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Aliyah H (Hi tech): New Zionist communities based on innovative technologies and tikkun olam

By giving a realistic impression of life in Israel and explaining that those who make aliyah come here to fulfill their expectations instead of assuming that their challenges will be met, the Jewish state would again become an attractive option
Illustrative. New immigrants arrive to Ben Gurion airport in Israel. (Gideon Markowicz/ FLASH90)
Illustrative. New immigrants arrive to Ben Gurion airport in Israel. (Gideon Markowicz/ FLASH90)

At the moment the more than seven million Jews in the western world have little incentive to make aliyah. Programs run by organisations such as Nefesh B’Nefesh have only helped a relatively small number of Jews from western countries to relocate to Israel. Although most Jews tend to be idealistic and socially motivated, at the moment few see Israel as an attractive option.

Social and technological changes that are now taking place could provide a new opportunity for large-scale immigration to Israel based on the same Zionist principles that inspired the first waves of aliyah for the following reasons:

1) Political changes
2) Existence of an ideological vacuum
3) The challenge of implementing technological innovations on a local scale in a globalized economy

1) Political changes

The political division of the world into ‘Capitalist’ and ‘Socialist’ which characterized the Cold War period is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Neither philosophy was handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai and the implementation of policies in the blind belief that one point of view will prevail because it somehow provides the best solution inevitably becomes unsustainable. Both philosophies view one side of human nature (competition versus collaboration) as leading, inexplicably, to a perfect society. Both beliefs – that in a world where too many people compete for dwindling resources ‘the market’ will miraculously lead to a perfect order or that people will collaborate altruistically irregardless of human nature – are absurd. Pragmatic policies based on ethics and human nature are more realistic and more compatible with the core principles of Judaism and Zionism.

Ideologies, blame and conspiracy theories

At the turn of the 20th century capitalism and socialism began to replace the teachings of the church and the divine right of monarchs. In the turbulent years at the start of the 20th century Fascism arose, a philosophy that appealed to longings for a mythical past and gave comfort to those whose beliefs had been shattered by the decline of monarchies and organised religions. In a world where nothing made sense anymore this patchwork of near-lunatic explanations offered a framework that provided security and a sense of belonging. Fascism also pointed the blame at convenient scapegoats. The fact that the philosophy made no sense was irrelevant.
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco provides a psychological and theoretical analysis of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which became one of the most influential books of the 20th century and was one of the main grounds for inciting of the Holocaust. The fictional author, who blamed all of the world’s problems on Jews, invented conspiracy theories to explain every concept as he went along. Although the author was a forger and knew that he had made up everything he wrote, he still believed what he had written was the truth.

The first conceptual inspiration for the Protocols is believed to have come from a treatise written by the reactionary Jesuit priest Abbe Barruel in 1797, according to which the Order of Freemasons was responsible for the French Revolution. After Russia’s defeat in its war with Japan in 1905 and the subsequent failed revolution, the Protocols played an important role in pogroms against the Jews. Henry Ford – who in 1920 published the series of booklets The International Jew which became a major source of inspiration for Adolf Hitler – distributed 500,000 copies of the Protocols in 1922.

According to Adolf Hitler, the Jews were attempting to gain global domination through either capitalism or communism. Although this was a contradiction in terms, he developed the Aryan racial theory to fill the void. The fact that this theory made no sense since the original Aryans were neither blond nor Germanic/Scandinavian (and neither was Hitler) was irrelevant. The Protocols was used as a factual textbook in Germany starting in 1933. Today they provide a source of inspiration Palestinian leaders.

Idealism and the first settlers

The first Zionist settlers and the creators of the Jewish state were – with the exception of the revisionist Zionist factions and the religious – mostly socialist idealists. The church and nobility in Eastern Europe used the Jews as scapegoats when times got rough and Jewish communities had few positive ties with this archaic social order. Also, in Jewish families children and elders are treated as equals and the community plays an important role. When sectarian Jews made aliyah at the turn of the 20th century the establishment of egalitarian communities was only natural. They had an enormous appeal to European Jews who were fleeing the Old World and who at the same time wanted to found something new.

Cold War and the kibbutz

During the 1970s and 1980s the Cold War had an enormous influence on Israeli society. American allies in particular were expected to choose between ‘good’ (capitalism) and ‘evil’ (socialism). As one of the United States’ chief allies Israel nudged itself into the ‘capitalist’ camp. During the period of hyperinflation Israel’s economy was ‘privatized’. Bank loans had to be repaid and kibbutzim which grew some ten percent in real terms were forced to pay some 20 percent interest in real terms. Although the kibbutzim accounted for a small percentage of Israel’s population, its agricultural and industrial production were statistically many times greater (today’s kibbutzim account for less than two percent of Israel’s population but are responsible for more than nine percent of the country’s industrial production and more than 40 percent of its agriculture). Moreover the kibbutzim played an important role in the Jewish state’s defense and also a great many of Israel’s best military leaders were from kibbutzim. However Cold War dogma prevailed. Bank loans to kibbutzim were derisively referred to as ‘subsidies’ and loans to businesses as ‘investments’.

Another factor was the demographic decline of the kibbutz. Not only were the economic problems disillusioning, but the children of idealists who had fled Holocaust Europe and helped build a country were not attracted to the prospect of spending the rest of their lives discussing increases in milk and wheat quota. However many are now returning.

2) Ideological vacuum

The terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ no longer serve to debate issues of substance but, instead, as tools to manipulate the population, in any event more so than previously. Since the downfall of the Soviet Union and the concomitant increase in the power of monopolies, the terms ‘left’ and ‘socialist’ are employed as derisive terms to influence voters to believe that any alternative is an inherent choice in favor of Soviet-style policies.

However in order for communities or nation states to succeed, co-operation is needed. Families, communities or nations where people excel in working together are invariably the most successful. In Israel – as elsewhere – this has led to an ideological vacuum. Being forced to prove that ideologies that are no longer relevant are successful leads to gridlock.

Social policies: the worst of both worlds

A result is that the social services in Israel are buckling under duress. Because Israelis excel in charitable services and are used to enduring the most difficult of circumstances out of a feeling of commitment (and many Israelis choose not to live in economic or spiritual slavery elsewhere) many ‘on-the-ground realities’ in Israel are nearly intolerable as well as completely absurd. As usual, the chairwarmers, soothsayers and policymakers are either unaware or simply do not care. Many state funds end up in the pockets of thieves who abuse the system and enjoy the support of carefully-construed bureaucratic mazes and webs. Social policies are not fair and business practices are monopolistic. The worst of both worlds.

The ‘left-right’ ideological vacuum in Israel exists at a different level in the United States. However this vacuum is experienced quite differently by American Jewry. As David Kreizelman points out in a recent blog in The Times of Israel, American and Israeli Jews now live in a completely different trajectory.

This trajectory can be bridged and Israel could reap immeasurable benefits were it to offer American Jewry an opportunity to realize a vision compatible with tikkun olam.

Large sums of money are invested in offering trips to Israel and in promoting aliyah. However while most people who decide to immigrate are prepared to make sacrifices, tens of thousands discover that there is a severe lack of jobs for those who have too much experience and too many qualifications, especially if they are older. Not to speak of a severe housing shortage. Also, the vast majority of younger immigrants came to Israel out of a sense of purpose, not to spend most of their time engaging in cut-throat competition.

3) The challenge of implementing technological innovations on a local scale in a globalized economy

The settlement of Galilee and the Negev has long been a dream of Israel’s founding fathers. Immigrants and native-born Israelis could settle land donated by the Israeli government and the Jewish National Fund. By giving a realistic impression of life in Israel and explaining that those who make aliyah come here to fulfill their expectations instead of assuming that their challenges will be met, the Jewish state would again become an attractive option.

Those who support Israel could make donations to these new settlements. They would also be a boon to hi tech firms seeking locations where new developments can be realized from scratch. Where would the many thousands of hi tech firms find such communities? Only in Israel.

About the Author
Asaf Shimoni is an author, journalist and translator who returned to Israel in 2016 after spending 40 years abroad, most of them in the Netherlands. He grew up near Boston, made aliyah while living on a kibbutz (from 1973 to 1976), and graduated from Syracuse University in 1978. He also lived some 5 years in Sicily. He believes that the media should be as critical and truthful as possible.
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