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Next Year in Jerusalem?

Bill Kristol is trying to convice the readers of the New York Times [1] on Monday that unlike the two leading Democratic presidential candidates, John McCain “might be called a Zionist,” adding that in this election campaign there is “a clear choice of worldviews here — and not just for Jews, but for all Americans.”

The problem is that there isn’t a clear definition of what is Zionism [2] among Jews and non-Jews. As the the Economist [2] puts it in a recent supplement on Israel:

Like it or not, Zionism is Israel’s official ideology and will probably remain so as long as Jews are in the majority there. But it has always been a mishmash of evolving and often conflicting ideas rather than a coherent creed.

As the Economist reports, while many Israeli Jews cling to a definition of Zionism which assumes that the Jews living in the U.S. (and the rest of the Diaspora) should immigrate to Israel (and I suppose that includes the Kristols), the Jewish state has become less central to American-Jews:

Jews outside Israel, meanwhile, are questioning all the traditional Zionist assumptions about what the country should mean to them. Israel as the gravitational centre of the Jewish world? Not necessarily, say the Jews of America, who are about equally numerous. Israel as a hothouse of Jewish spiritual and cultural life? It is more diverse here, say Jews in America, where Orthodox rabbis lack the hegemony they have in Israel; growing faster here, say Jews in Russia, where the proselytising Lubavitch movement has engineered a post-Soviet resurrection of Jewish life; more vibrant here, say Jews in western Europe, where these days lots of non-Jews are studying Hebrew, Yiddish, Torah and Jewish cultural history. Israel as a Jewish safe haven? You must be joking, say Jews almost everywhere, eyeing the rest of the Middle East.

For its part, Israel is starting to rethink what it expects of the diaspora. Ze’ev Bielsky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, the main body responsible for promoting aliyah—Jewish immigration—still claims to believe in a goal set in 2001 of attracting a million new immigrants by 2020, which would mean quadrupling the current immigration rate with immediate effect (in fact, last year it reached its lowest level in 20 years). It is the kind of fantasy that sets some diaspora Jews’ teeth on edge. But behind the scenes Mr Bielsky’s agency and the government are also discussing a new “partial aliyah”. This would allow people to enjoy most of the benefits of citizenship but still spend the majority of their time abroad, and allow Israel to reap the most from a globalised workforce.

And BTW, taking into consideration that more than 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arabs, and that at least another 10 percent include non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews and non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union as well as many non-Jewish foreign workers, one could make an argument that close to 40 percenrt of Israel’s citizens are today either anti-Zionists or non-Zionists (these figures don’t include the Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza). All of which raises intriguing questions about the evolving identity of Israel, an issue that I raised here [3] and here [4] and here, [5] in which I argued that (among other things) that Israel is goining through a process of normalization and is entering into a post-Zionist age.

In any case, it seems to me that what Kristol and other leading neoconservatives have been promoting hasn’t been Zionism (whatever that means) but their own very unique Zionist agenda in which Israel assumes the role of a crusader Jewish state in the Middle East that will never make peace with its neighbors and whose survival will always been dependent on the patronage of an American hegemon that maintains its dominant position in the Middle East.

Ironically, the neocons have never be able to convince their own co-religionists in America to support their agenda. Most American-Jews have been opposed to the Iraq War and voted [6] for John Kerry and not George W. Bush in the 2004 election. And I don’t expect any dramatic change in these numbers this year, with most American-Jews not voting in support of Kristol’s Zionist candidate. (I also recommend reading Glenn Greenwald’s [7] column on this topic).