Leaving Israel Is Always a Legitimate Option

Israelis who leave the country are no less worthy than those who stay. There’s no need to draw one’s identity from national affiliation

Independence Day celebrations in Israel, May 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

As opposed to Prof. Shlomo Avineri, who says the social fabric in the framework of a state is a foundation of solidarity (Haaretz Hebrew, September 29), citizenship is actually partnership in a business. This is demonstrated by the fact that Israeli citizens can decide life here isn’t worth it for them and choose to seek their fortune elsewhere. When the deal Israel offers doesn’t satisfy them, they can try to strike another deal somewhere else.

All the ideology that’s intended to deprive them of this freedom and to bind them to Israeli society – even when belonging to it does not benefit them – is merely using power disguised as solidarity or patriotism; an ideology whose sole purpose is to enslave the individual to a particular community.

People are not altruistic. They do what benefits them, what serves their interests. Underneath all the righteous values in which they wrap themselves, all people truly want is to feel important and significant, increase their slice of the pie as much as possible, amass as much financial or symbolic capital, climb as high as they can and live well according to their understanding.

Human beings have interests. People will maintain solidarity only if it suits them. And the greatest patriots in the world, who ostensibly sacrifice their lives for their country, are first and foremost serving their own interests, doing what’s right for them, whether as a pilot or an undistinguished major at the Israeli defense headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Israelis who leave Israeli society are no less worthy than those who stay here. There’s no need to draw one’s identity from national affiliation. Nationality is just one option. A Jew can grow up in Israel and feel more comfortable as an adult in London, Helsinki, New Delhi or Melbourne.

A state is a business: you pay it taxes and receive services from it. If the taxes are too high and make it hard to live, or the services are not good enough – the state isn’t offering a good deal. There’s no doubt that Israelis who are occupation-opposing atheists and see their taxes financing settlements and yeshivas are not getting a good deal. The education services they receive are saturated in increasing religiosity; they’re not a good deal, either. This is not the product they want for their children. Israel’s goals – continued occupation and the settlements, deepening of Jewish and religious identity at the expense of democracy – are not their goals.

If such people believe they have no chance of fundamentally changing the way Israeli society is headed and they prefer German or Canadian society, they are under no obligation to feel solidarity with Israeli society.

It’s their right to reject responsibility for actions they believe are criminal, to try to disengage from that society and become a partner in a different society whose business they prefer. That’s fine. There’s something disheartening about people who can’t make a rational decision to minimize the damage being caused to them, and who insist on clinging like martyrs to a society that goes against their interests, to the bitter end.

It’s clear that Israeli society still contains a lively ghetto of a community whose values are universal and liberal. It’s a strong ghetto. A kind of pocket of resistance to Israeli society, which has become increasingly religious and nationalistic. An Israeli citizen can live in this ghetto without feeling solidarity with settlers, the ultra-Orthodox, Habayit Hayehudi voters, Benjamin Netanyahu or Avigdor Lieberman.

But this ghetto is under pressure, and attempts are being made to silence it. People may decide they don’t want to devote their lives to fighting the Jewish-messianic republic that surrounds this ghetto. The option to leave is always legitimate.