wherever there are Jewish communities there is a Zionist obligation to encourage the maintenance of our Jewish heritage and seek to ensure a future Jewish continuity. On this issue I applaud Breakstone’s approach.

Nor could anyone challenge the benefits of Israelis touring Jewish communities in order to gain a better understanding of life in the diaspora – and hopefully to strengthen Jewish identity. However, for the global Zionist umbrella organization to be promoting a tour of Israelis covering Herzl’s tracks in order to “focus on human dignity and social justice” is surely outright nonsense.

One would have expected a WZO sponsored tour to highlight the devastating assimilation which is engulfing the Jewish Diaspora and the fact that over the past 50 years the level of intermarriage has escalated by over 200%; That today over 50% of Diaspora Jews are disappearing; That beyond religious observance, by far the strongest element promoting Jewish identity is Israel.

One might also have expected a Zionist sponsored tour to review the current pariah status of most Jewish communities in Europe and witness how many Jews in Europe are becoming traumatized because Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people, is being demonized and delegitimized unlike any other country and blamed for all the woes of mankind, even reminiscent of the persecution of Jews during the Middle Ages.

The young Israeli tourists should have been introduced to a cross section of committed Jews in Europe who are profoundly depressed about the future of their children growing up in the rabidly hostile anti-Semitic societies surrounding them.

In fact, in Hungary, of all places, the tour participants are even quoted praising a resurgence of Jewish communal life without reference to the fact that anti-Semitism in that country has now escalated to levels reminiscent of the fascist parties in the 1930s with Jew baiters prominently represented in the Hungarian parliament.

One would surely have expected Zionist participants in such a tour to relate to the prospects of aliya. Instead, we have foolish statements lavishly praising life in the Diaspora in contrast to Israel.

How can one justify the existence of a World Zionist Organization which fails to fulfill its mission in promoting Israel and strengthening ties with the Diaspora? A WZO which takes pride in organizing a European tour for Israeli youngsters which many would claim was in fact promoting a form of post-Zionism. Even the pre-war anti-Zionist Bundists would have enthusiastically applauded a program endorsing their diaspora nationalist ideology which was being promoted by their erstwhile adversaries, the Zionists and emanating of all places, from the Jewish homeland.

Avraham Duvdevani, the current WZO chairman and a National Religious Party member, must surely feel somewhat confused when he observes his organization reversing the concept of Torah from Zion.

In order to justify its existence, the WZO must recruit genuinely dedicated Zionist idealists whose challenge would be to devise programs to promote the centrality of Israel in Jewish life, strengthen Israel-Diaspora relations and above all, introduce Zionist educational programs in diaspora Jewish schools. Greater efforts must also be directed towards encouraging aliya by choice from Western countries, a trend which I have believe is going to dramatically increase in the foreseeable future. Failure to promote and implement these core Zionist values would provide grounds for the 114 year old World Zionist Organization to voluntarily dissolve itself.

 

Isi Leibler lives in Jerusalem. He is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

Comments

2 Responses to “A Post-Zionist World Organisation”
  1. Lonny says:

    Habonim Dror is one of the strongest Zionist youth movements in the world today. Having just sent a garin of 12 people to Israel, and having sent over 40 people on aliyah in the past decade, it is ludicrous to describe this exploration of Zionism and Jewish identity as anti-Zionist. Zionist Philosophy and thought has a rich history of grappling with the diaspora, including many zionist streams which relate to the diaspora in a variety of ways. Ahad Ha’am for instance, one of the most brilliant Zionist thinkers, advocated a renewal of Jewish culture in the diaspora as a necessary precurser to the reconstitution of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael. A.D. Gordon described the relationship of Israel to the diaspora as one of a tree to its limbs. The trunk provides nourishment to the limbs, and yet the limbs also collect sunlight. They cannot exist without each other.
    These young Zionist leaders should be applauded for their efforts in delving into the complexities of the Israel-Diaspora relationship. It is a relationship which is often approached with a lack of understanding similar to the attacks leveled by this article.

  2. Gabriel Freund says:

    Mr Liebler,

    I participated in the “Herzl’s Footsteps” journey and am driven after reading this article to respectfully point out to you and readers that you have grossly misrepresented not only the purpose of the trip and the values on which it was based, but also the educational outcomes for myself and the other participants involved.

    I made aliyah in July this year from Perth, Western Australia. I’ve spent the past five years heavily involved in the leadership of Habonim Dror and saw the trip as an excellent opportunity to examine the circumstances surrounding the origin of Herzl’s dream of the creation of a Jewish state. The vast majority of participants were olim, mainly from Habonim, who dedicate their day to day lives to the rigorous education of Zionism and Jewish values. We are connected by the choices we have made to leave the countries of our birth (Australia, Canada, America, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil) and to devote our lives to the perpetuation of the Zionist ideal i.e. the creation of a moral and just homeland for the whole Jewish People. We work with diaspora youth and within Israeli society driven wholeheartedly by the motives of that ideal. There is no doubt in my mind that the mishlachat that I joined in Europe represents the absolute vanguard of true Zionism.

    I object to the conclusions you drew both about the nature of the trip and the impact that it had on the participants. The central questions around which the days’ activities were based involved examining the evolution of Herzl’s ideas and considering them in light of the reality of Israeli society today with all its difficulties and imperfections. Our encounters with the local Jewish communities were a surprising highlight of the journey (though a proportionally minor aspect) precisely because they proved that the resurgence of Jewish life in these long dormant communities is thanks to, and faced towards, Israel–the undisputed centre of the Jewish world.

    By talking with the young activist Jews of Hungary it became clear that the disintegration of Jewish identity and communal consciousness trumps antisemitism as the major threat to Jewish existence there. Israel should forever be a safe haven for all Jews everywhere. That is beyond dispute. More than that though, it is Israel’s very existence that provides the soil for the Jewish identities of the youth in these places to germinate. I’m afraid your failure to touch on this point renders your article misleading to the point of falsity.

    I also feel obliged to point out that it was specifically David Breakstone who relentlessly ensured that the issue on the table was this: “how do we turn the reality of Israel and the Diaspora today into the vision of which Herzl dreamed”. The leadership and discourse inhabiting this trip was the furthest thing from post Zionist. If anything, through our discussions we stripped back the various layers of complexity inherent in the post-modern reality and returned to the basic questions of proto-Zionism.

    Your last paragraph rings very true. Unfortunately the argument that brought you there, is based upon false grounds.

    Respectfully,

    Gabriel Freund, Hadera

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