Out to make Zionism sexy

How the youngest-ever World Zionist Congress head plans to enthuse coming generations with Herzl's dream.

yoel hasson 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yoel hasson 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
At age 33, Kadima MK Yoel Hasson was the youngest-ever president of the World Zionist Congress last June. Now a century and a decade since Herzl presided over the first World Zionist Congress, Hasson is taking a young approach to Zionism. Hasson's top priority is getting young people around the world involved in Zionism, even in what might be one of the toughest places to sell Zionism - the state of Israel. Under the auspices of the Zionist Council in Israel, Hasson intends to use advertising and education to market Zionism to young Israelis in their schools, universities, the IDF and even in their families. He hopes to present a new plan in September. "The goal is to get Israelis talking about Zionism again," Hasson said. "When you ask Israelis what they do for Zionism, they say 'I live in Israel and that's enough,' but it's not enough. The younger generation needs to learn about the values of Zionism and appreciate the importance of continuing Zionism." Hasson intends to seek international donations for spreading Zionism among Israeli youth. He also wants funding from the government, but not from the Education Ministry, so the outreach can take place in informal settings such as youth groups, Jewish community centers, shopping malls and even nightclubs. "I want to make Zionism sexy, so young people can talk about it and connect to it," Hasson said. To reach out to young Diaspora Jews, Hasson helped pass resolutions at the World Zionist Congress to increase the involvement of people under 30 in the decision-making of Zionist institutions, organizations and congresses. He said he hoped the resolutions would spark a dramatic change in the makeup of Diaspora Jewish leadership. "I tell people abroad that I am worried that in a decade, Diaspora communities will be empty, not because of assimilation or aliya but because young people are not involved enough," Hasson said. HASSON was born in Tel Aviv and raised in Bat Yam and Rishon Lezion. He currently lives in Tel Aviv and has a house in Barkan, a settlement in Samaria 25 kilometers east of Tel Aviv. Before getting elected to the Knesset last year, he served as former prime minister Ariel Sharon's adviser on public inquiries, chaired the Council of Israeli Youth Movements and headed the Likud Youth and the national leadership of the Betar youth movement. Before the split in the Likud, Hasson had intended to run for Knesset with the party he grew up in. But Sharon asked him to run with Kadima, and he decided it was the right fit for him. In the Knesset, Hasson formed the Lobby for the Advancement of Young People in Israel to consider the impact of legislation on young people and encourage them to get involved in public life. Hasson said he was concerned that young Israelis were becoming more like their counterparts abroad, disconnected from what is going on in the news. "We don't live in a place where we can afford to be complacent," Hasson said. "We have an obligation to get involved, no matter what our views are. It's crucial that what happens in the country will be important to them. They have to know that the decisions made in the government and the Knesset will have a big impact on their lives." When it came time to set up a World Kadima organization to run in the World Zionist Organization election, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made Hasson the organization's number two man behind his childhood friend Shlomo Gravetz. When Gravetz died in October, Hasson became World Kadima's acting chairman. With such a title, Hasson spends a lot of his time meeting with Diaspora Jews, both in the Knesset and abroad. During the Second Lebanon War, he went to England to raise money for the North. In March, he spoke at AIPAC's policy conference in Los Angeles. When Diaspora audiences hear that Hasson is one of the Knesset's few single MKs, he gets numerous marriage proposals and ideas for shiduchim [matches]. But he has been seriously dating Ramle's deputy mayor, Liat Rabner, for seven months. Rabner herself was on Kadima's list of candidates in the last election. Hasson sincerely believes that Kadima will continue to exist despite its recent troubles. He has been one of the chief defenders of Olmert in the press. "Kadima has overcome crises before and we can continue to make it through any crisis if we realize that we have to stick together," Hasson said. "I am a big defender of the chairman of the party and the prime minister because I believe in supporting your leader. I saw with Sharon what happened to a party that didn't respect its leader. We should learn the lesson in Kadima that we can't afford to have rebellions." Hasson said the reason he had good relations with Olmert was that he criticizes him only in person and not in the media. For instance, he said he told Olmert that replacing then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz with Amir Peretz was a bad idea. Asked what would happen were Olmert to be forced to resign after the release of the Winograd report, Hasson said a decision would have to be made in Kadima about how to select its new leader. Although the Kadima bylaws say the party chairman must be selected among its members, Hasson said this applies only ahead of a general election and not in the case of a party leader resigning. In such a scenario, any of Kadima's leaders could take over for Olmert and not just Vice Prime Minister Tzipi Livni. The bill Hasson is most famous for sponsoring is the so-called Peres bill that would end secret-ballot voting for president in the Knesset. The bill would greatly increase Peres's chances of being elected president. But Hasson said Peres would not be his candidate if he decided instead to try to replace Olmert as prime minister. He said he would prefer a younger candidate than the 83-year-old vice premier. "If we had to pick a new leader, I don't think Peres would see himself as a candidate, and I don't think he should head Kadima," Hasson said. "He is not relevant anymore to the mission of a prime minister."