When reviewing the existential threats Israel faces, most will think of Iran. A close second would be Egypt, in light of the very real possibility of Islamists taking full control of that country. Few would consider the lack of Zionist commitment among the younger generation Israelis as an existential threat. But, if a nation is no longer conscious of why it exists, and what its sacrifices are being made for, its very existence is put in jeopardy. Perhaps in America, idealism and patriotism may no longer be an imperative to its existence. However, in Israel, such factors are critical to sustaining the life of the Jewish nation.
The Americanization of Israel in recent decades has prompted many to refer to the Jewish state as America’s 51st. Israeli culture has been impacted by American democratic values and, as Daniel Gordis pointed out in his book Saving Israel, “were Israel to take the values of American democracy to their full and logical conclusion, it is quite likely that it would simply cease to be a Jewish state.”
Ironically, the current generation of young Israelis has the good fortune to enjoy material blessings that previous generations only dreamt of, and yet, observers can see how, in direct proportion to the material growth, idealism has declined. One might say, well, that is the nature of things in all western countries; as materialism and the good life is more forthcoming, idealism and patriotism disappears. Israel however is not like all countries, it is unique; it is a nation restored after 2000-years of exile, made up of a people persecuted everywhere, who experienced a catastrophic holocaust only 67 years ago. And if that is not enough, Israel, the refuge for Jews from throughout the world, is surrounded by hostile Arab nations and Iran, who would like to see it “wiped off the map.”
Many secular Israeli youth lack belief in the righteousness of Israel’s cause. These young individuals believe in nothing beyond their own pleasure, and are eager to imitate the fads and fashions of their peers in the U.S. and other western countries. Wanton violence in clubs and in the streets that was once unheard of has become frequent. And who can forget the case of two Israeli 15-year old youths from an affluent neighborhood that killed taxi driver Derek Roth in 1995, for the thrill of it? It prompted an Israeli police officer specializing in youth work to say, “I envy the Arab kids. They still have something to believe in.”
In the past, secular Israeli youth were inspired by Ben Gurion’s (Israel’s first Prime Minister) call to settle the wilderness. Ben Gurion and his wife moved to Sde Boker, in the heart of the Negev wilderness, and his example inspired young kibbutz and Moshav members to become pioneers in the Negev and the Galilee. Today, this spirit of sacrifice for the nation remains in the domain of the national religious youth. They have settled in Judea, Samaria, and the Golan as a way to create facts on the ground, much like their secular counterparts in the 1950’s. But for the secular young, who once produced the “cream of Israeli youth” and who were to be found in the elite combat units of the Israel Defense Forces, the kibbutz was replaced by bohemian “Shenkin Street” in Tel Aviv, and the Silicon Valley of California. Where once post-army youth would hike the length and breadth of Israel, they are now fascinated with India and the Far East, and in disproportionate numbers interested in mystery cults of one variety or another.
The cut-off point for the loss of idealism is hard to indicate with absolute accuracy. Suffice it to say, however, that it began after the Six Day War of 1967, and became more pronounced in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
The aftermath of the first Lebanon War in 1982 spawned the rise to prominence of post-Zionism, and while Israeli governments sought to satisfy Israeli material aspiration, the Ministry of Education failed to institute a strong pro-Zionist curriculum. In 1993, Education Minister Shulamit Aloni - a post-Zionist leftist, was forced to resign her post following her criticism of religion (Judaism), and her charge that the pilgrimage of Israeli students to concentration camps in Poland “turned Israeli youth into aggressive, nationalistic xenophobes.”
Post-Zionism has spread like wildfire through Israeli academia, and social and cultural institutions, and has entered the public arena. The post-Zionists are by their own definition anti-Zionist. They believe that the Jewish state has reached the end-of-the-road, and argue that the Zionist enterprise lacked moral validity since its conception, and therefore must be abandoned. Post-Zionists also question the moral base of Judaism. While post-Zionism remains the domain of the leftist intellectual elite, it is undermining the national confidence, and in the justness of the Zionist cause.
The attack by Israeli intellectuals in academia and the media on Israeli nationalism and Jewish particularism poses more than a passing threat to the State of Israel. Israel is now facing a crisis of identity and values that strikes at the basic components and elements of the Israeli identity: Judaism and nationalism. Post-Zionism undermines Israel's soul and reduces its will for self-defense.
Fortunately for the Jewish State, the majority of its population still believes in the Zionist tenets, and demographically, Israelis who define themselves as traditionalist and religious Jews, are on the rise, while the affluent, secular, and leftist segment of the population is declining. This was evidenced in the victory of the right-of-center parties, led by the Likud in 2009.
Although the Education Law of 1953, sought to inculcate Jewish school children with Jewish cultural values, love of the homeland, and loyalty to the Jewish state, which the current Education Minister, Gideon Sa’ar (Likud), promised to preserve; the urge to be accepted by the leftist post-Zionist cultural elite in academia and the media, permitted civics textbooks in Israeli high-schools to contain post-Zionist themes.
In Saving Israel, Daniel Gordis writes: “The unadulterated American model simply cannot work if the goal is the sustenance of Israel as a Jewish state…Now perhaps more than ever before, articulating how Israel might be unique, and not an inadequate version of another country (America), is a requirement of the utmost urgency.”
To survive, Israel must not strive to be the 51st state of the U.S. but rather seek to be a model of a Jewish democracy that protects its Arab minority but understands and internalizes what it meant to be a homeless people for 2000 years dependent on the whims of others. To protect its future, Israel must return to its Zionist and Judaic roots, and it must effectively transmit these values to the younger generation, born after 1967.
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