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Is Zionism Really Necessary?

When David Ben-Gurion was Prime Minister of Israel, he divided the Jewish people into two parts: those who wished to settle in Israel, whom he termed Zionists; and those who did not, whom he termed “friends of Israel” whatever they themselves thought.

Ben-Gurion negated the primacy of the World Zionist Organization, began dealing directly with such American Jewish organizations as the American Jewish Committee, and had derogatory terms for declared Zionists who did not believe that their own, personal aliya was a necessary ingredient of their Zionist convictions.

As a result, many young Israelis grew estranged from organized Zionism. Eventually the word “Zionist” in Hebrew became a synonym for a derisive description of an idealistic speech or for a call to respect traditional values.

MAJORITY FEELS WZO NECESSARY

In 1972, nine years after the Old Man left the premiership, Israelis seem to have overcome his powerful influence. According to results of a public opinion poll recently conducted by PORI, the Public Opinion Research of Israel Institute – the foremost pollsters in Israel – 59.3 percent of Israel’s population hold that today the World Zionist Organization fulfills a necessary function. Only 16.9 percent believe that the Zionist movement has outlived its usefulness, and the remainder had no opinion.

Yet it appeared to be a feeling rather than the result of rational thought which had brought these opinions about. More than one-half of those questioned could not explain why they thought as they did, both among proponents and opponents of Zionism. The chief reasons for the Zionist movement were: it encourages aliya (10.9%); it is necessary for Jews in other countries (7.4%); it encourages links between Jews in Israel and elsewhere (5.2%); it is an instrument for Zionist education and the prevention of assimilation (2.5%).

Among the opponents the most distinct reason was that there now exists a Jewish state (5.1%) and the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the WZO. The higher the educational level of those polled, the more they thought that Zionism is necessary. Among college graduates the proportion was 73.7 percent, while among those who had finished elementary school only or less, 47.3 percent affirmed the need for Zionism. In the division by age groups, those aged over 60 and those aged 18-29 both showed the least regard for Zionism (54%).

CONGRESS PROCEEDINGS FADED RAPIDLY

The poll, conducted shortly after the Zionist Congress, which took place at the end of January (requested and paid for by the Zionist Executive), showed that 56.2 percent of the population said they were interested in reading or hearing about its deliberations. However, only 27 percent could mention even one subject they remembered from the proceedings. Among the subjects remembered: aliya and absorption 6.8 percent; the refusal to let Rabbi Meir Kahane speak 5.6 percent; the ideological discussions 2.2 percent.

Asked about the function of the Zionist Congress they considered most important, 25.1 percent said it was to encourage aliya. Another 18.2 percent said that maintaining links with Jews in other countries was its chief purpose, 14.2 percent put the prevention of assimilation in the first place, and 24.6 percent said that all three functions have equal importance. About 13 percent in the general population did not know what the function of the Zionist Congress is, but the proportion among college graduates was only 5.9 percent.

Surprisingly, the invitation of Dr. Nahum Goldmann to make the central speech on the festive evening devoted to 75 years of Zionist history, and its subsequent cancellation because of remarks he made in London on Soviet Jewry – was of least interest to the general public in Israel. Only 0.4 percent said they had paid attention to news about the Goldmann affair.

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