With anti-Israel groups becoming a growing threat for American Jewish communities, Israel National News sat down with Herbert Block, Executive Director of the American Zionist Movement (AZM), at the IAC National Summit in Florida to speak about the state of Zionism in America today.
AZM is an umbrella organization that represents 39 national Jewish Zionist bodies in America “across a broad spectrum of religious, political and ideological views.”
“They are all Zionist organizations that are connected through AZM with the World Zionist Organization. We’re the Zionist Federation in America representing and uniting different Zionists of all streams and backgrounds,” Block explains.
Is it becoming harder with this generation to unite all the different and divergent streams of Judaism and Jewish thought?
“Unity doesn't necessarily mean uniformity. We want Zionist organizations to work together,” he says. “There's many different historically even that now. Back to the days of Herzl there's many different ways to be a Zionist. We have groups that approach it from a religious perspective, a political perspective – right, left, centrist – people who are non-ideological Zionists.”
There are more people and groups that want to be involved in the American Zionist movement than ever before, he comments, noting that they have grown from 25 organizations just a few years ago to 39 today.
“Especially following the elections for the Zionist Congress a few years ago, more people are wanting to be involved,” he says. “You know as the Jewish people, we’re a broad family with lots of different views but there’s more people wanting to be involved so there's more interest in Zionism that's on a positive note.”
How does he respond to the fact that we are seeing members of the Jewish community in groups defined as anti-Zionist or anti-Israel organizations? Does that mean that Jewish anti-Zionism is a growing problem?
Block does not think this is a growing concern, and more of a fringe element of a small minority. He says that overall the Jewish community in America is very pro-Israel.
“Anti-Zionism has become an issue in connection with anti-Semitism. There are elements in the Jewish community that are anti-Zionist but in general the Jewish community in America is is a very pro-Zionist, pro-Israel community,” he says. “People have different views, widely divergent views on policies of the government at any moment or how things should be done in Israel whether it's the borders, the Kotel, religious issues, and many other things. But there's a core of support of Zionism and support for the state of Israel that permeates across.”
One of the main elements of Zionism is making aliyah. Is there a balance his organization takes between strengthening communities in America and promoting living in Israel?
“It's an important part of what we do. Many of us i have a son who is a soldier in the IDF. And there’s many people throughout the AZM and our different organizations who have relatives, family connections [to Israel],” he says. “One of the things about Herzl’s vision of the Zionist movement was that it should connect world Jewry to Israel. That's including aliyah but including the people in the diaspora, so one does not have to be living in Israel to be a Zionist.”
He adds: “The connection of the Jewish communities around the world to Israel is one of the important elements of the Zionism and there's lots of work to be done.”