Israelis Decry Americanization of Their Nation

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Ezer Weizman blames the three Ms: Madonna, Michael Jackson and McDonald's.

When thousands of young Israelis stampeded the gate at a rock concert in the southern town of Arad this summer, killing two people and injuring 150, Weizman deemed it horrible proof of Israel's Americanization.

"It should teach us to stop importing poor culture," Weizman said, "and to seek a genuine Israeli culture and a return to tradition."

Weizman's words fueled a national debate over the direction Israeli society is heading in an era of Middle East peace and prosperity. Today, the desert is blooming with Ben & Jerry's ice cream and blue corn tortilla chips, cable television and credit cards. And like so many other countries, Israel is stunned by the fast pace at which American culture and consumerism are taking root.

The issue of Americanization feeds into the national identity crisis that the 47-year-old state of Israel is suffering as the country ceases to define itself as a Jewish David in a sea of Arab Goliaths.

Despite their obvious affinity for Americana - as well as for $3 billion a year in U.S. military and economic aid - Israelis increasingly are questioning whether the dizzying construction of U.S.-style shopping malls and American franchise shops is right for Israel.

Is this the dream of their Zionist forefathers, to build a Jewish nation like all other nations? they ask. Or is Israel simply losing its collective soul and Jewish identity to a leisure-oriented, secular society?

"Behold the great paradox of classical Zionist ideology," social commentator and author Stuart Schoffman writes in the Jerusalem Report, an English-language magazine. "The more we are like all the nations, the less we resemble ourselves."

Israel defines immigration as "aliya," or a rise from the Diaspora (Jewish settlement outside Palestine), and emigration as a descent. Now, Americanization provides what Schoffman calls "emigration and assimilation right here at home, without the air fare or the guilt."

No one doubts that Israel is undergoing deep social change along with the shift from the socialist ideology of its Labor Party founders to privatization, from the one-channel government television of four years ago to a cornucopia of private and cable channels with information and entertainment from around the world. The question is whether this is good or bad for the country, whether modernization necessarily leads to the "Me Generation."

After Weizman's three-M remark, Israel's state-run radio received a torrent of telephone calls from around the country. …