Jews of silence
The mass abandonment of the State of Israel over the last three years by Jewish visitors, side by side with poignant displays of solidarity and love for Israel, illustrates the complexity of a split-screen existence in which half the Jewish people live in the Jewish state and half live elsewhere.
Years ago, on the eve of Tisha B'Av, Israel TV broadcast a fascinating talk show (on the one channel that existed at the time). The guests were asked to pretend they were one of the historical characters who played a role in the tragic events leading up to the destruction of the Second Temple. They all threw themselves with verve into the task of dramatizing the conflicts that divided the Jewish commonwealth at that time.
The moderates warned of the senselessness of the revolt against the Roman Empire and demanded that a compromise solution be found before it was too late. "The Jews of the Diaspora will mobilize and come to our aid!" cried MK Geula Cohen, playing one of the Zealot leaders. "But they didn't come," Hannah Zemer, the talk show host, observed dryly, bringing the role-playing to a peremptory halt. "They didn't mobilize and they didn't come ... "
With that sardonic comment, Hannah Zemer, a prominent journalist and author, sought to underscore the limits of Jewish solidarity and identification with the Jewish state. The mass abandonment of the State of Israel over the last three years by Jewish visitors, side by side with poignant displays of solidarity and love for Israel, illustrates the complexity of a split-screen existence in which half the Jewish people live in the Jewish state and half live elsewhere.
But the destruction of the Temple contains a lesson even more acute and relevant than that. The Diaspora Jews, to the best of our knowledge, ultimately stood on the sidelines as the Zealots forced an uprising on the leadership of the Jewish commonwealth. The large, established Jewish communities in northern Africa did not use their influence to strengthen the hands of the moderates in Jerusalem.
In the end, when it was already too late, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, the leader of the moderates, was able to save "Yavneh and its scholars" through the mercy of the conquerors. Centuries later, the Babylonian Talmud chronicled the events surrounding the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth in a tone that is clearly disapproving of the Zealots' extremism.
In today's terms, "Yavneh and its scholars" is the binational state, in which the Jewish minority may or may not be granted cultural autonomy. Throughout the world, and this is also true of Jewish writers and intellectuals, there is a growing sense that as the two parties toughen their stance, the chances for a consensual solution in the Middle East are fading away. And looking at the demographics, the nightmare scenario of a binational state is seen as increasingly realistic. More and more Palestinians are adopting this scenario as their preferred solution. Recently - and belatedly - the Israeli media have begun to sit up and take notice of this dangerous development in international political discourse.
But the Jews of the Diaspora, with all their powerful organizations and influential lobbies, are standing on the sidelines.
At issue, obviously, is not the ideological minority that consciously identifies with the nationalist forces in Israel - the Zealots of our day. The problem is the silent Jewish majority, which, in its silence, ultimately resigns itself to seeing the latter-day Zealots foist their views on the Jewish state and thus prejudice its prospects for survival. This Jewish majority, which parades its support of Israel in so many ways, imposes upon itself a strict vow of silence when it comes to the fateful issues of policy that Israel is struggling with.
By what right are the Jews of the Diaspora shirking their historical responsibility - for the second time in Jewish history? It cannot be, after all, that the totality of the political wisdom of the Jewish people is concentrated exclusively in the brains of those Jews whom the hand of fate brought to Israel. More likely, this wisdom is divided equally between the two halves of the Jewish people.
Why, then, are the Jews of America denying the Jewish state, in its hour of need, the most precious contribution they could possibly make: a contribution of Jewish wisdom, of sober vision, of sincere and uninhibited involvement in the tough decisions that Israel must make.
Next week, the General Assembly of the North American Federation of United Jewish Communities will be convening in Jerusalem. It will be a grand celebration of solidarity, no doubt. We can only hope that it will not be judged by Jewish history as a celebration of silence.