Why the response to the fracturing of Israel needs to be a re-engagement of the Diaspora
Whether the judicial overhaul is completed or not, the Reform camp led by Netanyahu and his radical religious coalition has catalyzed the Great Disengagement of the Zionist mainstream from the Messianic aspirations for a Greater Israel.
One doesn’t need to agree that there is no democracy while maintaining an occupation to recognize the small, motivated minority of Israeli citizens behind the efforts to weaken an independent court system. This minority consists mainly of legislators and think-tankers living a messianic daydream, sustained by decades of subsidies from Israel’s mainstream. Until now, the mainstream tolerated their often violent actions, akin to a sibling with a bad habit. But no longer.
In a sense, the architects of this legislation have had their wish fulfilled: they wanted the Israeli mainstream to experience the disengagement from the Gaza Strip as they did. By repeatedly highlighting the disengagement, they compelled the Zionist mainstream to realize that Ariel Sharon didn’t complete the task: the State of Israel could never fully embody its founding values while maintaining a twilight-zone-hold on millions of humans who do not have the same standing before the law. The Zionist community now understands that the Israel created by the Declaration of Independence must disengage from the Messianic dream of Greater Israel, or Greater Israel will disengage from the principles that formed the State in the first place.
Israelis who contribute economically, serve their country, and pay taxes have reached the limit of their patience with the dream of Greater Israel. Over the past decades they’ve endured the costs in shekels, international condemnation, and ethical compromises required of them to sustain the Messianic militia of hilltop youth out of a sense of wistfulness, out of political compromises. Now that the violence ‘out there’ has attacked them within their own home they’ve had enough. Enough paying the price in years and sweat and tears to defend a smattering of settlement. Enough.
This sense of enough has spread beyond Israel to reach the Diaspora, which the Zionist movement reluctantly embraced 75 years ago and now relies heavily upon. Lay leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, professionals, and public officials have experienced a profound shift in their relationship with Israel since Yariv Lavin’s speech on January 4, 2023. While some have grown less committed to Israel, many have grown more determined to ensure Israel survives this disengagement. In my opinion, the long-term fate of the Jewish People hinges on these individuals in the Diaspora, perhaps even more so than the activists within Israel as we near our second Yavneh moment.
Just as in the first Yavneh moment — when the future of Israel was determined outside the walls of a Zion burning from within — I believe the Diaspora will play a critical role in our collective future because the question of ‘Who is a Jew’ will not be answered by those in power today, but rather by the generations who hold the strongest sense of communal solidarity. Despite the fervent identity of the Messianists, their callousness towards other Jews has been exposed during this upheaval. They, along with the members of this governing coalition, are unable to embrace a communal framework that accommodates diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. History has shown that such zealotry has plagued other extremist factions of the people of Israel, and ultimately led to their downfall. A politics of purity is anathema to the mixed multitude of Israel. If we are to survive as a People, it will be because we were able to build and maintain a wide tent to accommodate all twelve contemporary tribes.
Let us remember that when the Temple fell, both times, it was rebuilt by those living outside the Land. While the people in Israel must do everything in their power to prevent the government from eroding the foundation of the State, it is equally critical for the people outside of Israel to join their counterparts within the State in developing a new vision for the Jewish future. Just as Zionism inspired us to assert our place among the 19th-century nations, we need a fresh vision to guide our ancient mission as a people in the 21st century.
We require an organizing framework that celebrates our diversity as the children of Israel while unifying us in our purpose. A framework that applies to the world as is – more global, more challenged by climate chaos, more polarized by social media and contemporary economics – and organizes the People contribute our unique values and commitment to fixing that which is broken. While the political Zionism of the State relegated the Diaspora to a supportive role, what we need today is a partnership among the People of Israel shared across borders, as envisioned by Ahad Ha’am and Mordechai Kaplan as a means to realize our collective potential as a unique force in history. A people who has experienced both slavery and freedom, exile and return, and grown wise enough to dedicate its life not only for itself but for all of Creation.
This is why the Great Disengagement necessitates an even greater re-engagement of the Diaspora with the essence of our shared state of being. It calls for reconnecting with the mixed multitude of Jews and non-Jews who constitute today’s children of Israel. It demands a renewed focus on our core purpose as a people, spoken by that still, small voice that has resonated through generations and motivated us to continue walking the path started by our forefather Abraham. In response to the Great Disengagement, we must redefine our narrative to illuminate a path from this fractured present to a brighter future.