It always comes down to this.
Speaking at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York on April 29, former prime minister Ehud Olmert was greeted by jeers when he argued against attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. His response:
As a concerned Israel citizen who lives in the state of Israel with his family and all of his children and grandchildren, I love very much the courage of those who live 10,000 miles away from the state of Israel and are ready that we will make every possible mistake that will cost lives of Israelis.
Olmert’s point is loud and clear. Do we, who live outside of Israel, have the right to comment on these matters? Are we truly Zionists or are we Zionist funders, Zionist supporters or simply pro-Zionists?
How do we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
Recently, in a cab from Azrieli in Tel Aviv to Ramat Gan, the driver told me that all American Jews have an obligation to vote for Republicans because they are what Israel needs. I cringed, but decided not to disagree with him because I was late and did not want to be ordered out of the taxi somewhere on Katznelson. But when the conversation swung to Israeli politics and he ascertained that I was enamored of neither Likud nor Israel Beytenu, he told me I had no right to express an opinion. I bit my tongue and did not argue with him. I really needed to get to Ramat Gan.
“Who really cares what this guy thinks?” I said to myself, and with good reason. My Israeli friends and I discuss all kinds of things, all the time. No distinction is ever drawn between us.
And then, last week, I was having a conversation with a very dear friend who lives in Jerusalem. At one point she commented that “if I lived here” I would think differently. And there it was again. As I said, it always comes down to this.
I have spent most of my career working on behalf of Israel and its people. I have been committed to it since childhood, and especially after living and studying during a year abroad in Jerusalem and volunteering on a major archeological dig and a kibbutz, 40 years ago. I cannot live without working for Israel, supporting it, buying Israeli products and being there as often as possible. In differing levels of experience and intensity, I suspect the same is true for most American Jews. Yet I live in the US and would never compare myself with friends who have made aliya.
When Yasser Arafat addressed the UN on November 13, 1974, he proclaimed, “Zionism is an ideology that is imperialist, colonialist, racist …” and a year later, on November 10, 1975, UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 stated that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” In response, many Jews openly referred to themselves as Zionists (actually, after the Six-Day War in 1967, people began to identify themselves this way more openly) and to wear buttons proclaiming “I am a Zionist.” It was an appropriate response. (For the record, “Zionism is racism” was revoked in 1991 by UN General Assembly Resolution 4686.)
However, Zionism is, and must be, more than just a reaction to anti-Semitism and threats against the Jewish people. Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people to return to and establish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.
I am a Zionist and I identify myself as such, loudly and proudly.
Those who live Israel have an even more exclusive and proud identity. They are Israelis.