The Eternally Open Gate

Israel's responsibility derives from its definition as a Jewish state, but this gains added significance at a time when Jews around the world are suffering from anti-Semitic incitement and violence that is stoked by disapproval of Israel's actions.

According to media reports in Israel and Germany, representatives of Israel and the Jewish Agency have made diplomatic efforts in the past year to prevent the migration of Jews from the former Soviet Union to Germany. This is happening during a period in which the number of emigrants of Jewish descent opting to go to Germany is double that of emigrants heading for Israel.

The emigrants, most of whom lack Jewish background and education, prefer Germany, where they receive financial benefits and a peaceful environment, over a more difficult life in Russia or Ukraine, or, as they see it, Israel. It is a painful twist of Jewish history that 60 years after the Holocaust, Germany has been the world's fastest growing Jewish community over the past decade.

The massive migration to Germany is hurtful to the traditional Zionist perception and the needs of Israel as a Jewish state, which will find itself facing a demographic dilemma even after the disengagement and withdrawal from most of the Palestinian population areas. The adoption of secret diplomatic efforts demonstrates the discomfort of working more openly and actively to regulate emigration from the former Soviet Union and transform it into immigration to Israel.

At a time when Jews are battling phenomena such as discrimination and anti-Semitism, it is hard to wage a public struggle to restrict the freedom of migration of Jews around the world. On the other hand, there is historic legitimacy for the argument posed by Jewish Agency leaders that now that there is a Jewish state we cannot agree to the migration of Jews - particularly not to Germany - on the basis of a refugee quota.

It should be recalled that historically speaking, both before and after the establishment of the State of Israel, immigration to Israel represented a small component of Jewish migration trends. The vast majority of immigrants to Israel did so as refugees fleeing persecution and distress. As immigrants, they chose Israel as the fallback choice when other options were closed to them.

The waves of immigration preceding Israel's establishment represented a minuscule percentage of the large masses of the Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe to the United States in particular, and also to Western Europe. Even during these immigration waves, the number of those leaving Palestine for the United States at times exceeded the number of those who remained. This fact need not take away from the historic viewpoint regarding the justification and critical need for a Jewish state. The four major waves of immigration from the eve of Israel's statehood to the present are characterized by the immigration of Jews in distress, who arrived here in the absence of other options. So it was that hundreds of thousands of Holocaust refugees arrived from Europe before and after the establishment of the state, and so it was that approximately 650,000 Jews immigrated from Arab states, in a state of panic and frenzy, without belongings or assets and without an infrastructure for absorption.

The historic Let My People Go struggle on behalf of the Jews of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and '80s was attended by diplomatic efforts to direct the immigrants to Israel as their exclusive destination. The regulatory efforts peaked in the struggle against the "dropouts" - Jews who fled the former Soviet Union as refugees heading for Israel, but then stayed in Vienna (and later on, in Italy), refusing to continue on to Israel.

The large-scale immigration of a million people after the fall of the Soviet Union was arranged after guarantees were received that no more quotas would be allotted for the emigration of Jews to the West. Practically speaking, the other gates were shut to Jews leaving the Soviet Union. The immigration of Ethiopian Jewry in its various waves is added to the chapter of rescue stories and refugee marches, along with complex diplomatic and logistic efforts to bring them to Israel.

The incorporation and understanding of historic processes must not be conceived as a "post-Zionist" call, or as historic revisionism. Immigration policy, and at times the physical rescue from anti-Semitism, are an inseparable part of Israel's definition as a Jewish and democratic state. Also needed is the recognition and understanding that a Jewish Diaspora will continue to exist alongside Israel, a Diaspora that faces problems of identity and assimilation, and struggles to define its own connection to the State of Israel.

There is historic legitimization for the persistent effort to make Israel attractive to Jewish immigrants from the Diaspora, alongside a responsibility to make efforts to strengthen Jewish life in the Diaspora - even if they are Jews from Russia who dropped out to Germany, or Israelis who have left for the Diaspora.

Israel's responsibility derives from its definition as a Jewish state, but this gains added significance at a time when Jews around the world are suffering from anti-Semitic incitement and violence that is stoked by disapproval of Israel's actions. By virtue of the circumstances, the Jewish connection between Israel and the Diaspora is becoming unbreakable.