Sitting around the Shabbat table last Friday night, relatives and friends were eager to hear what I saw and learnt leading a political tour in Israel. What did the speakers tell you? What is the atmosphere on the street? Are Israelis really worried about Iran? How many tourists do you see in Jerusalem, and how is the economy doing? What did the Palestinians you met say? Happy to be the center of attention, I tried to answer each question thoroughly. As I did, I realized that the one thing that almost all speakers on the Israeli side said was that the greatest thing that world Jewry can do for Israel is to make Aliyah.
That may sound obvious to some, but evidently not to everyone around the table. “But I do more for Israel here than I ever could there” claimed one, who admittedly does give huge amounts of his time to Zionist causes in Australia, particularly Hasbara. Still, the comment irked me not because it was malicious or not truly believed by that person, but because of its self-serving nature.
Aliyah from western countries is hard. Olim often leave high paying jobs to take a major cut in living standards. Israeli culture is very different to that from which they have come. Obviously, family is an issue, as are army service, language, friends, and the abyss that is Israeli bureaucracy.
At the same time, Aliyah is clearly crucial to Israel’s well-being as a Jewish democratic state. Indeed, were it not for the Russian Aliyah in the 90’s, it is arguable that Israel would look far less stable than it does today. Ben Gurion and the founders of the state recognized this, as evidenced by Ben Gurion’s letter to Ruth Glath in 1967 in which he wrote “our country was built by three generations of pioneers, and it is not yet finished – it is only a beginning. We must get a large immigration from the free countries, mainly from the United States”.
And here in lies a great paradox and deception for many Australian Jews at least, and I suspect for large parts of communities throughout the Diaspora. Generally, everyone active in the community and with a strong Jewish identity wants to proclaim that he or she is a big Zionist. Israel is critically important, and generally, it is considered a shame for anyone to say anything other than that he or she considers Israel’s interests paramount. At the same time, perhaps understandably, members of the community don’t want to give up their comfortable lives. And so in order to feel good, they delude themselves into believing that their decision to remain in their home country is in fact in Israel’s interests as well. “If it weren’t for donations from abroad, the state of Israel wouldn’t survive”; or “I work so hard to promote a positive image of Israel overseas” and so on and so forth.
I myself have not to date made Aliyah, and I do not begrudge anyone who after looking at the facts, decides that its simply too hard for him or her. Those people should not be pushed away, and should be encouraged to give whatever they can to Zionism and Israel in the Diaspora, be it a donation to Magen David Adom or KKL, or volunteering their time at a pro Israel stand on university campuses. Indeed the contribution of Diaspora Jewry to the Zionist project is important, and many Diaspora Jews, while supporting Israel as a Jewish homeland and state, nonetheless identify first and foremost as local citizens.
But let’s call a spade a spade. By choosing to remain outside of Israel, western Diaspora Jews either chose to put their identity as local citizens before their Jewish Zionist identity, or perhaps more often, they place their personal lives and comfort ahead of their Zionistic views. They may indeed contribute to Israel, but they do not (bar possibly a few extraordinary individuals) give three years of their lives to the service of the state. They do not help maintain Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and they do not pay taxes to the government of the state of Israel.
If you are simply too comfortable in your day to day life to make Aliyah, then come out and say “life is simply too good here” or “my first goal is my career, not the state of Israel. I will still give what I can when I can, but that’s where I stand, ” or “I am putting my family and personal life ahead of my Zionism” or “at the end of the day I identity more as an Australian/American/Brit than as a Jewish Zionist. Perhaps people will criticize you, but at least you’ll be honest and stop this silly charade designed to make you feel good about your decision to put yourself first by claiming that its actually Israel that is benefittng by you deciding to stay put.