A Tale of Two Cities

Different Visions of Israel’s Future

Many American Jews suffer culture shock when they first visit Tel Aviv.  Having grown up watching reruns of the movie Exodus, they imagine Israelis as yarmulke-wearing cowboys valiantly defending their land against attacks from vicious tribes of Arab terrorists.  Arriving in Tel Aviv, they find a bustling city full of secular, middle-class Israelis practicing their new religion of consumerism, planning their next trip to America or Europe as their Reebok-shod children dance to the latest rap tune.  Instead of engaging in more heroic pursuits, they while away their evening hours in traditional Mediterranean pastimes: eating, drinking, gossiping, flirting, and engaging in passionate and noisy political debate.

Israel was supposed to be different—an original masterpiece, not a distant echo of ideas and trends produced in New York and London, which is what Tel Aviv, the first modern Hebrew city, turned out to be.  It has become a symbol of a Western-oriented, “post-Zionist” Israel, to use a term coined by writers and artists who frequent the coffeehouses and bookstores in fashionable Shenkin Street.  It describes an ascending ideological trend that is now affecting members of the intellectual class around the country, not unlike the way original Zionism itself—an ideology inspired by the notions of European “organic nationalism”—shaped the political debate among...

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