Itai Carmeli

The Reforms in Israel: An American Oleh’s Opinion

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I am a first generation American, born to Israeli parents who met while working for the Israeli Mission to the United Nations in New York City. After a few years there, my parents decided to raise their family in the good ol’ US of A. Yet, despite my American upbringing, I was consistently surrounded by homages to the Jewish State. And that’s how it began for me, the dream of Israel: my parents telling me stories of where they grew up. My father sharing tales of his service in the IDF that, to a little boy, were cooler than any of the Transformers movies. My grandparents coming to visit us with the sweetest chocolate Kinder eggs I ever tasted, telling me how important it is to be Jewish in Israel. My mom always reminding me how I was destined to marry a nice Jewish girl and that it would be so much easier to find one Israel. The far-off land where my ancestors wandered, where my cousins were living and serving in the army, where I could feel safe being a Jew and celebrating Jewish holidays, became, in my mind, this mystical place that I was obligated to one day return to.

When I did return to Israel, everyone thought I was crazy. “Why would you move from New York to Israel?” was a question everyone in my military unit constantly asked me. For a while, I had no doubt that I had made the right choice. Yes, Israel was a more politically charged environment than America was, and yes, it was harder to pay for the same things as in America, and yes, Amazon didn’t deliver straight to the door here in the holy land. Living in Israel, by all accounts, required a higher price to pay, compared with living in the United States. Yet, in my early Aliyah days, I was happy, and even eager, to pay that price. Because in return for it, I was getting a country. A country that would always be a home for Jews, a country that endured hardships to come out better on the other side. The value of what I was got when I made Aliyah was, in my mind, so high that the hardships of living in Israel were a small price to pay.

Recently, though, the price doesn’t feel so small, and the return on investment doesn’t feel so big. Since I made Aliyah 12 years ago, with the exception of one year, I have had the same Prime Minister. I lost track of how many times we as a country went to the polls just to keep the same person in power. Whether you like his politics or not, when a leader hasn’t prepared his country for his eventual exit from political life, the political stability and democratic values of that country are called into question. Furthermore, with the recent proposals for judicial reform, our country’s democratic future is questionable, at best. So now, after serving 6 years in the military to defend a country that has identified itself as a Jewish and Democratic state, I, along with countless others in Israel and around the world, am now left to wonder if it is now just, solely, a Jewish state? It is a hard question to ask, and even harder to answer, because if the answer is positive, then I am questioning my entire life. Would I have moved to Israel if all I was fighting for was a Jewish State? I don’t know, but it definitely would not have been such an easy decision. If we do not strive to live in a democratic country, that goes against not just my American instincts but also my Jewish values and upbringing. I always knew that the duality of a Jewish and Democratic state would bring about its own set of complex issues, but, in my mind, they were always worth it. Today, I find myself surrounded by people who are saying it no longer is.

The economic price I pay for living here has always been high, but lately feels much higher. Who hasn’t felt that the prices at the supermarket have gone up? Who doesn’t have a friend who was fired from a good start up job. Who else has given up on buying an apartment in Israel because they aren’t millionaires? And while the prices go up, Israel’s government seems to be much too busy dealing with holding on to power to start fixing the economic problems that everyday Israelis face. Yet, more importantly, the geopolitical price of living in Israel has also gone up. Far too often, my daily life is disrupted by either another shooting, another stabbing, ramming, or terrorist plot. Far too often I see in the news that my countrymen are being bombarded by rockets and mortar fire. Far too often I have to worry that myself and my friends would be called into reserve duty and that this time, we won’t come back. That fear, although it was always present as an Israeli citizen, has never felt higher for me. And even this doesn’t seem to be important enough to distract Israel’s government from internal power plays, and political deals. Even the common ambition to quell the fear of our children isn’t enough to get these politicians to work together for a brighter future. To live with this fear every day, and not feel that my country’s leadership is working to do anything about it, has tremendously increased the “cost of living” in Israel.

I don’t know what the future holds, and boy I wish I did. I can tell you though, that there was a day when I was willing to tolerate all the hardships that living in Israel included. All the political strife, the religious laws, the societal injustices and all the economic obstacles. I was willing to push through them all because I believed that they were worth it. I believed that Israel was worth it. I believed that Israel was a country of honor and values and that it strived to do the right thing, even when it was not the most popular thing. I do not see that same Israel today. I see a bevy of leaders throwing away their honor as well as the responsibility of leading us into a more prosperous tomorrow. I see a citizenry stepping on the Jewish values they claim to hold so dearly in the effort to empower Jewishness. I see a country with more political strife, more religious laws, more societal injustices, and economic obstacles than ever before. I see a country that, in my opinion, is coming dangerously close to being no longer worth its price. So what are we going to do about it?

About the Author
Itai Carmeli is originally from New York. After high school, he made aliyah to join the IDF and served 6 years as a combat officer. He is finishing his degree at Haifa University for Political Science, Philosophy and Economics.
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