(September 1, 2019 / JNS) While much of Israel’s cultural elite expresses an increasingly progressive ideology for the most liberal country in the Middle East, a majority of the country’s mainstream electorate holds more politically conservative views, explaining how democratically elected right-wing governments have led Israel for 30 of the last 42 years.
Maintaining the fabric between these oft-competing ideologies has become increasingly challenging.
It requires a vigorous debate that “expands the discourse,” says CEO of the Tikvah Fund Israel Amiad Cohen.
Heading the Israeli philanthropic foundation and “ideas institution” committed to supporting the intellectual, religious and political leaders of the Jewish people, Cohen runs and invests in a wide range of initiatives in Israel, including educational programs, publications and fellowships.
Through long-form articles, the Tikvah Fund’s magazine Hashiloach explains identity questions through policy questions using the conservative approach of strong local governments, legal branches, free-market economics, liberty, and the importance of religion and families in a democracy.”
The Tikvah Fund’s annual “Israeli conservatism conference” sees an average participant age of 25-30 years, where serious alternatives for what the Jewish future should look like are discussed, bringing Jewish thinking and leaders into conversation with western political, moral and economic thought. With a mission to “advance Jewish excellence and flourishing in the modern age,” Tikvah Fund describes itself as “politically Zionist, economically free-market oriented, culturally traditional and theologically open-minded.”
Tikvah Fund’s goal is to educate the public and particularly future leaders on how best to apply “conservative ways of thinking to public policy.” The receptiveness of young adults to these concepts makes Cohen “very optimistic” about the future of conservatism in Israel and throughout the world.
Advancing this way of thinking in Israel is natural, Cohen tells JNS, as Israelis tend toward conservatism, because of security situation needs as well as Israel’s social structure that promotes “personal relationships between individuals and communities.”
According to Cohen, in the future, more countries will look up to Israel for its societal structure and sense of achva, or fraternity.
While “the majority of the western world is declining” and challenging the conventions of nation-state identities, Cohen explains, Israel’s GDP is increasing and the country is improving. As such, Israelis are beginning to understand “the potential and where we are [headed] with a strong economy and social stability as a result of a higher birth rate than most western countries.“
In addition to the objective measures of success in Israeli society, says Cohen, “the micro decisions that an Israeli citizen makes on a daily basis are dedicated to the spiritual, national, familial and communal.” He notes that even secular Jewish Israelis have a brit milah (ritual male circumcision), and a large majority observes major Jewish holidays because of their “positive identity” of being part of wider family: the Jewish people.
“It’s human nature for a person to have an identity connected to family,” says Cohen, and that’s exactly what happens in the Jewish state.
At a funeral of an acquaintance, he offers as an example, “the entire state came together, with 3,000 people at the funeral.”
“People came because they felt a part of it,” says Cohen. “The strings that unite individuals in society are something broken around the world, and today, they can learn from Israel’s unity without uniformity.”
However, Cohen suggests that Israel, too, has a problem with “academia and the cultural elite’s progressivism,” which are increasingly “rebelling against Zionism,” a tendency that Cohen says “does not go with Israel’s conservative instinct.”
“We can’t expect loyalty to a nation, it’s a choice,” he explains, maintaining that the Jewish people struggle to “offer a real identity that appeals to people” and “build a coherent and appealing product that people want to be part of.”
“Although we still have terrorist attacks,” poses Cohen, “day-to-day life in Israel is as strong as ever, so people discuss and debate,” he said. “There are significant debates and discussions going on in Israel, asking, ‘what are we here for?’ And we are continuing that debate now through the Tikvah Fund.”
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