From a speech delivered to the main plenary of the 34th Zionist Congress in Jerusalem on June 19, 2002.
Precis: Decision making in today’s world is a process connected to “culture”. Our generation has new tools which enable alternative modalities for influence, identity, leadership and cultural participation. This will assist us in Zionism’s current goal: building a modern Hebrew democratic society at the core of a worldwide Jewish civilization.
When I hear the phrase, “Zionist decision making process”, it carries connotations of bureaucratic decision-making, resolutions passed at congresses, and so forth. This is a process, that, to be honest, barely influences, or even attracts the interest, of most Jews in Israel or the Gola. But there is a more important Zionist decision making process that is happening every day – cultural decision making: what do I choose to think about? what phrases do I choose to incorporate into my language? what do I talk about with my friends? what decisions do I make with respect to a thousand questions, from what to read, to what to talk about with my children. These decisions, these cultural decisions, are small but important, and they are not made every four years by delegates; they are made everyday, by everybody.
Once, these cultural decisions were imposed on us by community norms, which had binding social pressure. But in modern Western democratic societies, (and Israel, though the core state of a worldwide Hebrew/Jewish civilization, is also a modern Western democratic society), these cultural decisions are increasingly fluid, defined by vague amalgams of mental constructs. And in this fluid mental world, in our generation, the way these cultural decisions are being made is changing.
Today, most of the world’s Jews, in Israel and the Diaspora, live in modern Western democratic societies. Western democratic societies are voluntaristic - you can educate your children according to a range of choices, you can read or associate as you choose, no government will really stop you. If you don't like the society, you are free to emigrate to whatever other country will let you in. That means all Jews, at some level, are Jews by choice; a Jew is anyone who chooses to participate in Hebrew/Jewish civilization. A Jew is someone who chooses to integrate his/her personal culture with the larger Hebrew/Jewish civilization.
This generation is also an electronic generation, an e-mail/internet generation, a generation defined by non-hierarchical cultural decision making: You send out an email to your email list. Whoever reads it, reads it; Whoever doesn't, doesn't. If you read it, and you don’t agree, you throw it away. If you read it and you like it, you pass it on to others.
When you sit in front of your computer screen, you, as an individual, are sovereign; with which collective(s) you choose to affiliate, with which civilization(s) you choose to identify; who you let influence you, and who are the others you influence; these are matters of choice; and these choices are choices of culture, most of that culture brought to you via language, and most of that language mediated by instruments of communication.
Every civilization has to make cultural decisions: what do we choose to remember? and what do we choose to forget? For Hebrew/Jewish civilization: what, from the vast riches of 3000 years of Hebrew/Jewish literature, 3000 years of Hebrew/Jewish religious and moral/ethical heritage, 3000 years of Hebrew/Jewish national political history, what do we choose to incorporate into our culture, and what do we choose to let slide?
When it comes to questions of Jewish or Hebrew identification, Jewish or Hebrew participation, Jewish or Hebrew affiliation, that is a Zionist decision-making process, and it has little to do with a congress held once every four years. For this brave new world in which Hebrew/Jewish civilization finds itself, we need new modalities, new experimental social models, for participation, influence, identity, communication and leadership.
And so, having wandered up the path from participation in decision making, the centrality of culture, the importance of language, the non-hierarchical electronic tools available, and the need for new Hebrew/Jewish modalities for participation in this world wide digital reality, we arrive at the door - the door to The New House of Israel.net.
On Tuesday, June 18, 2002, 8 Tamuz 5762, at the 34th Zionist Congress held at Binyanei Haumah, Jerusalem, we officially inaugurated a prototype of the New House of Israel.net
www.NewHouseOfIsrael.net is an Ezra-Nehemiah/First Aliyah impulse from the Anglo-Saxon Exile.
Our vision: to be a global, internet-based, Israel-centered, multilingual democratic digital kibbutz in the realm of cultural Zionism; a pioneering effort of collaborative conceptual art; a place where minyan collectivism meets electronic individualism.
Our goal: to build on the internet, not a model society, but the model of a model society, one that is both a living social experiment and also an on-line global think tank.
Our hope: the experience of this model-society/think-tank will spark creative thought about Zionism's three central philosophical questions: the meaning of the collectivity of Israel; the destiny of the land of Israel; the interpretation of the learning of Israel.
New House of Israel.net is an attempt to give concrete expression to this vision.
Some people have suggested that The New House of Israel concept is pie-in-the-sky, and unrealistic, and at some level, they are correct. The New House of Israel.net is a “First Aliyah” kind of venture. In retrospect, many of the things that happened in the First Aliyah were wrong: they didn't speak Hebrew, they had no political agenda, they didn't do their own work, most of the enterprises they established failed, many of the people who came on the First Aliyah left, BUT - the impulse was right. And I think the attempt to build a New House of Israel, where we can develop new modalities for Zionist participation, leadership, identification, and influence, is the right impulse. So I invite you all to visit the prototype site NewHouseOfIsrael.net and check it out, and if you agree with its premises and promises, inscribe your name in the New House of Israel.
Although the vision is grand, the experiment is a modest initiative. The Internet does not replace anything; it is certainly not an end in itself; it is only a tool that aids in the larger goal of Zionism, which is to create a renaissance of Jewish/Hebrew civilization.
I use the word “civilization” advisedly. It is critically important for Zionism to broaden the definition of this collectivity – the Jewish/Hebrew collectivity – not only as a religion, or merely as an ethnic enclave, but as a Civilization, as one of the world’s half a dozen or so great civilizations. Along with Western Christendom and Islam, India and China, the Russian Orthodox and perhaps the Spanish Catholic and the Japanese, the Hebrew/Jewish civilization has all the ingredients of a world civilization: a core state:- Israel; a core religion:- Judaism; a world language:- Hebrew; and a long, world-wide, coherent political history.
The situation – "hamatsav" – also demands that the Jewish/Hebrew collectivity conceive of itself as a civilization. At a time when democratic India, for example, is facing Islamic fundamentalism, just as is Hebrew/Jewish civilization; in a post-Soviet period when the world has less patience for ethnic conflict, but is increasingly regrouping itself into civilizational blocs, it is important that Israel be seen as the center of a great world civilization, a civilization that, like a unique and ancient ecosystem, must be preserved and respected.
In Samuel Huntington's seminal book, "The Clash of Civilizations", his reference to the Jews is summed up in a single 12-line footnote, in which he devotes one paragraph to considering whether the Jews are a civilization, and then, even though the Jews have every ingredient Huntington says is necessary for a civilization – “religion, language, customs, literature, institutions and a territorial and political home” - he dismisses the idea. In my mind, the challenge for the Zionist movement today is to take those steps so that if a new edition of Huntington's Clash of Civilizations comes out in 10 years, he will change that footnote and revise it into a whole new chapter, called "Hebrew/Jewish civilization" or maybe "Modern Israelite Civilization". This is a political process, but also a cultural process, a deep thoughtful engagement with Zionism's three questions: what is the nature of Jewish/Hebrew collectivity? what should be the destiny of the Land of Israel? and how do we interpret the millennium long learning of Israel?
In that light, in that spirit, I see The New House of Israel.net as a think tank to help us get there; a First Aliyah type creation; a new phase in the Zionist movement, in which electronic pioneers who are willing to commit themselves, participate in an online Havura, a Zionist political party/study group, taking part in a living social experiment where electronic individualism meets minyan collectivism.
I hope The New House of Israel.net, and other such digital collectives, will create a new online interactive Zionist Talmud, in which we can forge a contemporary interpretation of Hebrew/Jewish civilization, incorporating what we have learnt from two millennium in the Diaspora, as well as our experience in the last century in building a modern Hebrew democratic society at the core of an ancient Jewish civilization.