For a moment I was concerned: Haaretz’s lead editorial on Friday “snatched” the headline I had planned for this column, with a slight difference: “Leftists, don’t immigrate,” it said, while I had made do with “don’t make aliyah.” A quick jump to the end of the editorial reassured me. My colleagues were being ironic, while I am seriously asking leftists not to immigrate. Don’t take advantage of your privilege, which allows you to become citizens in one day and thus join the master people. Even if the day after your arrive you join intense leftist activities, you won’t be able to soften the collaboration with the regime of theft and expulsion that is inherent in your move.
I have much sympathy for the young Jews living in the “diaspora” who are involved in political and public activity against Israel’s occupation policy and its apartheid characteristics. Many of them visit this country (Israel and some places in the West Bank) to see for themselves settler colonialism in action, and then they return to their countries and report, protest and organize. I also admire the tie they forge to their Jewish identity: their desire to know their families’ and communities’ special history; their pride in the universal, humanistic elements that they have no trouble finding in Jewish writings; the tradition of criticizing authority and asking questions, which can also be learned from Jewish heritage and from history; the attention they pay to undercurrents and overt expressions of racism toward Jews in the countries where they live.
Over the years I have met a number of groups like these in Israel and abroad. In one country, one such meeting was almost clandestine: the young people, members of a Zionist youth group, were afraid that an open meeting would push them even further to the margins of the Jewish community. Their concern was enough for me to realize the extent of the pressure they are under not to deviate from the official line, which supports the occupation. In another country, older people were the ones to organize the meeting, but in a private home. If I understood correctly, they believed that a public meeting would expose them and perhaps their families (among them some young people) to needless, tiring debates with members of official community institutions.
The young Jews I met in Israel had returned from tours of areas where the Israeli military controlled the lives of Palestinians. In a week or two they had gotten to know the situation better than many Israelis their age who “know” it from their military service and from the deficient Israeli media reports. They always visit the Old City of Hebron and are shocked. Everything they thought they knew about Jews and Judaism is blown to smithereens. Hebron holds within it, as in a nutshell, all the sadistic characteristics and skills we have taken on as abusive foreign rulers and the dreams of expulsion fostered secretly and publicly.
In all my meetings with these exciting young people, I ask them not to immigrate to Israel. I’m happy to say that they usually reassure me they don’t intend to do so. But there are always a few who are sure they’ll be able to have a positive impact and contribute to the struggle. To them I say: You’re wrong. From the water you drink, to the beach you enjoy, when you pop over for your brother’s or your cousin’s bar mitzvah back home, and on to the subsidized apartment you’ll get in Jerusalem or Ra’anana, you’re choosing to be superior, and that is patently immoral.
Palestinians sometimes angrily ask me: If you’re such a leftist and against the occupation, why don’t you leave the country? Sometimes I argue with them and sometimes there’s no point. But in contrast to the Jewish leftists, we were born here, we have no choice. We have no other language or country, not even Berlin. And by the way, emigration takes advantage of our privileges as belonging to some sort of international mutation of a white elite: Israeli Jews can easily emigrate to Europe or the United States and former colonialist countries, and be accepted there, more so than Palestinians, whose horizons in their own homeland – both material and psychological – Israel has blocked.
Israel has crossed all possible lines of repair from within. If you immigrate here, you are contributing to the illusion of normalcy that Israel seeks to project domestically and abroad. Your place, Jewish leftists, is in your communities abroad. There you can make clear that Israel has not given up its colonial project and abuses its Palestinian inhabitants (citizens and subjects). There, you can warn that Israel is a dangerous country and find an attentive ear. If you immigrate, you will normalize the expulsion and the danger.
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