Despite Eric Moonman’s optimism, there appears little, if any, sign of increased intellectual involvement in the Zionist movement.
A conference of academics in support of Israel cannot be cited as involvement. All too often, public relations exercises have been presented as genuine debate. It would seem that with the exception of youth groups and students, ideological and intellectual discussion are as dead as the proverbial dodo within the Zionist fold.
Harsh words, you say. Perhaps, but countless thousands of Jewish young people in Britain think this way.
The fervour of involvement in youth groups ends at some time. If not aliya, then what? Some political parties, like Young Mapam and Young Herut, bravely started new groups to capture this age group, but with only limited success.
Marriage and the bringing-up of children account for the sudden disappearance of this age group to some extent, but it is more than that. It is the evaporation of ideals and dreams of youth and their replacement by the realities and disillusionment of a harsher world.
Like official Communism, Zionism is being thought of as an ideological shopping spree, to be Indulged In during the years of a carefree youth.
Like official Communism, these ideals are encouraged by leaders of the movement with colourful speeches and dreams of a utopia. But when the dreaming has to stop the idealist comes down to earth with a crashing thud. Bitter disappointment takes over and a backlash of irrational actions often occur until the young person “drops out” of Zionist activity.
This leads at worst to assimilatIonist tendencies or at best to contented domesticity where Zionism is limited to the synagogue and the blue box.
One may argue that this happens in any movement. One may also believe that reality separates the men from the boys. True enough. But you cannot have it both ways. Intellectuals live on ideals, and without ideals you have no intellectuals.
Without intellectuals, you have no worthwhile Zionist movement.
To many it appears that public relations have replaced Zionist ethics—a case of preaching what you don’t practise.
I cite an example: I gave a lift a couple of weeks ago to a girl who informed me that she was Jewish. She had been brought up in an orthodox home, had attended the best of religious Zionist youth groups and had even thought of aliya. She had been disappointed by what she considered to be the unacceptable face of official Zionism. What annoyed her was that Anglo-Jewish leaders said one thing, but did something else. She could not understand how someone could talk about Zionism in almost evangelical terms and yet not set an example of going out there themselves or even promising their own eventual aliya.
“Aliya”, she said, is not the highest form of Zionism—Zionism is aliya. Nothing more, nothing less”. She believed that it was a “degradation of Zionist morality” to term public relations or fund-raising on behalf of Israel, as Zionism. She concluded that she felt that she had “passed through” her Jewish phase.
Avraham Infeld, former head of the youth and hechalutz department of the World Zionist Organisation, who has made great efforts for young people during the last three years, has
Said in an interview in the Jewish Observer that the Jewish community in this country is ‘the most insanely structured community I have ever seen in my life.”
Even if a young person did involve himself, it is very probable that he would not last long in the present situation. Indeed, there have been, over the years, numerous examples of qualified young people leaving communal service. Moreover, with the exception of Dr. S. Levenberg, the representative of the Jewish Agency in Britain, there are few intellectuals in high office in the community.
Eric Moonman has indicated that he has been discussing a young leadership scheme which will ensure a succession of effective leaders during the next decade. –
But unless the attitudes and values of official Zionism change, how can a new generation of leaders be reared which will be substantially different from its predecessors.
In Moscow, there is an anecdote amongst the dissidents: “A man who is not a Communist by the age of twenty has no heart. A man who is still a Communist by the age of forty has no head.” Will the same be said of Zionism in the coming years?’
Jewish Observer 20 August 1976