Josh Levin

Was our aliyah a mistake?

My wife and I did copious due diligence before we made aliyah with our children almost a decade ago. Before we even arrived, we knew which schools our children would attend and the absorption obstacles they might face. We’d sorted our employment, knew which bank we’d open an account with and which health organization we’d join. We’d both lived in Israel previously and came with our eyes wide open. Our aliyah has not been without its challenges, but in ways big and small it has been an overwhelmingly positive and fulfilling experience — I, for one, have literally never thought twice about our decision to move to Israel.

Now, for the first time, I can’t help but question if I’ve done right by my children by bringing them here. It’s not the typical security situation or financial concerns which drive such questioning. Rather, it’s the new government and some of its policies. I find myself nagged by a question that was unthinkable during our pre-aliyah due diligence: are there red lines which, if Israel crossed them, would impel us to seriously think about leaving?

Much about the current political situation is odious but doesn’t – at least to my mind – cross such red lines. The new Minister of Interior and future Minister of Finance was convicted and spent time in prison for bribery? Less than a year ago, this same person whose ministry will be responsible for collecting taxes accepted a plea bargain for tax evasion? The new Minister of Housing has illegally subdivided an apartment he owns into multiple units? A Haredi education non-profit he oversaw served as a “family jobs factory” and also sold an apartment to his granddaughter at a below market price? Regrettably, corruption is found around the world, and in Israel at least the media is free to report on it and it’s often prosecuted. Noam – the party whose sole member in the Knesset will get control of external school programs – drew up an enemies list of feminists and gays? Unfortunately, this isn’t the first and it won’t be the last enemies list in the annals of politics. That all three of these ministers hail from religious parties has the unintended but salutary consequence of reminding us that adopting the religious label and wearing religious garb isn’t necessarily the same thing as being ethical and law abiding.

But we come closer to red lines when we talk about some proposed policies. For example, Religious Zionism (RZ) MK Orit Strock suggested earlier this week that doctors should be allowed to not treat Arabs and gays if doing so violated their religious beliefs. The Haredi parties want gender segregation on public transport and in other public spaces.

And how many more crossed red lines can we expect if the new government passes the override bill that weakens Israel’s checks and balances by allowing a simple majority in the Knesset to undo supreme court decisions? Would the new government then use its power to restrict private sector activity on Shabbat? Would it limit the right to protest the government’s policies? Sound preposterous? Just a few weeks ago, RZ MK Bezalel Smotrich called on Israel’s professional soccer league to stop playing matches on Shabbat. In June, Likud MK and Bibi loyalist David Amsalem said that “When we return to power, we will crush the bones of the left.” Just this week Bibi’s son Yair Netanyahu – who isn’t in the Knesset and admittedly has a track record of making provocative statements – gave a radio interview in which he said that the police and prosecutors involved in his father’s legal cases are guilty of treason and should be punished accordingly – the punishment for treason is death. If we’ve learned anything from politics in Israel and abroad in recent years, it’s that we must be vigilant because political events we thought could never occur in fact sometimes do.

MK Ayelet Shaked – a right winger who was part of the outgoing government but vocally supported Bibi during the elections – warned in her final Knesset speech this week that some Israelis are considering leaving the country given the “legislation about discrimination and racism spoken about in recent days.” This is not like the self-indulgent chatter of celebrities in the US who threaten to move abroad when they’re unhappy about political outcomes. These are the ruminations of the Israeli middle and upper middle class who also see emerging bright red lines at home and know they have professional opportunities abroad.

Fortunately, many are speaking out against these proposed policies — this is truly encouraging. President Herzog has stated that they “undermine fundamental democratic values.” Groups of former military officers, judges and ambassadors have decried them in public letters. Parts of the private sector – including one of the country’s largest banks and some tech companies – have said they won’t do business with entities which discriminate on the basis of religion, race, gender or sexual orientation. Some members of the Likud such as MK David Bitan have strenuously criticized them while other senior Likud politicians have been quoted anonymously in the media as voicing their strong disapproval. The outcry has been such that Bibi has been compelled on multiple occasions to publicly repudiate some but certainly not all of these policies – he also distanced himself from his son’s comments.

I’ve never believed that all Jews should make aliyah — I’ve always thought it’s a very personal decision that’s right for some and not for others. When people contemplating aliyah have asked me for advice, I’ve told them it’s been great for us and have shared what we’ve learned so that they can make informed decisions for themselves. If somebody asked me today for aliyah advice, I’d still say and do the same, but I’d also tell them that before they move here they should give some serious consideration to where their red lines are.

About the Author
Josh Levin lives with his family in Modi'in. He has a BA from the University of Chicago and an MBA from NYU.
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