Towards a Potential Zionist Renewal

Dr. Moshe Dror

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Israel-Diaspora
3. The Global Paradox and a Jewish Tribal Presence
4. Implications for Potential Zionist Visions


1.1 The One Hundred years of the Zionist vision coupled with the Jubilee of the State of Israel are sufficient testimony to the accomplishments of the Zionist enterprise of the past century. Even with all of the attendant problems within the Israeli community itself and with its Arab neighbors, it is clear that Zionism is a success on a grand scale.

Herzl's model of political Zionism is certainly one of the major Jewish responses to the 18-19 century process of nation building that was part of the Industrial Culture in Europe based on the general principles of the European Enlightenment. This historic process, combined with the Jewish yearning for a homeland focused many diverse energies that created and continues to nourish the State of Israel.

The entire world , and Israel along with it, is now going through a powerful transformation into an Information Age. Just as the European Industrial Society radically changed Jewry , and created modern political Zionism; so too, the global Information Society will continue to reconstruct Jewry and Zionism into many diverse post-modern forms.

This essay is a modest study of selected major transformations - paradigm shifts - that are effecting the global community and their potential impact of what Zionism is and might become as we approach the next century. What we are dealing with are some possible scenarios of the next 100 years of Zionism, and the next Jubilee of the State of Israel, into the mid 21st. Century.

1.2. The basic issue is to be aware of the power of the revolution and its transformative effects that we are all part of. Today, there is little doubt that the global scale of the information/knowledge technologies are likely to change human life even more profoundly than the Industrial Revolution that proceeded it. Added to this is the knowledge that it is not just change alone but also the ever increasing rate of change that is significant. The acceleration of technical-social-cultural-religious change will certainly bring many surprises along with it. Indeed, more fundamental changes are occurring now is a single decade, than occurred in centuries in the past. What is happening to all of the world communities will also effect the Jewish community and its Zionist vision.

1.3. In many Jewish and Zionist groups these days there is a new buzz-word -- "Jewish Continuity". How do we hold onto what was fought for? How do we continue the way we were? All of the indications are that these are no longer the appropriate questions. We are now all living in an age of DIS-continuity. It is obvious that we do have a long historic continuum. And it is also clear that the cultural changes will be increasingly more demanding, more personal, more powerful and more obvious than we can now even imagine.

"Continuity" basically means more of the same. It is looking to yesterday to make our tomorrow more bearable and palatable. What seems to be needed is not mere "continuity" but rather directed and purposive awareness and actions driven by these changes and paradigm shifts that are an integral part of our lives and are an incredible opportunity for our own creative growth and development as Jews, Israelis and Zionists.

What is needed are not "band-aid" and cosmetic or superficial changes to meet the future challenges. We need radical re-thinking that appreciates our past, honors our heritage, pays tribute and sincere respect to the grand and glorious achievements of previous generations -- and looks forward to living and participating in a fascinating period of history with new rules and values.

There are many schools of thought and ideologies in the current debates on Zionism. There are at least Zionism, anti-Zionism, and post-Zionism. It is possible to think of a Neo-Zionism, a renewal of the Zionist vision that will be able to deal with the future as creatively as well as it dealt with the past.

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2.1. Certainly, one of the most basic issues that are now undergoing soul searching change is a reassessment of the relationship of the Jewish community in Israel and the Jewish communities in the Diaspora.

Classical political Zionist ideology is based on the model of a nation state and the community within its political boarders as being the center of its very existence. As the nation state, Israel, is at the center, every other place is a periphery. This center-periphery model places Israel at the only, singular center and all other sites of the Jewish community are therefor in the periphery - Diaspora and Galut. It is not just the awareness of the Diaspora, but the negation of the Diaspora that is at the core of political Zionist ideology. There developed an "Us" versus "Them" dichotomy. The only possible Zionist thing to do is to make Aliyah and live in the Zionist center- The State Of Israel.

This dichotomy of difference has also shifted. A difference that was seen as opposites, a one or the other choice, one being valid and the other not at all valid. We are now seeing the difference as a model of complimentarity, not an either-or, but a both-and model. One can not exist without the other. And they are equally valid in the new Zionist vision. The negation of the Diaspora as being a non-valid option for Jews and Zionist Jews as well is changing.

Much of this change is due to the emerging nature of the global communities that are no longer only based on political geographic boundaries but are all linked to one another through the many nodes of the global information systems through the Internet. In this global information culture there is no longer a singular center and around it is the periphery. What is now developing through the Internet is a global web with millions of nodes in a vast linked world wide network.

Classical political Zionist ideology must rethink the paradigm shift from the traditional center-periphery model of the Jewish community to the new node-in-a-network situation. Israel is one node- a very significant node, yet only a node in a vast Jewish global network. This will necessitate a ideological revision of the relationship of Israel to global Jewry. In the future the question will be "how can each of us empower the other" rather than how to negate one in order to elevate the other. Israel and the global Jewish networked communities are now equal partners in an entirely new sense. How this new power shift will work itself out will have to be seen in the future.

2.2. This new power shift raises the question of Aliyah. Classical political Zionism made physical Aliyah the touchstone of the Zionist vision. The significance of actual Aliyah is still of prime importance to the Zionist vision and should be kept as critical. No matter how much information technology will change information processing, there is much more to life and living than just processing information. Actually living in Israel with all of the rights, privileges and responsibilities and with all of the magic associated with this, is very real. But the reality is that most of the Aliyot were made from countries under duress of worse conditions in the original homeland. Relatively few came on Aliyah from the free wealthy countries. Instead of they themselves coming on Aliyah, many of these Zionists sent money to the Zionist organizations so that someone else can come to Israel.

This was needed in the past because it was necessary to increase the Jewish community in Israel. Since most of global Jewry lived outside of Israel, it was important to encourage this population shift to Israel. However, all of the demographic indications are that early in the next century, Israel will be home to the majority of the world's Jews. The reservoirs of potential Aliyah are fewer and there is likely to be a stabilization of this demographic pattern where Israel will have the largest Jewish population in the world, and the Jewish communities outside of Israel will stay wherever they are by choice. Many of these global Jewish communities have developed vast and very rich Jewish communal progrand are not going to leave them.

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The emerging world that is being born as we enter the next millennium has had many descriptions. Among the many futures books, the two that make the most sense to me and have influenced my thinking and that directly apply to the emerging Zionist visions of the next century are these two significant works . The first is the Global Paradox by John Naisbitt ( William Morrow and Company, New York, 1994) and the second is Tribes by Joel Kotkin (Random House, New York, 1992). Both of these have set out to describe the new world in which we will all live. I basically accept their ideas and will try to relate these ideas to the Zionist ideology of the next millennium.

3.1. The renewed Zionist vision must take into account the new world that is developing with unprecedented opportunities and challenges to nations and communities at the millennium's end. Political Zionism is based on the sovereignty of the nation-state as being the primary model of how Jews should organize themselves. But, it is just this basic idea that is radically changing. Since the end of the cold war and the tremendous increase of the power of telecommunications that connects us all, the importance of the nation-state is losing its central significance. The simple fact is that as we enter the new century we are seeing the decline of the nation state as the main human organizing factor. It indeed was the world's dominant organizing principle for the past 200 years that was developed in the European industrial society and exported to all corners of the world. However, as we are now shifting into an information society the very nature of the nation state is changing. How the new and emerging Zionist visions will relate to this different global situation will be one of its greatest challenges.

3.2. Powering these massive transformations is the revolution in global scale telecommunication systems. The combinations of computers, telephones, televisions and consumer electronics are creating new forms of human communities. There are four major factors that are contributing to these new forms of communities.

1. Blending of technologies-

We are witnessing a hyper speed development of electronic hybrids that will enhance the powers of each and create entirely new systems. The constant reduction of the cost of these systems is also shifting the client base from mostly businesses to empowering the individual through enhancing their ability to communicate with one another. The shift is from business-driven to individual-driven technologies.

2. Strategic Alliances-

It is clear that no single company nor any single country alone can be a successful player in this new global game. To put it another way, there is no longer any center, we are all connected with one another.

3. Global Networking-

These new technologies will create seamless, global networks of networks that will allow individuals to communicate with anyone , anywhere on the planet in real time. This will forever change the way we work, the way we move about and mostly, the way we view our fellow citizens of the global networks -- Netizens.

Despite the current terminology often heard of the "information superhighway", these networks are quite different. The highway system was a clear way in which government was in charge. It was and is governments that design and control the highway systems in every nation state. But, the networks have no single controllers. They are being built from the bottom up by myriads of individuals, and not from the top down by nations. We are into distributed systems not hierarchical models.

4. Personal Telecomputers For Everyone-

These personal telecomputers will become thoroughly Decentralized and more and more individualized. It is likely that early in the next century all of the communications capabilities that we could possibly need and use will fit on our desk, in our car, in our briefcase, or in the palm of our hand. This is not just a factor of gee-whiz electronic marketing hype. The greater the power of these technologies the more empowered the individual user will become.

All of these changes clearly point to one basic idea. In the global information networks of the 21st. Century, information technologies will drive economic and cultural changes as surely as manufacturing drove change in the industrial era.

It is through these newly emerging information technologies that two basic systems of human community are beginning to alter the monopoly of the nation state -- the "global" and the "tribal".

All of the human community will have to develop a balance between the universal-global and the tribal that has always been with us.

Tribalism is not nationalism. Nationalism flourished from the 18th century until the end of World War 2. It is a belief that one's nation-state is more important than international principles or individual considerations.

Tribalism is a belief in devotion that one's own kind - determined by ethnicity, language, culture, religion, and now profession . The bonding commonality of humans is its distinctiveness.

As we globalize the world's economies, many things will become universal. What we see as tribal will become more important and more powerful. The more universal we become, the more tribal we act. In the old national world you had to choose between left and right politics. In the new world you will have to choose the global and the tribal. Not an either/or but a both /and.

Not only are these tribes being built on the traditional ethnic distinctions but we are seeing all sorts of "virtual tribes", "electronic tribes", and "cyber tribes" emerging. The Internet is creating myriads of support groups, self-help groups, networks of networks and alliances of all sorts that are developing tribes of all sorts all over the globe-- apart from any government intervention and beyond the scope of any nation-state.

An appropriate metaphor for the movement from large bureaucracies of every kind- government, industry, etc. to small, autonomous units is the shift from massive mainframe computers to personal computers -PC s to PC s networked together.

3.3. The Global Paradox of Naisbitt sets up the distinction between a global and a tribal world. Joel Kotkin in Tribes takes this idea even further. He suggests that as the old nation-state structures continue to erode, global tribes will play an even more important role in the world economics and cultures.

Kotkin sets out to deal with five primary global tribes - Jews, British- American, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian. We will focus on the global tribe of Jews. All these global tribes share the following three characteristics:

1. A strong ethnic identity and sense of mutual dependence that helps the group adjust to changes in the global economy and political order without losing its essential unity.

2. A global network of mutual trust that allows the tribe to function collectively beyond the confines of national or regional borders.

3. A passion for technical and other knowledge from all possible sources, combined with an essential open-mindedness that fosters rapid cultural and scientific development critical for success in the next century.

These global tribes do not surrender their sense of a peculiar ethnic identity at the alter of technology or science, but use their historically conditioned values and beliefs to cope creatively and successfully with change. The power of global tribes derives from their successful combination of two principles: an intrinsic "tribal" sense of a unique historic, religious, and ethnic identity with the ability to adapt to constant on-going change. In this respect, the Jews represent the archetypal example of a global tribe.

3.4. Probably more than any other people throughout history, the Jews from their origins have been a dispersed people, with more of their historic experience outside of their homeland than within it. Despite this or rather because of it, the Jews were not overwhelmed by the modern world. Indeed their encounter with the new conditionsof advanced societies generally stimulated their advancement and progress. Once animated by the Western liberal and scientific spirit, no people anywhere in the world has produced so many gifted leaders per capita, whether in the sciences, the arts or the humanities. Even after the Shoah, Jewish influence has reached levels unprecedented in their history. In virtually every society in which they are represented in any significant numbers, Jewish levels of educational achievement and occupational and economic status remains far above the national averages.

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4. Implications for Potential Zionist Visions-

4.1. The most obvious shift is from the negation of the diaspora as a viable Jewish option for those who choose to live outside of Israel, to an acceptable and strongly supported part of the global Jewish tribal commonwealth. Global Jewry and Israel should empower this tribal awareness as much as is possible as creative and welcome partners in developing the global Jewish consciousness.

4.2. We live in a highly mobile world with new tribes of skilled professionals going to wherever there might be good opportunities for professional advancement for shorter or longer terms of years or decades.

Since there are many Israelis who can find their professional growth outside of Israel we should re-think the entire idea of "yored". There is a huge reservoir of Israeli talent that simply can not be employed in Israel-- a small country. The dispersion of Israelis around the world can be a great asset to the global Jewish tribal community , no matter where they may live. The very nature of "yeridah" is changing from a negative sense of leaving the motherland to a desire to spread the Israeli culture on a world wide basis.

4.3. We should strongly support actual aliyah for those who choose it. We can also see another form of aliyah -- intellectual/ mind/ brain power aliyah. This is already happening. Through the vast power of the Internet and World Wide Web sites, highly skilled and knowledgeable Jews can be part of a Israeli based knowledge brokering infrastructure that can import information from its Jewish participants all over the world, transform this information into highly desirable and needed knowledge in Israel , and it can be shipped to buyers all over the world.

In the past Zionists sent their capital-- money, to support the cause. Now the real capital is not only money but knowledge. So Zionist Jews can send their new capital-- information that is transformed into salable knowledge. They may reside wherever they choose and contribute to the global tribal Jewish pool of knowledge based industries for the entire world from Israel as a significant node in the Jewish tribal networking systems.

4.4 It is important to emphasize that no one is challenging the importance of the State of Israel nor its special significance to global Jewry. What we are suggesting is that as the world's nation -states are shifting in significance, it is likely that much the same will happen to the position of Israel to world Jewry. Israel is a significant node in this global network of networks. While it may be a node and no longer its only center , not all nodes are equal. Some nodes are much more important than others, depending on the situation and the historic context. Israel is unique.

4.5. If one looks up the term "Zion" in a Hebrew dictionary, you will find a few basic definitions. The obvious is as a name for Jerusalem. This is derived from two possible roots : one is from the word "tsiyah" -- dry, desert. The other is from "tsayen" -- to point out. From this we derive the word "lehitstayen" - that which is worthy of being pointed out. The idea of "excellence".

We might suggest that at least one form of a new Zionist vision is the ability of this new quest to empower a generation of Jews to seek their "passion for excellence" through it. No matter where they may live. This is indeed a reworking of the classical prophetic concept of the Jewish tribal community as dedicating itself to Tikkun Olam- healing the world as its passion for excellence through the interconnected global Jewish tribal communities.


Dr. Moshe Dror is coordinator of the computer mediated communication department of the National Center for Teacher's In-Service Training in Judaica of the Israel Ministry of Education (Bet-Yatziv, Beer Sheva); coordinator of the Israel node of the World Future Society; coordinator of the Israel /Jewish node of the World Network of Religious Futurists.


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