"Let them bleed," an anonymous senior State Department official was quoted as saying this week in Washington, in reference to the Israelis and Palestinians. This hopeless conflict is costing us not only the support of many of our friends around the world, but also their continued interest.
According to one school of thought, this is nothing to get excited about. On the contrary, proponents of this school say: Let them stop obsessing over every measly little incident in our region when people elsewhere are killing and being killed, torturing and persecuting and starving, without the world blinking an eyelash.
The trouble - even according to this proud Israeli isolationist school - is that Israel, the eternal warrior, is not only getting on the nerves of the goyim. The world's Jews have also begun to lose interest. And that, if it happens, will be an unmitigated disaster, by every school of thought.
Israel and the Diaspora have been growing apart for many years. At the core, this is probably a natural and healthy process, necessary to stabilize the relationship between the two halves of the Jewish people, to create a balance between them and promote cross-pollination. For the Diaspora is not becoming extinct and not evaporating, despite the edict of the Zionist movement. The opposite is true - Diaspora Jewry is flourishing, notwithstanding the painful depredations of assimilation and intermarriage.
For half a century, as the miracles of renaissance and rebuilding were being enacted in the State of Israel, a surge of post-Holocaust Jewish awakening was taking place in certain Diaspora communities. Not many Israelis have noticed this, perhaps because they were brought up (or convinced by their political leaders) to believe that the Diaspora has no future.
What the Diaspora does have, at any rate, is a present. Take the beautiful ancient synagogue in Worms, for example, restored by the municipal authorities of this German city in the 1960s, and turned into a museum. No prayers were conducted because, until recently, there were no Jews. Now a prayer service is held at the synagogue every other Shabbat by a group of Jewish emigr�s who left Russia to settle on the banks of the Rhine. For the Israeli visitor, it is hard not to think of the untold quantities of emotion and energy wasted by Israel and the Jewish Agency on their battle against Russian "dropouts," on the grounds that Russian Jews who did not immigrate to Israel would be lost to Judaism.
The irony is that today, many Jews in the Diaspora - and not necessarily those who belong to the Orthodox community - are saying that Israelis, native-born and immigrants alike, are the ones in danger of becoming assimilated in a culture that is basically Judaism-free. To the average Israeli, living in the Jewish state, speaking the language of the Jews, conducting his life by the Jewish calendar, this criticism sounds ridiculous. It sounds like the product of a Diaspora mind-set.
From a historical perspective, even this kind of tension (harking back to the "Babylon-Jerusalem" dichotomy of Talmudic times) should be fruitful and positive. But the slow, natural movement toward mutual and balanced self-sufficiency is in danger of becoming a headlong rush to alienation, due to the corrosive influence of the Intifada and the shattered dream of peace between Israel and the Arabs.
On the surface, the erosion is not yet visible. Jewish leaders voice their support for Israel's struggle, and Jewish community activists are lobbying away frenetically. Anti-Semitic incidents, usually accompanied by anti-Israeli invective, evoke a tough response. On the other hand, there are few manifestations of mass solidarity, and, in practice, many Jews have been avoiding Israel over the past year.
The erosion is on a deeper level. At the annual convention of an important American Jewish organization, one of the speakers, a well-known New York intellectual, casually declared: "Redemption won't be coming from Israel. That much is clear." An audience of a thousand people said nothing. At the other end of the spectrum, a growing number of ultra-Orthodox are convinced that the Zionist state, which was born in sin and has never repented, is coming to its foreseen end. It is a prediction that evokes genuine sadness and trepidation on their part, along with a perverse sense of ideological vindication.
This is not to say that the intellectual, or the ultra-Orthodox Jew, or any other Jew living in the Diaspora and reflecting on the state of the Jewish people, is indifferent to the suffering of the citizens of Israel. But it does imply something that would have been impossible to imagine, let alone talk about, up until recently: These Jews are not at all certain how this interminable war will end, and they do not see their own survival, as individuals or a group, as necessarily bound up with Israel's victory. Fatigue is taking its toll. They, too, are asking how long Israel must be "consumed by the sword." But together with their fear for our safety, they are building their own creative patterns of Jewish life, armed with verve and increasing confidence in their own future.
This inchoate trend, in which Jews can countenance the hypothetical idea of a Jewish future that does not rely on Israel - should it strike roots beyond the traditional anti-Zionist fringes - is liable to destroy one of Israel's most valuable strategic assets: Diaspora Jewry's sense of a shared fate with Israel.
If only for that reason, we must strive harder for a little calm. Israel the conqueror, the aggressor and victim of aggression, the constant source of worry and often of even embarrassment, rather than of inspiration - such an Israel will not be able to compete with the Diaspora for long over its rightful primary place - shaping the course of Jewish history in years to come.
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