Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where's the love for Israel?

A few weeks ago, Forward columnist Jay Michaelson wrote a piece about how he was losing his love for Israel.

This week, four writers ponder the issues he raised - including me:

The end of the Diaspora’s love affair with Israel has been blamed on a variety of internal Jewish factors, including the increasing assimilation of Diaspora Jewry, its disillusionment with the reality of Israeli life, and a turning inward now that Israel is perceived to be strong and self-sufficient.
External factors, however, may be far more important.

In the past 20 years, the political climate in the West has changed radically, in ways that do not flatter Israel. Much of Europe is dominated by a post-colonial, almost pacifist, attitude, in which occupation, under any circumstances, is considered immoral, military action is almost always undesirable and the very idea of a modern nation-state is questioned. The range of “acceptable” political opinion in the United States is far broader, but these sorts of views are also gaining traction among many American liberals.

The reality is that throughout history, Diaspora Jews have, to some extent, always absorbed (and at times also led) the political reality in their countries. Zionism itself grew out of the nationalist movements in 19th-century Europe, combined with a Tolstoyan ennobling of land and physical labor.
 More than a century later, Jews still do not live in a vaccum.

Is it really realistic to expect that Diaspora Jewry remain completely detached from the political zeitgeist, seeing Israel solely through Jewish eyes? Can Jews who grew up in London or Washington really be expected to understand Israel the way it understands itself, when their basic political, cultural and even religious frames of reference differ so radically?

The drift between the two communities is to an extent inevitable, at least as long as current Western attitudes toward warfare prevail — or as long as Israel remains embroiled in conflict. 
So can a complete breakdown of the relationship be prevented? So far, Israel’s approach has been to try to better explain the realities it faces to the Diaspora, mainly by bringing young Diaspora Jews to spend time in the Jewish state. But perhaps Israelis need to take a step back, and first try to improve their own understanding of the realities that prevail in the Diaspora.

Read the rest of the debate here.

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