SYDNEY, Australia - The smiling young man waiting his turn near the delicatessen counter at a supermarket in the affluent Double Bay neighborhood, where many Jews live, struck up a conversation with me in sabra-accented Hebrew. He had come here eight years ago and will soon be going home to Israel. Life in Sydney is wonderful. The weather is mild and it is easy to make a living. He knows that young people like him in Israel find it hard to get a foothold. "So maybe you can tell me why the hell I decided to go back," was his surprising question.
I responded that Israelis have trouble relating to the troubles of others, including those of the rich.
To judge by the front pages of the newspapers in the midst of the rainy summer Christmas holiday, the selection of Australian troubles is rather limited. Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald daily devoted a good deal of space to an interview with a fellow who got in the way of an Olympic swimmer in a local pool. The next day, a photo of a tennis player shared the front page with a report about a breakthrough in legislation to set a legal limit on the amount of money that can be bet in Internet poker.
Not that 22 million Australians don't have economic troubles, a problematic coalition and even poor neighborhoods. But most of the 100,000-strong Jewish community lives well. Their percentage among the country's billionaires is much higher than their number in the overall population; nevertheless, this small group of Jews at the other end of the world are not hiding their heads in their private pools.
Although Middle Eastern affairs are at the bottom rung of priorities for Australian politicians and there is nothing for Jewish lobbyists to do, Israel figures centrally in Jewish life. You won't find an Australian Jew who has not visited Israel at least once, and many families have branches in Israel. In the neighborhood pharmacy, there is a Jewish National Fund blue box for donations to redeem the soil of Israel.
Here, Israel is still considered a tiny country surrounded by enemies. The use of the term "occupied territories" is considered "delegitimization" of Israel.
And then, six months ago, in the midst of the ugly campaign by the Im Tirtzu right-wing group against the New Israel Fund, following the Goldstone Report, a new branch of the New Israel Fund was established in Australia. Eight hundred Jewish lovers of Israel have already become members of the group, and have welcomed its chairwoman, Prof. Naomi Chazan, the same person whose picture Im Tirtzu put up in the streets in Israel showing a horn coming out of her head.
"I frequently find myself skipping reports in the newspaper about 'price tag' [attacks against Arabs and Israelis opposed to the settlements] or segregation of women, the list is getting longer and longer," a young Jewish woman told me. "The work of the New Israel Fund is the only way left for people like me to support our dear brothers and sisters in Israel."
This, if you will, is the contribution of the criminals of the hilltops, of Zeev Elkin and Ofir Akunis, to the New Israel Fund. Israel 2012 is forcing more and more Jews overseas to choose between loyalty to the Jewish state and loyalty to their humanistic and universal values.
A Jewish minority in enlightened countries cannot identify with a country that passes racist laws, persecutes human rights groups and besmirches the press. Some lovers of Israel have found a way to preserve their connection to the country by supporting groups that defend Israeli democracy.
Most of them, especially the younger generation, prefer to cut their ties. They are ashamed of us.
If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and their ilk remain in power for a few more years, Israel will remain with only a handful of spineless lobbyists who make their living lobbying, along with power-drunk American Jewish billionaires who are ready to fight for Joseph's Tomb to the last drop of our sons' and grandsons' blood.
When our troubles stop being those of our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, we can close down the Zionist store and hang up a sign: "Going-out-of-business sale."
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