Ian Joseph

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

“Many Israeli Jews say the Oct. 7 attack — in which thousands of Hamas militants breached the border fence, killed 1,200 people and abducted about 250 — burst any sense of security they felt in this small country surrounded by enemies.” The Forward, Susan Greene, February 9, 2024

 “As Israeli problems escalate and are expected to have internal and external repercussions, more and more Israelis have been lining up in front of European embassies in Tel Aviv to apply for European passports. Western tourist offices revealed that there is an increase in the number of Israelis trying to obtain other passports, in addition to their Israeli ones. More calls have been made to emigrate from Israel because of the internal crisis after liberal Israelis expressed their interest in immigrating.” Dr Adnan Abu Amer, October 6, 2023

“The major mistake that our leaders did is that on the second or the third day after the 7 of October, our Cabinet ministers decided not to discuss the day after. Once we do not know to describe the day after, we do not have any concept of victory, we do not have any political goal.” Ami Ayalon, April 12, 2024

 “…in order to defeat Hamas, we have to win the war of ideas. And we cannot do it by the use of military power. The only way to do it is to create or to present a better idea.” Ami Ayalon, April 12, 2024

“Hamas never believed it would overthrow the Israeli state by military force. Rather, it has followed a well-worn playbook of terrorist organizations that aim to provoke excessive retaliation by military and state forces, fostering further grievances and creating a broader base of civil resistance and strife. The State of Israel is now, unfortunately, following this playbook, responding with lethal actions in the Gaza Strip.“ – Israel is Doing Exactly What Hamas Wants it to Do – Analysis, Sarah Cliffe & Hanny Megally, October 18, 2023

“Israel’s strength allows the country to kill Palestinian civilians, destroy Palestinian infrastructure, and defy global calls for restraint. All those things advance Hamas’s war aims.” – Jon B Alterman, November 23, 2023

I have five ‘lenses’ that I view Israel through 1. The international news media. 2. The Israeli news media both in English and Hebrew. 3. A growing community of Israeli expats in Cyprus. 4. Constant weekly contact with our friends and family in Israel, secular middle-class families living in the center of Israel. 5. My memories of growing up in apartheid South Africa. What follows is a personal synthesis based on input from all five of the above sources.

My impressions of Israel today closely parallels my memories of the progression of events in apartheid South Africa. While Israel, its history and current events are not identical to those of apartheid South Africa, nonetheless many striking similarities cannot be ignored.

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Israel’s image, status, and standing on the world stage are fast approaching that of South Africa at the height of apartheid in the 80s. The Palestinian cause, its prominence, and its righteousness have reached the stage of international recognition of a Palestinian state by a majority of countries. Israeli human rights abuses, both in the International Criminal Court and the court of world opinion have resulted in worldwide condemnation of Israel.

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South Africa’s condemnation and isolation on the world stage occurred in a very similar manner to that which is happening with Israel today. Ranging from official recognition, and awarding of recognition and status to the ANC (Palestinians), demonstrations on the streets and university campuses, student-led boycotts, academic and sporting boycotts, and widespread editorial condemnation in the mass media.

In South Africa, from the earliest that I can recall, a constant topic of conversation at the dinner table, both at home and at dinner parties with friends, was the notion of emigration. Should we leave or should we stay? What foreign countries and passports are available to us? Who is the latest family that has announced they are leaving? Which countries are people going to? The results of the emigration of skilled, educated South African brain power have been damaging to the fabric of South Africa in general and to its aging, ever-shrinking Jewish community. The SA Jewish community, despite an influx of Jewish Israelis, has shrunk from a high of 125,000 in the 70s, to its current low of just over 40,000.

From the viewpoint of Cyprus and its growing community of expatriate Jewish Israelis, I see the same phenomenon occurring – Israelis looking for a haven for themselves, their families, and their money, outside of Israel, and taking steps to achieve that goal. We also hear the same theme repeatedly in discussions with our friends and family in Israel, plans to acquire European passports, questions as to the future of the state, questions as to their safety, questions as to the nature of the state and the future, or lack thereof, for their grandchildren, and so on.

While people have always immigrated to Israel, called colloquially ‘Aliya’ or going up, and emigrated from Israel, with the negative label of ‘yerida’ or going down, from my perspective there now appears to be an increasing trend of secular Israelis who have the opportunity and the capability to do the latter, of actively planning and executing their plans to emigrate from Israel.  According to Globes newspaper 26 Feb 2024, “…60,000 Israelis emigrated in 2023, which compares with an average of just 40,000 emigrants annually over the past decade”. These figures do not take into account the impact of October 7 and the resulting war.

This, against a background of war and personal insecurity in Israel, is not a good message to be spreading, or discussing. It is almost a social taboo in Israel to talk of leaving. Aliya, support, and sacrifice for the good of the Jewish state are an integral part of Israeli culture and its ethos. It’s not that long ago that the then-prime minister of Israel, Yitzchak Rabin, expressed disgust for emigrants (’yordim’, those that go down) and described them as failures, not needed in Israel.

The cause of people talking of emigration/yerida is that Israel is rushing, head-on with eyes wide open, into a disaster that will eventually spell the end of the Jewish state. We are now 33 weeks, 231 days, 7.5 months post-October 7. To date, Israel in the form of Netanyahu and his government have not proposed, discussed, or contemplated any vision for Gaza after Israel finishes eliminating the threat of Hamas. A goal that appears increasingly unachievable. In the absence of an articulated plan, that will win the support and partnership of Saudi Arabia, the USA, and the European community, there are only two realistic outcomes: 1. Hamas will regain power after an Israeli withdrawal or 2. Israel will remain trapped in an endlessly violent occupation of Gaza.

It appears increasingly likely that 2. is the outcome that will prevail unless Netanyahu and the current coalition are forced out of power.

Not only is there no ‘day after’ plan, but 231 days post October 7, and Israel is, to all intents and purposes, occupied by Iran in the North and South with more than 100,000 Israelis still displaced from their homes and no target date in sight for when they will be able to return.

While Israelis have constantly lived with the threats of war and terrorism, the current situation is different from any previous violent outbreaks of war or terrorism. Firstly the scale, more than 1,200 were killed in Israel on October 7 with 845 of them civilian deaths. Secondly, the location, inside Israel versus a conflict outside of Israel’s borders resulted in an unprecedented evacuation of more than 100,000 Israelis from their nomes. Thirdly the massive deaths of civilians on October 7, versus predominantly military casualties in the past. Fourthly, previous wars and campaigns were either fought against conventional armies, in clearly defined territories with achievable outcomes and limited duration or terrorist forces in clearly defined areas. The current war is being simultaneously fought on five fronts, North, South, West Bank, Iran, and the world stage of public opinion, with no defined political goals or anticipated end. Finally, the timeline, previous campaigns or wars were relatively limited in scope and duration, this war has been ongoing for 231 days at the time of writing, and no end in sight. 

All of the above has resulted in a massive loss of confidence from many Israelis in their government and security agencies’ abilities to provide for the personal safety of them and their families. This is accompanied by an increased lack of confidence in the future without an end in sight to the endless war with the Palestinians which has been raging for one hundred years.

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Netanyahu, together with the help of Hamas, has managed to persuade a majority of Israelis that the PLO-led Palestinian Authority (PA) is no different from Hamas. This is despite decades of close security cooperation between Israel and the PA which has prevented uncounted terror attacks. All in an attempt to discredit the very idea of a second-state solution to the conflict with Netanyahu repeating over and over that a second state would mean the end of Israel.

In the absence of a two-state solution, the only alternatives are either to continue with the status quo, which is unsustainable, or the creation of a second state where Jews will be the minority.

Just as in South Africa, many will stay, either for patriotic reasons, out of idealism, or for want of the means to leave. Just as the Jews of South Africa have left, and continue to leave, so too will the secular elites and other Israelis leave for the promise of a safer, more secure future for themselves and their families.

Unfortunately South Africa, once again, provides a very clear picture as to the consequences of emigration by elites and others with the will and the means to emigrate. 

Unless there is a clear vision of a future Israeli state that is at peace with the Palestinians in the area, Israel will become further isolated, and Israelis will continue to emigrate. Only a vision that encompasses a second state for the region can bring peace, security, and a prosperous Israel that will encourage Israelis to stay rather than continue to ask if now is the time to leave.

About the Author
Born and educated in South Africa, a graduate of Jewish day school and Habonm Dror, Ian Joseph served in the IDF as an officer in combat units, and currently resides in North Carolina and Cyprus. Ian holds an MBA from Shulich School of Business in Toronto, is certified as a Master Instructor by the American Sailing Association and is currently retired from IBM. Among other pursuits Ian edits a weekly newsletter of Israeli news items, teaches sailing around the world and certifies sailing instructors.
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