Elchanan Poupko

Jews Deserve a Functioning Homeland

Israeli security forces examine the site hit by a rocket fired from Lebanon, in Kiryat Shmona, northern Israel, March 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The magnitude of instability the Jewish people are experiencing around the world right now is one that would have great thinkers like Herzel, Achad Ha’am, Jabotinsky, Max Nordau, and others staying up late at night, seeking a renewed vision for the future of the Jewish people. So what would they say is the path forward for an increasingly isolated, excluded, and attacked people in the coming century? Unquestionably, they would still point to the land of Israel and the dream of a safe haven for the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland. 

Never would they have dreamed that the reason this is not an obvious solution to so many–most tragically, many now living in Israel–is a group of people who have severely damaged the functioning of the Jewish people’s homeland. Simply put, when Jews around the world need a safe homeland most, the most anti-Zionist coalition in the history of Israel has shaken our homeland to its foundation. 

My own ancestors, the Lishansky family, came to Israel in the 1890s. The family helped build Israel’s most northern city, Metula. They did so out of a deep idealistic belief that they were rebuilding the land of Israel for the entire Jewish people. Today, that same city of Metula and its neighboring Kiryat Shmona are desolate due to Hezbollah rockets and missiles. Tragically, for the first time in a long time, the more destabilized life has become inside Israel, the more unstable it has become for Jews of the diaspora. 

Netanyahu, whose father was a history, will be remembered for the rest of history as the man who has knowingly set the Jewish homeland ablaze while its enemies launched a deadly war on it and while Jews of the diaspora experienced skyrocketing antisemitism. 

It is time for diaspora Jewry to speak up. This is our business. The hard work of building Israel was unquestionably done by those who fought and worked on the ground–inside Israel. Yet the monumental accomplishments of those inside Israel would never have been possible without the help of Jews outside Israel. From Baron Rothschild to the Jewish woman in a shtetl in Poland putting a coin in the JNF’s blue tzedaka box as she lit the Shabbat candles, buying the lands and properties for Kibbutzin and new cities was possible thanks to diaspora Jewry. From Eddie Jacobson lobbying President Truman to those who donated and helped produce Israel’s weapons in the 1948 War of Independence, Diaspora Jewry has been an integral part of the state of Israel. 

Diaspora Jews selflessly did everything they did for Israel out of a deep belief that Jews should have a homeland in our ancestral land of Israel. Today, Israel is not only shaken by war and terrorism from the outside but suffers at the hands of a government that has indisputably destabilized Israel to its core. It is time for diaspora Jewry to step in and demand what we, as a collective community, have poured in so many resources and sacrifices. It is time diaspora Jewry demand the functioning homeland we have helped create. It is time for diaspora Jewry to prevent further destruction of what we helped create. 

How does this begin? By stopping to pretend this is normal. 

Organizations from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America have criticized Senator Chuck Schumer for saying out loud what they know to be true: Netanyahu is a destructive liability to Israel’s international standing. I have spoken with people inside the most staunching pro-Israel organizations in the US, and they all say it when you talk to them. No intelligent person can look at events from the tragedy of Meron to the horrors of October 7th and without feeling moral outrage at what Netanyahu has done to the Jewish people and the state of Israel. You cannot look at how Netanyahu has treated victims of the massacre, families of hostages, and the people of Israel at a time of war and think is business as usual. It is time for American Jewry to stop treating this as normal. It is not. It is time we call this what it is: not normal. 

It is not our place as Americans not living in Israel to tell Israel how to conduct its security operations. It is our place to ask Netanyahu what he is doing on behalf of the more than 100,000 internally displaced Israelis, even as the Knesset votes to give itself a vacation. We helped build the most successful country in the world’s history, and, as it catches fire, it is time for us to ask those in charge how hard they are working to extinguish that fire. 

Not long ago, in my own city of New Haven, Israeli Knesset member Simcha Rothman showed up for an evening of chatter and fine food in discourse with students at Yale University. How is it possible that as IDF reservists who gave everything for Israel, struggle with their businesses closing, or the hardship of claiming disability benefits, Israeli Knesset members wine and dine with fine champagne at events around the world? Rothman is not the only one. Members of Netanyahu’s Kleptokratic coalition have been traveling the world as Israel burns while his own son, Yair Netanyahu, drives around Miami with Israeli taxpayer-funded, highly trained IDF special ops serving as his bodyguards. Jewish communities around the world should stop pretending this is all normal. 

We cannot point out the corruption of the Arafat family, whose wealthy daughter is sitting in Paris or Hamas leaders’ children living in up in Qatar, as we normalize the immorality with which Netanyahu and his partners conduct themselves.

It is time for every Jew around the world to make the simple demand: for a safe and functioning homeland. No, we cannot control every more of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran; nor can the Israeli government control it all. We should be asking for something simple: do not destroy what we helped build. 

This past September, as Israel was on the cusp of being attacked and Israel’s internal fabric was being torn apart, in a meeting with Jewish leaders in New York, Sara Netanyahu demanded Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the reform movement condemn the attacks on her family. The usurping of Israel’s highest office for dictator-style personal gain, fame, and use is unforgivable in ordinary times. Yet when it comes to the homeland of the Jewish people built with the blood, sweat and tears of Jews over more than one hundred and fifty years, it is time we all start asking the difficult questions and making one simple demand: do no harm. 

At times like this, I ask myself what great Jewish visionaries like Herzel, Achad Ha’am, Jabotinsky, and Einstein might have said. It is clear to me that they would not look for new answers. They would simply ask that we not let the fantastically successful homeland they helped create fall apart. 

With a war on its north and south, Israel does not have the luxury to keep a group of kleptocrats and pyromaniacs at its helm. Jews have not needed a safe homeland more than we do now in a very long time. It is time to sound the alarm and do everything we can to make sure those who have inflicted more damage on our beloved homeland than anyone in the history of Zionism step aside and not be allowed to come near its steering wheel ever again. We are not debating policits; we are fighting for the very future of a Jewish homeland in our ancestral homeland. 

About the Author
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a New England based eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher, and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is the president of EITAN--The American Israeli Jewish Network.
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