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December 4, 2011 11:49 am

17 Seconds that Shook the Jewish World

avatar by Arik Elman

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The ads Israel is running encourage expats to return home. Photo: Dovbear.

Those were 17 seconds that shook the Jewish world. Because of the short video, prepared for the Israeli Absorption Ministry’s campaign aimed to persuade Israeli expats to come home, Israel and American Jewry stood for a moment on the brink of  crisis. It was a subject of hysterical denunciations by one of the leading American Jewish liberal bloggers, it gave the leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America the gall to address the elected leader of the Jewish state as if he was their undocumented maid, and it caused the said elected leader to fold like a deck of cards and to make promises he probably won’t be able to keep. Clearly, this is something on par with the Iranian march to The Bomb, Obama-sanctified Islamization of the Middle East and the global economic crisis.

Let’s start with the obvious. The idea that the Israeli government should spend its taxpayers’ money to lure back home Israelis who’ve left Israel on their own volition is not self-evident. Nor, for this matter, is the very concept of aliya as the only solution to the problems of Jewish existence. Israel is full of people who’d be better off in their countries of birth. America is full of Israelis born and bred, who do not appear to suffer too much. Any attempt at social engineering by government officials is bound to end up looking like a dog’s breakfast. Diaspora Zionism today means strengthening the bond between Jewish communities and the Jewish State and helping this State in its continuing struggle for survival against enemies that change names, mutate, yet remain implacable in their hate and fanatical in their resolve. It does not mean either packing one’s bags and buying tickets or even feeling some subconscious guilt for not doing so.

Let’s continue some more with the obvious. Because of the monopolization of Israeli Judaism by the increasingly extreme Orthodox minority, and because of the failures of the Israeli school system, many Israelis are less versed in the Jewish tradition than their American brethren who make an effort to stay Jewish. Former Israelis in America are losing their Jewish identity so fast not only because they’re usually disconnected from the communal structures, but also because they have much smaller Jewish baggage to begin with.

Now one more paragraph and we’re done with the obvious. The intrinsic value of American Jewry to Israel is very clear to any Israeli. Despite the increasing prominence of the Evangelical movement in the ranks of the supporters of the Jewish state, everyone understands that the core of support for Israel in America was, is and will always remain Jewish. And even if the Jewish donations aren’t what they’re used to be, and Israel is no longer a socialist basket case grateful for every dollar, no sane Israeli is stupid enough to deny the crucial impact of the Jewish-American contribution to Israeli economy and social welfare.

So the real question which should be asked in the wake of this “scandal” is not, whether, as the above mentioned blogger has claimed, those videos demonstrate “Israeli contempt for American Jews”. The real question is quite opposite – how could American Jews, or rather their leaders and opinion-makers, exhibit such contempt for Israel?

The message of the ad which has so offended so many important people is simple – there’s such a thing as a Jewish-Israeli experience. It is just as unique and just as precious as the American Jewish experience. For those who were born and raised here, being Israeli comes first, it is their basic collective identity, and if it is lost, then the national and familial connection is broken. Yom ha-Zikaron, the Day of Remembrance for the fallen soldiers, isn’t a Jewish holiday. It is an essence of the “Israeliut”, the sense of being Israeli and belonging. In the country of citizen-soldiers and the universal grief, it is an anchor of solidarity and pride, of personal memories of military service and of collective and individual sacrifices. The nation is not an artificial construct. It is a living organism, whose human cells are joined by the same experience, same joy and the same pain. To understand it, to love it passionately, is not the same as to be part of it, and this, too, should have been obvious.

And yet the leaders of the JFNA felt completely entitled to call this simple idea “outrageous and insulting”. The very same Abraham Foxman who’ve just finished lecturing Israelis on the virtues of democracy (apparently, it’s Foxman and not the Israeli Jews who’d maintained the unbroken record of democratic freedom in the face of military aggression, terrorism, economic privations and endless provocations by the Arab minority “leaders” and the extremist Left), rushed to declare the ads “demeaning”. So hot was the rage of the influential blogger mentioned above, that in his righteous anger he’d managed to get the translation of the ad completely wrong.

To Prime Minister Netanyahu, who at the best of days doesn’t suffer from an excessive stiffness of the spine, genuflection before the American Jewish outrage comes naturally. It remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to satisfy the JFNA’s ultimatum to shut down the campaign and to delete the offending videos from YouTube – after all, he doesn’t control the Absorption Ministry, which is in the hands of Foxman’s boogeyman, Israel Beitenu, and whose head Sofa Landver insists that the campaign works. Maybe, meanwhile, in a rare fit of introspection, those American Jewish leaders will review their often-professed commitment to freedom of speech and consent to include in it the Israeli speech that makes them uncomfortable. Or maybe, just maybe, they’ll look at the motives that prompted this tempest in a teapot.

Since the inception of the current Israeli government and the inevitable falling-out between Israel and the administration of President Obama, there is an increasingly voluble subset of the Jewish opinion in America which simply cannot accept the legitimacy of the Israeli democratic choice. For those people, Netanyahu’s government is evil, and the fact that it rules Israel means that there’s something wrong with the Israelis, too – especially, of course, with those troublesome “Russian immigrants”, who are a racist obstacle to peace (any guess who’d put those ideas in Bill Clinton’s head?). The implied notion of Israeli mental deficiency goes hand in glove with the message of J Street – that one can sit in America and still know both the value of peace and the risks of war better than the Israelis themselves. It is evident in the opinion pages of the New York Times and the countless blogs, where the preferred tone of reference to the government in Jerusalem is the one of exasperation, condescension and downright malice. The idea that they are deepening the rift between American Jewry and the lot of Israelis by insulting their elected officials doesn’t bother those people – they can always find validation in “Haaretz” and among their ideological clients in Israel.

Instead of taking steps to rebuke and marginalize such voices, the American Jewish establishment goes out of its way to accommodate them and “to include” them as if they’re able to contribute anything constructive to the development of the dialog between the Jewish State and the greatest Diaspora of the Jewish people. If Prime Minister Netanyahu would have come to the recent General Assembly (of the same JFNA!) he’d be forced to share a stage with the Supreme Sage of this circle, Peter Beinart, who’d called his policies “bizarre” and surmised that the Israeli leader “has no grasp of the real world”. Things you’d usually hear from the retired Middle East correspondents of the “Time Magazine” and the BBC are now the Jewish liberal boilerplate.

It is only to be expected that such warped worldview will dictate that any initiative of this hated government, however innocuous, be immediately opposed and denounced as yet another proof of its incorrigible, nationalistic, inimical stance. No matter if it’s an offer of immediate and direct negotiations with Palestinians or the 17-second ad in Hebrew aimed at the Sabra expats in New York. There’s no danger of the rising Israeli contempt for American Jews. Their example, their achievements, their generosity, their selfless struggles for the betterment of their country and the whole world are the source of inspiration for us all. The only contempt around is in the hot air coming towards Israel from certain Jewish quarters in America. It’s time the Jewish leaders deal with it, instead of imaginary threats from the Israeli Absorption Ministry.

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