An opportunity for tikkun in Israeli-diaspora relations

Tzipi Hotovely (Wikipedia/ Author: Arielinson/ (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Jewish News)
Tzipi Hotovely (Wikipedia/ Author: Arielinson/ (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Jewish News)

The coming arrival of the extreme right, pro-annexation, new Israeli ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, is a one of a kind opportunity for Jews in this country.

Her pending appearance gives UK Jews the chance to contend not only with the disagreement they may have with the Israeli government about annexation / Occupation / both; but also, and maybe more importantly, with the problematic structure of Israeli-Diaspora relations.

Essentially what should be an equitable arrangement turns out to be still rooted in an attempt to define who is allowed to say their opinion and who is not; who sacrifices and who is privileged to live comfort, riskless lives; who is the brave and who is the coward; who is the Sabra and who is exilic.

And Mrs Hotovely, proudly dismissive of the Diaspora, will come here to remind you of that.

As a bystander, I have been noticing the change in the Jewish Agency’s approach to Israeli-Diaspora relationships for over a decade, from giver (Diaspora Jews) versus receiver (Israel) to a language of “partnerships”. This includes understanding of differences and the disagreements on core issues such as religious pluralism and the Occupation. While the semantics have changed, what each side gives and receives, hasn’t altered all that much.

You, Diaspora Jews receive a homeland to feel it is yours and to care for it and defend it because this is our collective story. You can become a citizen at any time, have a “shelter” state for God-knows-what-might-happen, and a summer vacation destination which feels yours.

So far, if you were having issues as Jews about supporting the Occupation, you were allowed to share your opposition inside the family; but this is about to change now.

On the other side, Israel receives a forefront of Israeli Hasbara around the world. To combat (antisemitic) hatred against Israel (and our right to exist of course), an Israeli embassy is not enough, the Israeli government also needs Zionist Federations and Boards of Deputies, entities that are one hundred percent loyal to the Israeli government to defend it and protect the Israeli interest. They want you to think that this is also the Jewish interest, but is it?

Netanyahu’s approach to the Diaspora is not that different to that of Ben Gurion, who saw your existence as temporary, as exile. Netanyahu and the Israeli government are putting a lot of effort into reminding you that there are many antisemites in the world who don’t see us as equals, exclusively on the left. Having issues with the ongoing Occupation? No, they are just being picky on us – they are simply antisemites! And if you have enough fear for your existence, you might realise that Israel is the only “safe” place for Jews to live. But is it?

Israel also received 34,000 new Jewish immigrants in 2019, which helps a bit on the demographic front. But in the long term, to maintain a Jewish majority between the Jordan and the Sea? That’s a pretentious dream to have, but it is a dream. And ironically, annexation only makes the Jewish majority dream a delusion.

Netanyahu is a pioneer for the new form of Zionism, which Mrs Hotovely proudly represents. A pioneer in leading the global right, in showing example for other democratic countries how to do less democratic things and disapprove of any international critiques. You shouldn’t listen to them, but on the contrary – use it to show how powerful you are because you just do what you want, working only for your own national interests, discrediting justice, democracy and equality as terms of “the left”, the foreign enemy.

And that enemy has been not only the hostile Arab world, but also Europe and the international community, who are simply obsessed about Israel, as we are taught to believe. But now it’s also going to be you, progressive Jews, who cannot justify the Occupation/annexation/ or both, because they are not Jewish/democratic.

The above mentioned attempt of the Jewish Agency and British Jewish leaders to include differences and criticism inside the Jewish family is reaching a turning point. The Israeli government’s decision to send Hotovely as the Israeli ambassador is an attempt to strengthen the Israeli and Jewish right’s new Hasbara line, according to which Israel and only Israel can decide its fate. In effect, Hotovely’s arrival threatens to throw the status quo of Israeli-Diaspora relations, which has been promoted by the Jewish Agency for years, down the drain.

But it’s not only that. For many years Diaspora Jews have often been guided, directly or not, to feel that you, as a Jew who does not accept the Occupation for the above mentioned reason, better be silent about it. Because you, unlike Israelis, do not risk your lives or send your children to the army. But doesn’tthis Zionist perception belong to the past?

Apparently not.  Mrs Hotovely will come here to remind you that you are living your convenient lives, and that you, unlike Israelis don’t send your children to the army. She probably actually believes that, as many Israelis do.

I was also taught to believe that I am worth more than other people because I am an Israeli who sacrificed three years of my life to the IDF; risking my life in combat is something that Europeans (and Jews among them) would never do. They would never understand, went the argument. And I felt superior for doing that.

But today I myself, as many thousands of Israelis who have broken a silence or two, can tell you that you do not need to live in Israel or send you children to the IDF to receive “Zionist credential” for speaking out on what contradicts your Jewish values. You are not less nor more than us, who served in the IDF; you are an equal person with an equal right to stop this, before it’s too late.

This is so obvious, that it feels even weird to write this. But it needs to be said.

Because Mrs Hotovely will restore the old tricks of Israeli-Diaspora relation: of sacrificer versus the privileged, of the brave versus the coward; of the Sabra versus the exilic;

Of who is allowed to speak their opinion and who is not; Diaspora Jews, are you willing to accept your ‘duty’ to remain silent?


About the Author
Matan is an Israeli peace activist living in London. He is an organiser of Meretz UK and a consultant of The Balfour Project. In the past, he coordinated the global work of the SISO Diaspora-Israeli partnership for ending the occupation, and helped establish the Jewish Democratic Initiative in South Africa