A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Jewish people deserves a parliament, and the Jewish state needs one badly. This parliament does not have to be an institutionalized, permanent body. It does not have to meet at a certain place and at fixed times. In fact, it does not have to be a body at all.

If there is any hidden blessing in the curse of the intifada, it lies perhaps in making us aware that not all Jewish wisdom is concentrated in the Jewish state. The proof? All the wise men of Israel, hailing from just about every political party, have been sitting together for two years and no matter what they do, the country continues to grope in the dark.

What this seems to imply is that some of the celebrated wisdom, some small portion of that Jewish intelligence and resourcefulness which has helped the Jewish people to survive, is out there in the Diaspora, among the millions of Jews who, for a thousand and one reasons, live there and not here. And if that is so, the next question is whether Israel has the sagacity to draw upon this national resource as it writhes and struggles to shape its future.

In the past, it was practically Zionist heresy to question the Israeli monopoly over Jewish intelligence. Zionism found it particularly difficult to accept the involvement of Diaspora Jewry in internal Israeli affairs. You don't die with us in the army - went the argument - so you have no right to take part in our debates.

At a certain point, a kind of exception was created - whoever contributed generously to an Israeli political candidate was allowed to whisper into that candidate's ear. He could thus feel that he was not only contributing his money to Israel, but also his intellect.

What has changed now, apart from Israel becoming a little more humble, is that Jews who visit Israel are indeed dying together with Israelis - our streets have become the battlefront. Last month, for instance, five Jewish students from overseas were killed in an attack on the Hebrew University campus. True, there aren't many Jews visiting Israel in these troubled times, but those who do come - and we encourage them to - are risking their lives just like any Israeli walking down the street.

A more profound change taking place now is that Jews in the Diaspora, both individuals and entire communities, are being harmed because of Israel. The intifada has intensified anti-Semitism. This is not a value judgment. It is simply a statement of fact. By virtue of this fact, however, these Jews - actually, all Jews - do have the right to take part in Israeli political discourse. The time is clearly over for the Israeli arrogance that denied them this right in the past.

The problem, though, is that even if Israeli public opinion were to accept that Diaspora Jews have such a right, there is no mechanism for putting it into practice. The existing frameworks are worse than pathetic. Does anyone recall the Zionist Congress that convened in Jerusalem just a few months ago? The place was full of gray-haired activists, characters out of a no-longer relevant past, whose days of glory were long gone. Dancing around them were undistinguished Israeli party activists who lamely crowned this embarrassing gathering the "parliament of the Jewish people."

The Jewish people deserves a parliament, and the Jewish state needs one badly. This parliament does not have to be an institutionalized, permanent body. It does not have to meet at a certain place and at fixed times. In fact, it does not have to be a body at all. It could be a virtual entity that exists only in cyberspace, a kind of exclusive chat room in which the best and the brightest of Diaspora Jewry would be invited to participate.

But who will do the inviting? Who will they invite? These are questions that are bound to create obstacles when a naive idea like this one confronts the petty, overwrought reality in which we live. In the organized Jewish world, money and honor talk. On the fringes, the religious extremists shout. Old inhibitions are still deeply ingrained, and new anxieties have emerged. The majority is silent, but there are a great many voices in that majority that deserve to be heard.

Israel's grave distress should spur the country into breaking out of this closed circle and opening itself to critical input from the wider Jewish world. Moreover, in light of this distress, the majority of those approached by Israel will readily respond.

Wealth or prestige should not be criteria for taking part in this discourse, but excellence. That will ensure that the finest Jewish minds, with all the knowledge, insight, life experience, and political, economic and academic skills that they can muster, will add their voices to the national debate. The decisions will continue to be made by the sovereign Israeli Knesset, of course - Israeli citizenship and Jewish solidarity are not to be confused. But the debate itself, and the plethora of original ideas that it will surely generate, will enrich the decision making process.

A fantasy? Probably. But fantasize for a moment what might have been if such a debate had been conducted between the extensive Jewish Diaspora and the Jewish state in the fateful period before the destruction of the Temple - in the year 70 C.E.