The new crisis in Israel-Diaspora relations is upon us with the backlash over Tzipi Hotovely’s remarks about how American Jews lead “convenient” lives and don’t understand what Israel goes through because they don’t send their kids to serve in the military or live under rocket fire (notwithstanding Lone Soldiers and overrepresentation of Jews in the US Military). Now seemingly everyone has pitched in, with opinions ranging from stating that Hotovely should be fired to being angry that she apologized for her comments.
Many of her comments are about what young American Jews do, so I’m going to take a shot at representing at least some of my age group.
First: is Hotovely wrong about convenient lives? Absolutely not. I was born in 1997, and an Israeli my age would have lived through the second Intifada, the Gaza disengagement, rocket fire from Gaza, 3 Gaza operations, the kidnapping and killing of three yeshiva boys…need I go on? Yes, in America there are unique challenges and problems, and this does not discount the personal struggles that every individual goes through. But did I go through what an Israeli my age has? Of course not. So yes, American Jews do lead more convenient lives.
Is there such a lack of self respect in the American Jewish community that this has to be a source of immediate outrage and offense? In any argument, one must first look at oneself before pointing fingers at the other. While many offended by Hotovely’s remarks raise her as another straw on the camel’s back of Israeli disrespect towards the Diaspora, it is a reality that she is not fundamentally wrong. As a Millennial Jew who grew up in America, right now most of my generation is partying away stress and anxiety in college instead of serving in the military to defend the country.
Which then brings me to the problem with Hotovely. Part of her comments were specifically about how American Jews don’t send their kids to serve in the military, and therefore they can’t understand Israel. In most cases that an Israeli is fed up with American Jewish opinions, I’ve heard this argument used: how can you say or know anything when you haven’t served? This makes it sound like every Israeli is on the border with Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, every one of them loaded with weaponry and on the front lines. But thats just not true. Most of the jobs in the IDF aren’t combat. Many Israelis are jobniks. To then use that argument fully, why should even any jobnik Israeli get a say in what Israel does if they haven’t served in combat and been in, lets say, Hebron? Why should Tzipi Hotovely, who didn’t serve herself, have a say in Israel, let alone be an MK in Likud?
So this argument is also inaccurate. If the broader point is that American Jews don’t live in Israel, so stay out of Israeli business, that carries a bit further, but completely neglects that many American Jews do have a vested interest in Israel. My family immigrated from the USSR to the United States, and I have family (as well as friends) who live in Israel. Is that not important enough of a tie to be able to express my opinion on what Israel does? Yes, I can’t vote, but I also can’t vote in Ukraine or Belarus, where I also have family connections. Does that mean I can’t criticize Ukraine or Belarus? And we’re going to side step the overwhelming amount of money and political support that America gives Israel (from our tax money), all thanks to American Jewish advocacy.
And to truly reach the point of young American Jews, any conversation around BDS or any kind of anti-Israel or anti-semitic activity on college campuses has countless Israelis criticizing what American Jews do and directly sticking themselves into American Jewish politics through organizations like StandWithUS and Hasbara. And lets not even go into Bibi publicly involving himself in the 2016 Presidential Elections by calling Drumpf his friend and supporting Drumpf’s border wall plans. So Israel gets to criticize away American Jewish concerns and get angry about American Jewish political opinions, but getting neck-deep into American Jewish politics is completely okay? That is a dishonest and non-sustainable balance.
Both Israelis and American Jews need to take a step back. I don’t agree with everything Hotovely said, but I also don’t think she should be fired, or that she’s an anti-semite. If Israeli-Diaspora relations are going to get better anytime soon, both sides must be clear about the mutual resentment poisoning the relationship (and as a Millennial, I know something about resentment and poisoning relationships). Only once the honest opinions are out loud can they be worked through and the relationship healed. So thank you Tzipi Hotovely for being honest, and lets work from there.