Never-ending Story: Debating Hashomer Hatzair Ideology

Vika Olshansky, 23, a graduate of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement from the Ukraine, came to Kibbutz Holit in the western Negev along with 140 other graduates and members of the socialist-oriented movement to participate in a world conference marking the movement's 95th anniversary by updating its basic tenets. Among them, aliyah to Israel.

"The Zionist movement has fulfilled the goal of aliyah. The process brought problems and ghettoization to Israeli society. We need to educate toward aliyah cautiously, Olshansky said in an interview along with five other graduates, who hail from Belarus, Brazil and Ukraine.

"It's a process that started four years ago. All nests [movement branches] the world over had to redefine the movement's basic tenets, and its relevance in the Jewish world," Jayme Fuchs Bar, the movement's educational director, told Haaretz. "Now, we will be making new decisions about what socialism, Judaism and Zionism, our national task, is in Israel, and the significance of hagshama," he said, referring to a basic Hashomer Hatzair term meaning fulfillment of its ideals.

Kibbutz Holit, with only 25 members, is not only the conference venue, it is a also goal for movement action: Some of its graduates are to establish an "alternative society" there based on an ecological-social concept, Fuchs Bar said. The group will also work in neighboring communities and will live off the products it produces.

Hashomer Hatzair, founded in 1913, has been present at every crossroads in Zionist and Jewish history, according to the coordinator of nests for South America, Dario Teitelbaum. Members of the group were leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, in the establishment of Israel and in the struggle for peace and equality for minorities in Israel, he said.

In the "deep discussions," as Fuchs Bar described the conference debates, delegates could not agree on two basic tenets - Zionism and socialism. While Latin American graduates favored classic socialism, the European delegates sided with democratic socialism. By last night, another round of discussions had been called for.

"Those from Eastern Europe still carry baggage from the communist regimes in their region," Kevin Levine, a movement member from Argentina said. "But we believe the social democrat is part of the capitalist system and perpetuates social gaps," he said.

According to Dana Merweiss, from Argentina, the way to implement socialism today is by education and creating communities with socialist awareness.

Levine said the movement in the past required its members to work within its community; however, today "we say we should also work outside our community as part of the fulfillment of the principle of socialism. In Argentina we work in poor neighborhoods, Jewish and non-Jewish," he said.

In Israel, the movement is also active among the Bedouin, the Ethiopian community and elsewhere. The group said that formerly coming to live in Israel was the highest goal of Hashomer Hatzair, and this has now changed. "Israel today needs the Diaspora no less than the Diaspora needs Israel," said Jamila Garfinkel, who came from Argentina and has moved to Kibbutz Holit.

Although Merweiss and Levine said that Israel's existence is no longer threatened, they believed the Zionist task has not yet been fulfilled. "This is not the country Syrkin and Borochov envisioned," Levine said, referring to early 20th-century Zionist-Socialist leader Nachman Syrkin, and Marxist Zionist Ber Borochov. Israel is still not at peace and social gaps are deep," Levine said.