A widely distributed Jewish Telegraphic Association (JTA) news report recently published in the Jerusalem Post, 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.
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 is quoted summing up her experience by stating 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 a blip or 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 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 the World Zionist Organization justify sponsoring a tour of the Diaspora which fails to fulfill its mission in promoting Israel as the centrality of Jewish life? A WZO which takes pride in organizing a European tour for Israeli youngsters which many perceive as effectively endorsing aspects 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.
I predict that the WZO will respond by asserting that the JTA report on which this information was based, was distorted. Yet, their failure to repudiate the report despite it being widely published throughout the Jewish world including the Jerusalem Post, speaks for itself.
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.
This column was originally published in Israel Hayom
Postscript (added October 17,2011)
David Breakstone, Vice-Chairman on the WZO, published a public reply to my column above. The following was my response.
I was pleased with your response. Although we do not know one another personally, I found it difficult to align that trip with the views you express which normally are on the same wavelength as my own.
But surely you should not be reprimanding me when the JTA publishes such information extensively throughout the world including the Jerusalem Post and nobody from the WZO bothers disclaiming the veracity or rectifying the distortions. It was surely reasonable 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.
With respect I feel that the fault lies entirely in your court for not expressing yourself earlier.
Anyhow I am pleased to learn belatedly that the report was false.