Move to Israel, Become Invisible

Friday, 10 March (18 days to Election Day)

The city bus that just passed the convention center in Jerusalem bears a large campaign sign for Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud. All in Russian.

There are television campaign spots in Amharic for the Ethiopian community. There are advertisements directed at gays and lesbians, pensioners and single parents, settlers and software yuppies, dope smokers and deadbeat dads.

As always, the community of immigrants from English-speaking countries can go hang.

Immigrants from the 'States, Canada, Britain, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Ireland, and elsewhere in the English-speaking world are routinely, obsessively asked by the native-born here "Why in the world did you come here to live?"

The answers, of course, are as varied as the immigrants themselves. Many were motivated by ideology, by their personal interpretation of Zionism, whether in the direction of a religious Greater Israel, socialist collectivism, or high-techno futurism.

For some, the answer to why they came has everything to do with freedom, slipping the bonds of alien cultures or familial abuse. For others, the reasons are so private or so painful or so subconscious, that respondents relate to the question of why they left paradise and came to live here, with a tossed off jibe or Casablanca-like curveball, such as "For the food."

But the one answer no one gives, is the one which applies to all:

To become invisible.

We were, in fact, much more visible generations ago, represented by the likes of then-foreign minister Abba Eban, the former Aubrey Solomon Eban of Cape Town, South Africa, and his brother-in-law, born Vivian Herzog in Belfast, as a youth the bantamweight boxing champion of Ireland, as an adult, under the name Chaim, chief of military intelligence and the sixth president of the state of Israel.

These days, even the largest group of Anglophone immigrants, the North American community, is transparent here. In terms of political clout or, for that matter, cultural impact, it may as well not exist.

True, Kiev-born Golda Meir lived in Milwaukee from age eight to age 23. And there is little doubt that the late Brooklyn native Rabbi Meir Kahane, a member of the Immigration and Absorption Committee of the 10th Knesset, and banned from the 11th, had an effect on Israel. As did Kahane's disciple, Dr. Baruch Goldstein.

Still, by and large, it may be said that the only North American natives who materially affect Israeli policy and outlook, are those who live in North America.

It only begins with George Bush and Condoleezza Rice. It also may include high-roller donors to Israeli political campaigns, some of them what are known here as Yisraelim Lshe'avar, or former Israelis.

As if there could be such a thing.

The rule is known to all: You can live your whole life in America, and always feel, and be made to feel, like a Jew.

The moment you come to live in Israel, however, you'll be, for the first time in your life, an American. And, like it or not, stabs at gutteral pronunciation or not, an American you will remain.

You're thinking - what about all those settlers? Aren't they mostly Americans?

Not hardly. An unofficial tally by the Yesha Council once found that of more than a quarter of a million Jewish residents of the territories, only about 10,000 were American immigrants.

So why haven't we made a dent here? Why do political parties barely waste lip service on us.

Numbers are a part of it. Numbers may be all that matters. Israeli political parties care little about us because there are so few of us to care about.

The North American Jewish community has something like 6.5 million members, not counting transient Israelis. By one estimate, the number of North American Jews living in Israel is a little over 60,000, or less than one percent of those they left behind in the Old Country. The number is, as well, less than one percent of the population of Israel.

But there's more. There is our sheer dismissibility, the remarkable ease with which we slip into the role of invisible man or woman.

We are easy to dismiss because, in contemporary Israel, we make bad Israelis. We are, in the main, knowing freierim. Which is to say, we volunteer to a fault. Our work ethic is, well, an actual work ethic.Even many of us who are intensely cynical seem to have a polyanna streak, which puts us out of sync with a Me Generation philosophy.

I admit it. We don't shout enough, turn over enough tables, say no enough, nor "shut up," nor "get stuffed."

If that means we are not considered serious, so be it. In any event, we are not numerous enough to be either a political asset or a political threat.

We will continue to vote, to work for causes we believe in, to make a difference. And to ignore to the best of our ability the fact that no one in the greater society may ever notice.


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