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Should we stay or should we go? Indecision about aliyah harms Israel

Congressman Jerrold Nadler, New York Attorney General Letitia James, New York Governor Kathy Hochul, head of the Jewish Community Relations Council Gideon Taylor, and parade grandmaster Harley Lippman. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, New York Attorney General Letitia James, New York Governor Kathy Hochul, head of the Jewish Community Relations Council Gideon Taylor, and parade grandmaster Harley Lippman. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Five and a half years ago, I decided to make Aliyah and leave the US. I remember a conversation that I had shortly before making the decision with an extended family member who works at NSA about the Pollard case. I said that, of course, while the US and Israel share many interests, I clarified that if put in such a position, I would most likely be willing to betray the diplomatic interests of the US in order to safeguard the security interests of Israel. The family member took affront and seemed insulted. According to his line of reasoning, I had grown up in the US and owed the country an uncompromising and total allegiance.

I was reminded of what had seemed like an esoteric, theoretical debate, as I began to make progress with my anti-establishment activities here in Israel. Ironically, most of my activities seemed, at first, mostly directed against the Israeli establishment. Shortly after making aliyah, I began to develop a deep criticism of secular Zionism. I felt alienated from Israeli society, unwelcome and unappreciated by all, apart from my friends and mentors in the Religious-Zionist communities. While five years later I feel a bit more confident in my Israeli identity and my grasp of Hebrew, I still bear the underlying disappointment that I felt upon disembarking from my Aliyah flight. The brief, euphoric sense of patriotic pride and collectivism instantly became marred by the insidious and aggressive individualism that is shared by most of our societies in the West. Where was the comfort that I had long sought and yearned for?

My issues with Israel soon began to direct my criticism to the more general malaise recognized as a global problem. Of course, Israel has its acute problems of racism and apartheid, but I also instinctively was able to interpret at least parts of the systemic issues as a mere symptom of the greater issues that affect all of humanity. I was dismayed by the situation in the West Bank, but I also understood the acute security threat felt by all who have ever lived in the Jewish settlements. My problems with Israel became relegated to a generic subset of the problems that I had with many other aspects of Western society, such as the historical legacy of war, colonialism and genocide. I didn’t wish to minimize the suffering of those directly affected by the unequitable system, but I also needed to somehow stay afloat in Israel’s insane culture and not lose my sense of self in the disarray.

Around a year ago, push came to shove, and I began to explore the direct impact of US foreign policy over the European continent. As an Ashkenazi Jew bearing European heritage, I felt that it would only seem fit to observe and learn about the situation on the ground. I flew to Italy and began to speak with the locals and what I learned came to haunt me.

I understood from the locals that the continuing US presence on the continent is unwarranted and detrimental to the local interests of the sovereign, democratic, nation-states. For the first time in my experience as an activist, I began to use my Israeli identity as a way of legitimizing my interest in the complexities of Western European politics. Intuitively, I understood that Israel represents only a small, wayward country, one who’s corrupt politicians and government only slightly interests the large, industrious, population of my ancestral continent. Of course, many Europeans voice strong feelings regarding the situation in Israel/Palestine, but, again, many Europeans understand that Israel is not wholly responsible for the current situation. As I began to meet people from different walks of life, refugees from East-Asia, Africa and the Middle-East, I started to count my blessings that I, at least, didn’t have to contend with the moral conscience of having carpet-bombed the Vietnamese, of invading Iraq and Afghanistan or of destabilizing Syria and Libya. I came to understand that while the Israelis may be petty occupiers, they’re not directly responsible for the majority of human suffering in the world.

These critical lenses, afforded to me by my exploration of the European psyche, granted me a reprieve from the aggressive criticism of Israel that had been building up since making aliyah. I began to remind myself constantly that criticizing Israel, while legitimate and important, was unproductive in the global scheme of things. The Israelis, and the Palestinians, were just a fish too small to interest my globalist sense of responsibility. I’m in no way justifying or minimizing the conflict here, I just feel the need to put things into greater perspective.

My time in Europe was now defined by my sincere attempt at remediating the image the world has of Israel as a bloody, immoral society. I try to convince my friends and fellow activists that the Israelis are willing to change, are willing to end the conflict and live peacefully with the Palestinians, but are impeded by global, hegemonic, interests that are significantly allied with US foreign policy. My criticism of the West, in general, brings me back to my original, innocent, expectations of comfort and social solidarity that I had hoped I would find in Israel. In a way, my discoveries in Europe helped me understand and process the traumatic loneliness that I had experienced as a solitary teenager in suburban America. I’m able to assign the pain I feel now to the traumas I suffered while still residing in the US, and I’ve gained a large degree of appreciation for the Israelis for tolerating my idiosyncrasies, both borne of such traumas, and of my legitimate criticism of the West. The degree to which I have been able to air my grievances against the establishment, through educational and political activities, without being unduly interfered with by the authorities, just goes to show how well the Israelis respect democratic liberalism, even while curtailing such liberties in the West Bank. In a sense, just my physical being, and the social energies that I represent, shows my friends and colleagues in Europe that they may have been too quick to demonize the Israelis, that maybe all is not as it appears.

Which brings me back to my initial assertion. The Israelis have shown great hospitality to my anti-establishment activities, and my active incitement against the Western hegemony. I’ve even turned myself over to the Palestinian Police in Ramallah (and was later turned over to the Israeli Police) in order to gain a better perspective on the intricacies of the pressures facing the Palestinian establishment and in order to coordinate my anti-establishment activities in Israel proper. It seems very implausible to me that Israeli security remains oblivious of my activities, but, as it seems, they are letting me continue to incite, provoke and influence. Maybe they don’t see me as a threat. More likely yet, they have approved of my activities and are willing to let me continue just as long as I clarify my allegiance to their security interests, which are sometimes at odds with the diplomatic interests and pressures facing the country. I don’t consider myself an agent, but I can’t discount the distinct possibility that I am being surveilled, even as I write and publish this article. If my instincts prove to be true, the Israelis are upset with the US and are interested in coordinating with state interests in Europe that are critical of the US hegemony.

For the Modern-Orthodox Jews living in the US, it would seem that the question of aliyah is a private affair: To each their own. However, as I’ve come to understand, the indecision of Modern-Orthodox Jews and their inability to deliver a coherent, collective response to the question, directly harms the diplomatic interests of the Religious-Zionist communities in Israel, and thereby the security interests of Israel. Hassidic and Reform Jews in America make it clear to the Israeli security establishment that they are happy living in the US and that they trust the Americans with their security and diplomatic interests, affirming their allegiance to the American state.

Modern-Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, provoke many elements of the American establishment with incoherent answers and internal corruption that raises the suspicion of the presence of foreign agents (mostly diplomatic agents) in some of our globalist institutions. We cannot remain steadfastly on-the-fence forever, we must make our intentions clear to the US if we wish to maintain communal integrity and stability in relations with our host country. If we wish to retain a large presence in the US, we must stop broadcasting to the world our unabashed and uncompromising support for Israeli foreign interests, which many Europeans, and even Americans (!) find suspect. If we wish to leave, we must take realistic steps in that direction, advocating and coordinating aliyah through proper, formal, diplomatic channels. Blind faith in Israel as a magical, messianic savior, compounds the problems not only for the communities themselves but also for the Religious-Zionist communities whose institutions much leverage and compensate for such appeals for security and attention as representatives of the Israeli establishment.

The current state of affairs, whereby the Israelis must monitor and account for the instability of the Modern-Orthodox community while also juggling the anti-Western sentiment that is increasingly being thrust upon us by antisemitic elements of the European establishment, wastes valuable resources and allows for corrupt elements of the American establishment, e.g. the Evangelical lobby, to exert disproportionate pressures over the internal political and diplomatic affairs of Israel. It would not surprise you that the same Evangelical lobby which pushes for and coordinates aliyah (through Nefesh B’Nefesh) also increases Israel’s tensions with the Catholic Church, a major actor in European, South American and Middle-Eastern political spheres. This indecisiveness, then, creates tension and “locks-in” Israeli diplomatic interests to those of the corrupt elements of the US establishment, harming our interests worldwide. If the Modern-Orthodox communities would just take collective responsibility for themselves and their community members, the Israelis would theoretically gain the ability to move independently of the illegitimate pressures exerted on our establishment through the Modern-Orthodox-Religious-Zionist channels, and we would be able to work more efficiently with European powers in order to advance the collective interests of our region.

If Modern-Orthodox institutions continue to abuse their influence over internal Israeli affairs, the Israeli establishment will need to act in unconventional ways that may harm the local interests of the Modern-Orthodox communities. In order to minimize the confusion and instability, Modern-Orthodox leaders must address the issue of unabashed allegiance to Israeli diplomatic interests and begin to clarify their neutrality vis a vis potential conflicts of interest between Israel and the US in Europe and the Middle-East. Zionism as a religious ideology will always remain sacrosanct, but the geopolitical reality that defines our relations with European powers must be taken into account and be dealt with. The Americans don’t wish to harm their own civilians, but they need to be assured that these Zionist hotbeds will not be used against them in order to avoid discomfort. It’s time for Modern-Orthodox leaders to wake up and take responsibility for their communities:

Stop participating in anti-establishment discourse while taking it for granted that the Israelis will cover for you if you get in trouble. Stop trying to leverage Israeli interests against the US cultural/political establishment. Stop conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism. Stop serving an ideologically-driven uncoordinated effort to defend complex Israeli foreign policy decisions. We don’t need your help. Stop abusing the diplomatic and security resources of the Israeli establishment to cover for internal corruption. Stop scapegoating Israelis/Palestinians.

Most importantly: Stop crying wolf.

About the Author
Originally from Westchester, NY, Aryeh made Aliyah 5 years ago and identifies with the National-Religious community in Israel.
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