Many who supported the ouster of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister have been seeking to blame somebody for his recent electoral victory. The obvious first target is Netanyahu himself, for appealing to the lowest paranoid instincts of his base constituency, who, despite bearing the brunt of his government’s failing domestic policies, came out at the last second to support him. Second is the Zionist Union Party lead by Benjamin Herzog, for running a negative campaign and for not knowing how to avoid appearing as representing only North Tel Aviv and not even giving a shot to explaining their position to Bibi’s base of support. The third guilty party consists of the voting “fine shmeckers” who must have the party that exactly conforms to their very rarified tastes and chose to vote for Yair Lapid, Moshe Kachlon or Meretz.
But I will tell you who the real guilty party is. The party that is not only responsible for Bibi’s re-election, but also for all of the deficiencies that that party finds in Israel. The party includes people who can’t stand Israel’s lack of religious pluralism, who feel that Israel is putting them in harm’s way by becoming a pariah state reflecting badly on Jews in the Diaspora, and, conversely, also those who support, financially and rhetorically, Israel’s current policies and think Israel should settle the West Bank without inhibition. I am talking about all those Jewish organizations, writers and pundits who claim to live and breathe with the fate of Israel, and plead for a change in Israel’s direction but don’t have a vote when it counts.
If you don’t identify the party in question, let’s start with some of their prominent representatives, whose voices are heard all too often in punditry on Israel, but whose votes were sorely missing in the last Israeli election. Take, for example, Peter Beinart, who for the last few years has cornered the market on being the spokesman for those who love Israel dearly while wringing their hands over its condition. In this week’s Friday edition of Haaretz, Beinart proposes the following analysis:
“Even since I have been an adult, the American Jewish leadership has been telling the Americans that Israel can save itself. Just wait till Israel has a respite from terror, and then the quiet majority that supports the two state solution will make its voice heard. Again and again, throughout the entire Netanyahu era, Israel floats this theory. Give the Israelis permanent security; don’t pressure them. If they know that ‘the United States always stands by them’, promised Malcolm Hoenlein (a Jewish leader that most Israelis have never heard of-DC) to Barack Obama in 2009, then the Israeli leadership will be “ready to take risks for peace.’ “
“The recent elections have destroyed this theory. Israel has simply eliminated it. These elections didn’t take place in the shadow of terror, at least not of the type that traumatized Israelis during the second Intifada. Due in large part to security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, Israelis no longer fear getting on a bus or entering a café. The elections also did not take place in the shadow of American pressure. Yes, Jerusalem and Washington clash over Iran, but the Obama administration hasn’t come close to punishing the Israeli government for repeatedly rejecting mediating efforts to create a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders.”
Beinart goes on to say that now it is time for the US Jewish leadership to pressure the US government to save Israel from itself. He wouldn’t countenance taking the tack of the Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement, because the latter attacks Israel instead of criticizing it out of love. But, for its own good, Israel needs Beinart and J Street, to override AIPAC if the latter refuses to stop rubber stamping Israeli policy.
Right alongside Beinart’s Haaretz printed an article by Diana Pinto, a Parisian, with the title, “And I’m supposed to come to an Israel like this?” The gist of the article is that given the marginalization of Israel’s Arab population and Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank, Israel is both too noxious and too dangerous to consider living in. Pinto compares the position of Europe’s Jews with respect to the Muslim population of Europe (15 million out of 500 million) to Jews in Israel where the Arabs make up 20% of the population, and says that she prefers to stay in Europe, together with most of the continent’s Jews, and fight for the values they believe in. According to Pinto, European Jews have been dismissed as an irrelevant group by Israel and American Jews, but they will, ironically, play a key role in promoting the Jewish future.
The ways in which these arguments are off would fill a book. But that’s not the point. Everyone’s is entitled to their opinion, and let’s not fall into the trap of appearing to deny their right to speak freely, as is often bogusly claimed by organizations like J Street. They can say whatever they want, and time will reveal their lasting impact. What is truly disgusting is their failure to even mention the possibility that if they, and a few hundred thousand of their closest friends, lived in Israel, these elections might have turned out differently.
How does Beinart, sitting in New York, know how I, who voted for Herzog, feel when I board a bus or send my child to the Army? How does he know how I feel regarding Iran’s threats, ISIS’ proximity, Hamas’ rockets, and the Palestinian Authority’s impotence, corruption and hate speech education of its school children? And how does he think I and my circle of liberal olim friends feel , knowing that if there were half a million olim from North America these elections, and Israel in general, would turn out so differently? And let him not repeat the convenient canard that those American Jews who do make aliya are all right wing. Nefesh b’Nefesh planes have become heterogeneous in terms of religious affiliation and there aren’t enough right wing religious Jews in the US to dominate an aliya of half a million, let alone one million. The same goes for the excuse given that “so many Israelis live abroad.” Israel’s emigration rate is 10% and has been for fifty years, which is perfectly normal, even impressively low, for a country built on immigration. The idea of Israel as a viable society was based on massive immigration, not on prevention of natural and inevitable emigration.
A.B. Yehoshua has often claimed that you can’t be a real Jew if you don’t live in Israel. These authors prove he is wrong, because chutzpa, a singularly Jewish, especially Israeli, characteristic, so unabashedly gushes from them. You can lecture Israel from the outside, pressure Israel, and refuse to come here because it is not to your liking and you myopically assume that the Jewish future is better where you are. But at least own up to the fact that not only aren’t you here, you do nothing to try encourage more Jews like you to live here. Look squarely at the Israeli population and realize that the veteran Israeli Ashkenazi establishment, the Jews of oriental descent, and the immigrants from Russia do not share your values and ways of doing things. A country’s direction is determined primarily by the people living in it. For whatever reason, and for better or for worse, those groups live here, fight for their country and leave their imprint on it. We few US olim try our best, with our human and financial capital, our loud voices, and the backing of foreign do- good philanthropies, to promote change. We would like to see a weakening of the Orthodox establishment, a change in the style of the education system, and an antidote to the kind of electoral tactics engaged in by Netanyahu and some of the other parties. But we are outnumbered. Our influence is marginal. You have left us on our own. Nonetheless, we are not leaving but staying on to fight and to vote next time.
So who is to blame? J’accuse AIPAC, J St, Sheldon Edelson, Peter Beinart, the Reform and Conservative Movements, the Jewish Agency and all of their programs, whether in Israel or abroad, of failing to put aliya on the agenda and take real steps to make it happen. I accuse Jewish educational institutions of not exposing (notice I didn’t say preaching) young Jewish minds to aliya. I accuse Birthright of not exposing its participants to American Jews who have made a normal life in Israel. I accuse all those, on the right and the left, who write about Israel, work for Israel, support Israel, criticize Israel, make careers out of Israel, and even visit Israel, without devoting some of their time and effort to encourage aliya. I accuse all those, including Netanyahu with his low level statements about aliya that were made only in the wake of the tragedy in France, who have left Israel looking like a country only for refugees and have made a mockery out of the Law of Return. I accuse all those who, from abroad, exhort us, even using their wealth, to push for a two state solution on one hand, or to annex all of the West Bank on the other, when it is we who will have to live with the consequences. I accuse all those who claim to love Israel so much, who are so disappointed with it, and who are so proud to have us fight till the last Israeli, but say that until Israel changes there is no way they would move here. That is a chicken and egg paradigm that has to be put to rest. Every major group of immigrants came here because its members wanted to for whatever reason, mostly flight, and not because Israel made itself attractive to them. Every wave of immigration strengthened Israel’s economy and its position vis a vis its neighbors, as in the signs of willingness of the Palestinians to recognize Israel in the wake of the massive Russian aliya. Making aliya, or at least supporting it as the highest priority, is a moral imperative for those who claim to care about Israel, not conditioned on Israel’s being to their liking, but, rather on the possibility of participating in the project of Jewish self determination.
J’accuse all those who spill massive amounts of ink on the subject of Israel and ignore the key phenomenon that will seal the fate of the Jewish state and the Jewish people: the failure of North American Jewry to contribute its share of population to the Jewish State. I’m not saying you can’t criticize Israel. But look at yourself in the mirror when you do.