Aryeh Schonbrun

Aliyah Leshma: How Establishment Pressures Deny Authenticity

Six years ago, when I made the difficult decision to emigrate from the US to Israel, I anticipated some difficulty in acclimating to the new culture and society. However, as I came to discover, Israeli society’s perception of aliyah differs based on country of origin. Olim (i.e., new immigrants) from problematic or developing countries tend to be accepted without much consternation. No one would dare question the rationale of a Ukrainian Jew to flee the bloody conflict. Even French immigrants, who live in the relative comfort of Western society, tend to be accepted by the Israelis as legitimately responding to the external stresses of local antisemitism. However, from my experience, when approaching Jews of North American provenance, Israelis tend to act strictly and judgmentally, unable to identify with our true motives for making aliyah.

From Day One, I’ve experienced either ideological condescension regarding my aliyah or subtle antagonism and even misplaced envy. Upon landing, I was greeted at the gate of my flight by a government representative who proceeded to criticize and question my sanity for leaving the “land of milk and honey” for the insanity, and expensive-living, of Israel. I still remember how he took my US passport, kissed it, and told me “if only I could have one too. I would just leave.” I was, of course, a bit dumbfounded, but I kept my cool and saw his criticism of Israeli society as an authentic expression of frustration and disappointment, a sentiment that I could innately identify with.

Further on in my acclimation process, I would again and again feel alienated by the heavy-handed and inhumane way that I would be categorized as either a zealous Zionist idealist or a lonesome émigré, looking for a new start in Israel. My personal story, that of struggle with the artificiality of Western society and with the financial tyranny of the American economy, fell on deaf ears. For a while, I couldn’t understand how or why my friends and mentors could turn a blind eye to my personal pain and experiences, and in a few instances even attempt to gaslight me into blaming myself. However, over the years, I began to discover the underlying significance of my struggles, and, hence, why I was being dismissed by Israelis as a renegade.

How I’ve come to see it, my personal struggles with American consumerism and Western artificiality reflect poorly on American society as a whole, and, consequentially, if corroborated by the personal accounts of other American ex-pats, who have similarly left the US for objective, cultural and political reasons, and not only due to an ephemeral, fetishistic, messianic/proto-nationalistic ideation, could theoretically wreak havoc on Israel’s close relationship with the US. Even light criticism of the American hegemony would open the floodgates of anti-American sentiment the world over, and would allow autonomous Israeli institutions to engage in anti-Western discourse alongside America’s ideological enemies. I am surely not a traitor to my motherland, and I have but minor criticisms regarding the US government policy, but the monolithic, occult regard that Israeli officials display towards corrupt American interests befuddles the mind and calls into question the general viability of both the Israeli state and general society. I personally fear that our unilateral approach towards our foreign affairs will spell disaster for us in the long-run, but, as much as I may try to voice my fears, I am silenced by the internal, corrupt elements of the Israeli establishment who work in direct coordination with the US imperial apparatus. It would seem that I have nowhere to go and no one to talk to.

Nevertheless, I’ve stayed in Israel for a long time, longer, at least, than what I had initially expected. I found inner strength through my interactions with friends and mentors, fellow activists, and by asserting myself aggressively through anti-establishment activities, advising local youth of the dangers of our dependence on American beneficence, and by establishing strategic contact with actors associated with rebel factions of the PLO in Ramallah and in Europe. At first, I feared that my anti-establishment activities would draw the ire of the Israeli security establishment. I did not have enough experience to draw upon in order to ascertain the actual risks of being undermined by government actions. Additionally, stories of clandestine infiltration into the most banal of social-action groups and organizations filled me with angst regarding my anti-establishment aims. However, as I progressed, it began to become clear to me that, while Shin Bet remains a potent asset in the West Bank, the Israeli government’s ability to monitor and deter anti-establishment social movements would be limited to formal, bureaucratic barriers.

Coming full circle, I even managed to recently arrange a meeting with a Shin Bet operative at an Israeli police station. I was chewed out a bit for entering Area A, but, as I had expected, my political activities, including my documented run-in with corrupt local officials in Petah Tiqwa (I had lodged a few complaints over the course of my activities in order to leave an official paper trail), were seen as secondary and unimportant, at least compared to my blatant security infraction (entering Ramallah). I now firmly believe that the Israeli security establishment lacks the political will to act ideologically against anti-Zionist forces and may even tacitly approve a new diplomatic course towards multilateral ties with our European neighbors.

The successful navigation of this complex web of diplomatic relations has taken a toll on me. I have sacrificed any sense of anonymity that I believed to have had, and I also have become more entrenched in my antagonism towards the Israeli establishment. If an innate fear of unknown forces had once defined my unconscious adherence to society’s rules and regulations, my current knowledge of the complicated, and at times contradictory nature of the Israeli establishment has neutralized such fears. In a way, I have unintentionally defeated my super-ego, but at what cost? I fear no one, and respect only those who respect me. On the other hand, my unexpectedly intimate contact with Israel’s security apparatus has left an indelible mark on my appreciation of her security interests. I am quite sure that the FBI would have dealt with me much more heavy-handedly if I were to have committed such provocation upon American soil. I am also reassured by my Israeli friends’ and mentors’ reactions to my activities, who have exhibited not only a clear understanding of my goals and methods, but also some support and personal solidarity. If my friends, some of whom have served as ranking officers in the IDF can relate, then maybe I’m not so crazy?

Anyway, until Israel actually begins to move away from such a stupid and dangerous diplomatic position vis-à-vis the US, I will continue to feel disenfranchised by the state and alienated by the gullibility and corruption of the Israelis for collaborating so blatantly with the corrupt Western interests. I hope that one day things will change and the world will stop identifying Israel with the US, but I realize that it will take great leadership to change direction. We may need a social miracle in order to wake up. I also pray that one day I will be able to voice my opposition to the US hegemony in security, knowing that my speaking out will not hurt my social or economic prospects. In today’s Israel, I am branded as a traitor to the cause, and I pay dearly for my political consciousness. Here’s to liberty and justice for all!

About the Author
Originally from Westchester, NY, Aryeh made Aliyah 7 years ago.
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