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Painful concessions and American Jews

Instead of urging Israel to uproot Jews in the West Bank, US Jews should uproot themselves and make aliya

A group of prominent American Jews released a letter last week, calling on painful compromises for peace. The sacrifices they envisioned potentially include hundreds of thousands of Jews leaving their homes and livelihoods behind, being uprooted and relocated, all for the sake of a Jewish majority in Israel. Similarly, in April, 100 prominent American Jews signed a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu also calling for the proverbial “painful sacrifices” for peace. Apparently, such painful concession letters have become a trend.

This summer, thousands of American Jews are making precisely such painful sacrifices for peace. To preserve Israeli democracy, they will uproot themselves, leave everything behind, and move. They do so voluntarily, before the situation has reached a crisis. They do not await or expect compensation from the government.

These are the Jews making aliyah from the U.S this summer. Of course, this is not the “painful sacrifice” the signatories had in mind.

The “demographic argument” for territorial concessions holds that there are too few Jews in the areas under Israeli control. If American Jews worry about this, the most direct and positive solution is increasing the number of Jews in the area. Fortunately, America has some five million Jews, even a small portion of whom would be a real help.

On the other hand, expelling Jews from their homes in the West Bank, where many have lived for generations, will be economically and emotionally devastating for Israel. Moreover, it does not change the number of Jews between the river and the sea, and thus leaves Israel open to secessionist demands on behalf of Israeli Arabs in, say, the Negev and Galil regions, which have high percentages of Arab residents. It is now clearer than ever that the Palestinian authorities continue to claim to represent Israeli Arabs as well – witness the demand for the release of Israeli Arab murders as a down payment on negotiations. Thus, expulsions may simply be rearranging the demographic deck chairs on the Titanic.

Aliyah would steer away from the iceberg. Adding even 150,000 American Jews would be a major boost to Israel. The creativity and success of American Jews would give a massive boost to the Israeli economy, and their very arrival would inject optimism and momentum into the society. To be sure, American Jews would not radically remake the demographic situation because of their extraordinarily low fertility rate – the lowest of any ethnic group in the U.S. – but this only emphasizes that American Jews are not well-positioned to give demographic advice.

Obviously, one might think such a suggestion is unrealistic. How can one expect 150,000 American Jews to leave their lives behind to come to Israel – even if it is in the name of peace? Sure, aliyah is a wonderful ideal, but for many people, it is just not practical – they have jobs here, kids are in schools, their lives are here. Just not practical.

Yes, moving 150,000 people is not reasonable, realistic, or practical. So American Jewish leaders should not recommend Israelis make the exact kind of “painful concessions” that they themselves are unwilling to make.

Whatever one might think of the need for “painful concessions,” or the proper role of the Diaspora in Israeli affairs, on this issue in particular, American Jews have no right to call for Israelis to make painful sacrifices for peace – because they are precisely the kind of sacrifices the former have, by definition, refused to make.

At the very least, one would wonder why signatories of such letters, concerned as they are about Israel’s demographics, do not as actively promote aliyah as they do expulsion.

About the Author
Eugene Kontorovich is a professor at the George Mason University Scalia Law School, and the director of its Center for the Middle East and International Law, as well as the director of the international law department at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a Jerusalem think tank.
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