I wrote this a few days before the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. The intention was to highlight the only realistic solution for Israel, not the Diaspora. Now I’m starting to believe it’s for both. (More about America’s anti-Semitic tumor in upcoming articles this week.)
___________________________________________________________________________ Israel doesn’t need a ‘reverse Birthright’ or any other solution that frames the divisions within World Jewry as Israel vs. the Diaspora. These kinds of ideas show lots of good intention, but not much understanding about the problem, or the Jews, within World Jewry.
Diaspora Jews who make it a point to be Jewish have heard the word “Israel” from the moment they could hear. Ever since 1948, when the meaning of the word changed from dream to reality, generations of Jews from all over the world have been raised with intense love in their hearts for a place they’ve never been to. Birthright, Masa and all the programs like it, are the miracle Jews created which brings their love to life.
There’s no way to replicate such an intense love with anything resembling a free trip to Seattle.
Americans aren’t asking for Israelis to understand American culture. Didn’t anyone tell these guys at the GA the whole globe spins on American culture? Whatever the solution to the problems we’re having, it doesn’t require Israel sending thousands of young soldiers freshly released from active duty, halfway across the world to play beer pong at the frat house.
Unless it’s their reward for missing out on all the years when most kids get to actually care about beer pong. Or for all the four-hour sleeps after 12-hour days in a bunker. Or for the very last year of their teenage years spent sleeping in a tent with too many smelly soldiers, their machine gun tucked safely between their arms at all times.
As a reward it makes sense. As a solution it doesn’t.
The politician at the GA who was actually most honest about the problem was Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s not someone usually known for his honesty about problems, but here he spoke honestly about the limited solutions. Regardless of who the next prime minister of Israel will be, anything they want to do in the job will need consideration from the politically religious.
If that makes you disappointed, don’t lose hope yet. You weren’t going to change many minds to begin with.
For those who believe Bibi is the problem, replacing him seems like the obvious solution. Except, as of today, no other politician has convinced enough Israelis they can do better than Bibi, or sound like an American when they do the job abroad. The more he acts in ways the Diaspora doesn’t like, the higher his poll numbers go in Israel. The people they’re polling are the ones who put him in power with their vote. They have the power to remove him, or to give him another term.
If you’re Benjamin Netanyahu, which audience would you serve?
Replacing the current Prime Minister of Israel is not realistic unless you’re the attorney general or can vote in Likud primaries. Replacing him with somebody who doesn’t think like him is not even an option, so might as well work with the horse you’ve got. Maybe you can train him to run better in your direction.
Bibi does a great job at whatever he wants to do a great job at. From his early days at the UN through his later days as Finance Minister, if there’s one thing Bibi’s proven, he can get the job done if it’s in his interest to do so. What’s great about Bibi is he doesn’t have a lot of interests besides keeping Israel safe and keeping his job. Otherwise, he’s usually willing to work for whatever you want him to do – as long as you get him the votes to support it.
It’s simple political math. There are already enough Israelis who will vote for Bibi no matter what, so he’s going to be around for a while as long as he stays out of jail.
If that disappoints you, don’t lose hope yet.
Just because Bibi, or someone similar, will continue as prime minister, it doesn’t mean they have to continue governing from the far right. Bibi wasn’t lying on stage at the GA, he has to govern with the interests of the parties in his coalition, interests that were bought for with political capital in some way.
The current coalition includes all the religious parties, as it usually does since they don’t subscribe to a political ideology. When your politics is religion you can swing right or left, to whichever side guarantees to serve your interests best. The only real condition these parties put on joining the government?
They have just enough power to bring the whole thing down.
These factors combined are the reason in Israel that politics is religion, and religion is politics.
HOW TO TAKE POWER
Almost every government in Israel has needed the religious parties to form a coalition before time runs out and the next guy gets a turn. This is exactly what happened when the centrist party Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni, won the 2009 general election by one seat in parliament, yet was unable to form a coalition no matter how much time she had.
President Shimon Peres had to give the next party with the most seats a chance to form a coalition so the government could move forward with managing the affairs of the country. Likud, led by Netanyahu, has been in power ever since. They didn’t even need to win the election outright.
Whether its Likud, or one of the other right-wing parties, together as a block they have more power than the left-wing block. No single party has proven capable of winning more than 25% of the vote in the last decade. That’s why parties take a backseat to coalitions in Israel. If you assess Israeli politics by coalitions instead of parties and leaders, it’s much easier to see where the problem lies.
It actually starts to look like a two-party system. One might even call them Republicans and Democrats.
If that sounds exciting because it feels like an opening for the left, don’t underestimate demographics in politics: Whoever comes next in the following decades will almost certainly be more righteous, because Israel will be more religious. With demographics going in one direction at a pace no amount of free love can keep up with, even if a leader wanted to change course, no one has enough political power to change the status quo.
Israel’s divisions go much deeper than left/right politics. There are Arab/Jewish divisions, religious/secular divisions, settler/peacenik divisions, Ashkenazi/Mizrachi divisions (although not so much anymore). All these divisions between different sectors of society end up canceling each other out, leaving nobody with enough power to make substantial changes.
Politics reflect society’s demands. A pluralist society has multiple interests to serve. Politics is how we group those demands into organized interests for the leadership to consider. The better you can organize, the more consideration your interests will receive.
Everyone has interests.
When people who have the same interests cooperate by pooling their vote, they instantly become an interest group as their voice is now worth more than one vote. If enough interest groups share the same general opinion about politics, they can cooperate at an even higher level to form a political party.
The political battles being waged all over the world is a war of interest groups cooperating at an increasingly high level to strengthen their voice. It’s not very clear what either side wants from the other, as most people seem more interested in winning small battles rather than ending the war.
In Israel, the battle of left vs. right is really a cover for all the other battles which have been there from the start. It’s probably the same way in everyone’s country, since politics is formed the same way in everyone’s heart. The mind only works on the best way to sell it.
The root of all politics is group identity of some kind. Everyone felt before they could think, which is exactly the time when our politics begin to form. As hard as it is to change political opinions, its not nearly as hard as changing religious beliefs. If religion existed before someone’s politics, then that person’s politics comes from religious morals, instilled in their heart before their mind was even conscious.
As hard as it is changing religious morals, it’s not nearly as hard as when they’re also political morals.
If we’re serious about fixing the many problems in Israel, we should be seriously realistic when considering solutions, especially if there doesn’t appear to be more than one: The only way to moderate Israel’s government or its policies is to change the demographics in Israel.
It’s not as hard as it seems. If 1 million Russian Jews, most of whom were penniless, can move up to Israel in the early 1990s, when Israel was barely recovering from its own penniless period, then surely 1 out of 8 million other Diaspora Jews love Israel enough to live in the homeland – during its prime – and save it from political peril.
Expanding the population by more than 20% in one shot was no walk in the park for either Russians or Israelis. But everyone is happy in the next generation since the native-born children of the Russian Jews who came penniless are now making the most money as engineers working in high-tech. They also provided Israel with some of the biggest, strongest, most patriotic soldiers in the IDF.
Imagine what Israel could do with 1 million Americans.
If 20% of American Jewry decided to move up to Israel – 90% of whom the rabbinate doesn’t consider “Jewish enough” to marry – then American Jews would have enough power in their homeland to change the course of their history’s future.
Changing the demographics in Israel changes the entire power structure. As a group who is very politically organized and experienced, if 1 out of 5 American Jews is willing to change the demographics in Israel – then American Jews could change anything else they want about Israel.
Like who gets to decide who’s Jewish enough to get married there.
(Imagine what you could with 2 million Americans…)
ISRAEL IS FOR THE JEWS
All of World Jewry – the Jews in Israel and the Diaspora – should benefit from the achievement of generations of idealistic dreamers who built a world for the Jews almost from scratch. These are the generations who chose to work their bodies to the bone, or donated their bodies in battle, while everyone back home was either running for their lives or standing around complaining.
Thanks to these Jews – the kind who traded in the easy life for a harder one on the other side of the world – the rest of us get to live as liberated Jews wherever we are today in the world. Without needing to live there or ever having visited, is there any sane Jew who believes their life would be better if we went back to the world that existed before Israel?
Wait, there’s a flip side.
Without needing to live there or ever having visited, is there any sane Israeli who believes Israel would exist if there wasn’t a hundred years of help from the rest of the world’s Jews?
A relationship will never work if it doesn’t work in both directions. For more than a century this has been a one-way street which is coming to an end. It’s a street everyone knew had to be one-way in the beginning. There was no other way to build it at the time. But now that it’s built – standing stronger than ever – it’s time to start building in the other direction.
Israel is not for Israelis alone. First, it’s for the Jews.
There’s also a flip side, of course, because Judah was a Tribe of Israel, not the other way around.
If we really believe we’re all from the same tribe, then everyone can be a member of the tribe from any nation. No one needs to choose between their home and their homeland, but everyone should be on the same page about which one comes first. That also includes Israelis who are living in a home, which is also the homeland of every Jew in the world.
If we’re going to prevent this Jewish rift from becoming a Jewish earthquake, we have to be precise when identifying the cause. Otherwise, how do we locate the fault lines if we don’t even know where to look?
Everyone can love more than one country, as long as there’s enough love to go around. No one has to live in the homeland in order to love it, but you do have to live there if you really want to change it. It’s the only way to make an impact besides giving your opinion, otherwise all this talk of a rift, no matter how many studies support it, to Israelis, looks a lot like standing around complaining.
The Diaspora is correct when it says Israel has serious problems which affect them. Israel should be thrilled Diaspora Jewry still cares enough to want to help. But Israelis are never going to learn that much about the Diaspora because no matter how much they learn – they will never consider moving there as an entire nation of people.
Israelis love Diaspora Jewry as much as Diaspora Jews love Israel. But there’s a reason most Jews move from the Diaspora to Israel, not in reverse. It’s the same reason their children don’t usually go back. Israelis will never love the Diaspora like Diaspora Jews loves Israel, nor should they. That’s why one is called home, the other is called the homeland.
If we’re going to heal the growing rift within world Jewry, we need to stop pretending the problem can be fixed by changing Israeli minds where they believe they know better, let alone in matters of politics or religion.
Religion drives politics all over the world, especially in Israel where it’s also the law. There’s no way to change it without changing minds or demographics. The one hope we have? Any Jew with a one-way ticket can change both in one shot.
But it’s a much easier move when you’re not running for your life.
(P.S. – Israel will pay for the ticket.)
- American Jewry
- British Jewry
- Conservative Judaism
- European Jewry
- GA 2018
- Israel-Diaspora Ties
- Israel-US Relations
- Israeli Politics
- Jewish Assimilation
- My Judaism
- Reconstructionist Judaism
- Reform Judaism
- religious-secular divide
- Ultra-Orthodox Jews
- World Zionist Congress