Trying to access the Diaspora Affairs Ministry website requires a lot of patience. The site explains (in Hebrew) that a sub-site “Explaining Israel” is being upgraded and should be back on line soon. I hope the delays aren’t due to a budget crunch. There is, after all, money for “strengthening Jewish identity” and “activity on behalf of Israel” in America (“Orthodox to lead government outreach to Diaspora youth,” Haaretz, August 16.)
A lot of money: 80 million shekels paid for by the Israeli taxpayer and another 170 million shekels from donations. That money could be used for other purposes in Israel.
The criticism leveled at the program so far has concentrated on the prioritization of the ultra-Orthodox community, the failure to coordinate with the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the prominent positions of West Bank settlers – all of which are indeed grounds for concern. But discussion at the macro level is also necessary, even if it means taking on a sacred cow.
Simply put, as an Israeli citizen, I don’t want a single shekel of my tax money going to Jews in the Diaspora. Not the Diaspora in general and certainly not the Diaspora in rich America. It isn’t that I’m mad at the Jews of America. On the contrary. I don’t nurse any grudge against them.
I respect their decision to live in America from the birth of Zionism through the establishment of the State of Israel to this day. Not only do I believe it was and remains a legitimate decision: it can be seen as a pretty rational one, too. To some of them, I feel a closeness, an empathy. I have relatives there.
But I don’t feel any sense of responsibility for them; not for their fate, not for the ways they practice their Judaism and not for their affiliation with Israel. That’s their own business.
Zionism is getting along; it’s over 120 years old. The State of Israel is almost 70 years old. Zionism is only one option for Jewish existence. One can be a Jew outside Israel, too, but one cannot be a Zionist in America. It’s ridiculous. An institution called the Zionist Organization of America is an oxymoron.
If you believe in Zionism, you don’t live in America. You live in Israel, contending with it and the vicissitudes of life on a daily basis, and fighting over its image according to your civil and political views. I don’t need Jeffrey Goldberg to preach to me about Zionism, left-wingism and journalism. Nor do I need a tycoon like Sheldon Adelson. Let them go meddle in American politics and the press.
By the same token, the State of Israel needs to let go of its ownership of Judaism. Nobody handed it over. Israel was founded and exists as the national home of the Jewish people, not as an global, umbrella authority over Jews and Judaism. The knot is a complicated, almost Gordian one, but we have to start untying it.
No other national homeland maintains bodies like the Jewish Agency, the Zionist Histadrut or a ministry for Diaspora Affairs. The convoys of raucous, hormone-saturated teenagers from Long Island and Buenos Aires that pass weekly underneath the windows of my home in Jaffa make me raise an eyebrow. The Jews of North and South America have no rights here, certainly not a “birthright”.
The right to this place belongs to the people who live here, Jewish or Arab.
By the same token, Israel doesn’t have too many rights beyond its boundaries, not over “Jewish values” or over “affiliation with Israel.” If the entire goal is, ultimately, to maintain a political lobby in Congress and a philanthropic system (in Jewish circles: schnorr), it is about time that this 68-year old country grew up in those respects as well. Because to pour Israeli money on American Jews is truly the essence of absurdity.
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