Questions about American individualism in Israel


Individualism seems to me to link changing worldviews among both Israeli and American Jews born after 1967. (These thoughts prompted by Tom Segev’s essays on the Americanization of Israel.)

Much ado is made about American Jews’ declining collective identity. The reciprocal rise in individualism is cited as a shonde by some and—  although I’ve yet to hear someone triumph it per se, I find myself regarding the trend with little surprise and possibly even hope. I link individualism to human and civil rights; both collective and individual, but collective rarely at the expense of the individual, if you can see the connection. Much of my past seven years of work and advocacy have been spent following the effects and promises of a new individualist motivation on our North American Jewish community.

So it hadn’t occured to me until reading Segev that this shift could be happening in Israel among the same generation precisely because globalization, significant ties and “shared values” from America were a driving force. Of course the two would be similar — they share the same origins. We all know about the decline of the kibbutzim, but did we ever consider the American-Israeli “special relationship” as a notable cause?

Segev points to consumerism. Netanyahu’s market liberalization policies has been his singature imports from America. Segev opines that the former is a significant contribution to individualist values here. With American-style consumerism comes the commercial focus on personal needs at odds with previous generations steeped in kibbutz-socialist collectivism and ethnic nationalist unity.

Before I pause my thoughts here for the day, the questions in my mind are these: Is Netanyahu’s contribution to individualism undermining his own attempts to bolster nationalist identity and policy? Are young Israelis — at least the non-haredi, but including young Palestinian citizens — feeling any similar effects to values and identity as their American peers? And does what will that do to the coming haredi-secular clash in the next generation? (Assuming, as I think we must, that the issue will not be addessed in the near future.)