Perla Aizencang-Kane

2023 Teachings on Israel-Diaspora Relations

2023 has been a critical year for Israel and the Jewish People worldwide. The year began with the Ministry of Justice’s pronouncement on what was known as the Judicial Reform or Overhaul. After his declaration, Israel entered into the most significant domestic political and social crisis in decades.

Over ten months, the country was completely mobilized. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens went to the streets. The manifestations that took over the country for over fifty weeks became the largest and most diverse civil protest Israel ever experienced. Different segments of Israeli society expressed their deep worries about Israel’s future.

The already complex and tense year was suddenly shaken on October 7, when the Israeli people were violently attacked by the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas, resulting in the most significant loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust.

Ironically, at the 75-year mark of its existence, Israel grapples with an existential crisis, much of it because of its self-inflicted dissensus and misdirection. The toll of civilian casualties, the extensive destruction, and the numerous hostages taken have eroded national confidence and morale. The war has exposed Israel’s vulnerabilities, casting doubt on the core Zionist commitment to Jewish self-protection. Besides, massive anti-Israel demonstrations and soaring antisemitism span the globe. Israelis and Jews the world over once again feel insecure and lost.

Much has been destroyed irreversibly, the repercussions of which will echo for years to come. Indeed, the deep divisions within the Israeli people over the Judicial Overhaul, coupled with the tragic terrorist attack on October 7, will leave an indelible mark on Israel’s political and social landscape, still difficult to evaluate these days, also affecting the Jewish and Israeli communities living abroad.

Given this constellation of crises, the issue of the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora re-emerges in full force. In a time in which established myths and paradigms have been shattered, it becomes crucial to ask once again: What are the boundaries, mutual responsibilities, tensions, and repercussions of the intricate relationship between Israel and its diasporas?

Let us delve into some processes that have developed over this year, exploring the reactions of the Jewish and the Israeli diasporas to both crises experienced at home: the Judicial Overhaul and the national turmoil sparked by the Hama’s incursion into the country.

As already pointed out, since the outset of 2023, protests against the proposed Judicial Overhaul have erupted worldwide. Jews and Israelis abroad have recognized the gravity of the situation, marking a QUALITATIVE SHIFT from previous political engagement.

If traditionally, the world Jewry refrained from intervening in internal Israeli affairs, numerous Jewish leaders and organizations expressed themselves not only in their own localities but also in Israel.

For their part, hundreds of Israelis abroad mobilized and expressed their concerns. The protest movement abroad was organized mainly by a young organization, “UnXeptable-Saving Israeli Democracy,”—an alliance of grassroots groups in dozens of cities in North America, Australia, and some places in Europe—created three years before in solidarity with the Balfour mobilizations in Israel. The movement came to life on WhatsApp in hundreds of chat groups, each dedicated to specific tasks. Their demonstrations in solidarity with those protesting in Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Square gave them a sense of belonging and empowerment and a chance to feel like they could influence events back in Israel no matter where they were.

And if the political activism pursued by Israelis abroad has grabbed our attention as a new development, the unprecedented call to Jewish communities to join the protests also constituted a groundbreaking development that will grasp our attention in the future. UnXeptable succeeded in a task no Jewish organization had succeeded in before, bringing together Israelis and Jewish communities in a shared mission to support Israel, giving both groups permission to criticize Israeli government policies while still expressing love and support for the country.

It is noteworthy to recognize the spectrum of Israeli activists aligned with organizations spanning varied political viewpoints, including AIPAC, DMFI (Democratic Majority for Israel), and J Street. This underscores the power of this protest movement in fostering dialogue and collaboration among individuals who might typically hold divergent perspectives.

Regarding the second critical moment of this year, the war starkly highlighted the profound interconnectedness and shared destiny between Israel and the broader global Jewish community.

Throughout the war, a strong demonstration of solidarity and interdependence emerged. Despite the limited opportunity for Diaspora Jews to express their opinions directly, many offered unwavering material, political, and spiritual support to Israel from the outset. Across the world, Jewish communities rallied together, engaging in collective efforts for support, fundraising, and public diplomacy (hasbara). The most significant expression of their concern and backing for Israel was the massive mobilization of approximately 300,000 American Jews and Israelis in Washington on November 14.

While less visibly pronounced than their stance on the Judicial Reform, Israelis abroad have actively coordinated rallies, fundraisers, and various supportive endeavors, aligning with initiatives organized by Jewish communities. Additionally, numerous Israelis have engaged in personal initiatives, extending aid to family, friends, and military units while also contributing to some of the initiatives of Israeli civil society, which happened to be very healthy despite the crisis produced by the Judicial Overhaul.

In essence, hundreds of thousands of Jews and Israeli expats have exhibited political transnationalism, embodying what Brubaker termed as “an actively diasporan population” (Brubaker, 2005). Their collective actions reflect a shared desire to have a voice, to be heard, and, significantly, to express their concerns, frustrations, and fears about the future of their homeland.

At the heart of our rationale for a Jewish and democratic state lies the fundamental concept that Israel belongs not only to its citizens but also to Jews across the globe. Every Jew has a share in the State of Israel, expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Law of Return. And if you have a share, you have a voice.

According to Hirschman’s seminal work from the 1970s, individuals (migrants or diasporans in our case) have two options: to VOICE their concerns or EXIT the political community they are critical of—an option exercised by numerous diasporan Jews over time. Hirschman posited that choosing between these two options is determined by one’s loyalty to the community (Hirschman, 1970). However, his analysis notably overlooked a third option: VOICE after EXIT, signifying the engagement in ‘home politics’ to promote change even while residing abroad (Burgess, 2012).

Diasporic and migrant communities have long been known for their mobilization and engagement in the economies and politics of their homelands, trying to reshape the political situation ‘back home.’ Its potential has recently been augmented by technology and new means of communication.

Shifting our stance from one defined by the Diaspora-Israel divide to one centered around Kol Israel Unity (or a Global Jewish Polity in David Myers’s terms) will require us to integrate the needs of citizens living abroad into the logic of the State and vice versa. Envisioning both the Jewish and Israeli diasporas as parts of an EXTENDED CIVIL SOCIETY could offer a constructive perspective to begin with.

Additionally, a meaningful step toward restructuring Israel-Diaspora Relations might involve moving beyond the sole perception of Israel as a NATION-STATE and embracing a more innovative conceptualization of Israel as a ‘NETWORK-STATE’ defined by its global membership and a diverse spectrum of civil commitments. As Ariel Beery contends, this shift towards a ‘network nation’ will require the development of a new symbolic language, legal framework, and a revamped ethos emphasizing both obligation and opportunity.

This text is based on my participation in the roundtable titled: “Israel-Diaspora Relations in Times of Transnationalism. New Constellations and Conceptual Approaches” at the 55th Annual Conference of the Association of Jewish Studies held in San Francisco, California, on December 17-19, 2023.

About the Author
Perla Aizencang-Kane is an Argentinian-Israeli citizen living abroad. She received her B.A. in Sociology at the University of Buenos Aires, her M.A. in Political Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and her Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She is an independent researcher. Her main lines of research focus on migration, transnational living, and the constitution of the Israeli Diaspora.
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