A Post-Zionist World Zionist Organisation – It just ain’t so

October 15, 2011 by David Breakstone
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Isi Liebler’s recent piece asserting that it was time for the World Zionist Organization to disband (A Post-Zionist World Zionist Organisation, Oct. 10) was completely off the mark….writes David Breakstone.

David Breakstone

He based his contentions not on the facts, but on second-hand and totally erroneous “information” gleaned from a JTA feature on a journey in Herzl’s footsteps organized by the Habonim-Dror and Hechalutz LeMerchav youth movements, which itself was a classic example of not being able to believe everything you read in the newspaper.

To begin with, let me state in the most explicit way possible that I was as mortified by the JTA piece as was Mr. Liebler. It totally distorted the educational concept behind the Herzl Journey, completely misrepresented the impact of the experience which was thoroughly Zionist by any standards Mr. Liebler might apply, and did a terrible disservice to the participants in the program, who are themselves youth leaders engaged in a wide variety of social action projects in Israel. Furthermore, about half of them are new immigrants to Israel from North America, South America and Europe who left the fleshpots of the Diaspora behind for idealistic and ideological reasons in order to engage fully, consciously and actively in the realization of the Zionist idea. In short, hard-core Zionists the likes of which are hard to come by.

The fundamental objective of the study tour was to inspire them even further with Herzl’s vision for a Jewish state that would also be an exemplary society, to stimulate them to consider how they might become even more involved than they already are in bringing about the fulfillment of that dream, and to provide them with ideas and tools that might enable them to effectively convey their own passion to the next generation. The idea was that by bringing them to the same places that marked crucial milestones in Herzl’s life, and recreating there the atmosphere and times in which he lived and toiled, we could more effectively engage them in grappling with the same issues that occupied Israel’s founding father: the quest for a personal Jewish identity, the “Jewish question” of our day, the relationship between Diaspora Jewish communities and the surrounding societies, the meaning of the Land of Israel in our own lives, and the nature of the Jewish state – the one we dream of, the one we have, and the one we might fashion. And that is precisely what happened. 

While the reporter chose to focus on the vitality of Jewish life in Budapest spearheaded by a young generation that is only now becoming aware of their Jewish roots, he left out the hours-long discussions that went on late into the night that included lively debates about the relative advantages of living in Israel and the absolute necessity of creating more opportunities for meaningful Israel experiences. He also completely misquoted me in suggesting that I believed that a concern with peoplehood was the end-all of Zionism, when, in fact, I am solidly on record in maintaining that there can be no future for our people without a strong and dynamic Israel at our center – the up-building of which is something to which we must all be committed. 

As to the current status of the WZO itself, Mr. Liebler is sorrowfully out of touch with what is currently going on with this exceedingly young 114-year old body. Following a radical restructuring that took place at the 36th Zionist Congress a little more than a year ago, the organization is now more involved than it has been for a generation in encouraging aliya, promoting Zionist education, cultivating a young generation of university students and young adults abroad, and exciting parallel groups in Israel about the Zionist idea and the demands it makes upon us as individuals and as a society. To this end, it has recently launched an extensive network of emissaries abroad who are working in both informal and formal educational frameworks in pursuit of these objectives. It has also managed to more than double its budget in as little as 12 months by exciting government agencies and others about the importance of its work while simultaneously streamlining its staff and operating procedures so as to be even more effective with the precious resources at its disposal. 

In short, I am convinced that had Mr. Liebler familiarized himself with the WZO before writing his article, he would not have written what he did. I invite him and anyone else who might be interested to contact me for more details about what we are doing. I also invite him and others to join us on the next journey in Herzl’s footsteps that we will be organizing, for we hope to make it an annual event, confident that what we are doing would make the founder of our organization proud. I can be reached at davidbr@wzo.org.il.    


Editor’s note: Isi Leibler comments “Surely Breakstone  should not be reprimanding me when the JTA publishes such information extensively throughout the world including the Jerusalem Post and nobody from the WZO bothered  to  disclaim its  veracity or rectify the distortions. It was surely not unreasonable for me to accept a very explicit and damning report of this nature in a major Jewish media network when it remained unanswered for such a long time.


However, I am pleased to learn belatedly that the report was false.”


David Breakstone is the Vice-Chairman on the World Zionist Organization.

















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