Why American Jews should make aliyah

Advocating aliyah creates friction. Sometimes people think you are trying to display your moral superiority (“nyah, nyah, I moved to the Jewish state and you didn’t”). Sometimes they think you are trying to steal their children – my wife was a religious school teacher in the US, and some parents didn’t forgive her when their kids became lone soldiers here. Sometimes they hate you for reminding them of what they already believe, but haven’t acted on. Sometimes they think that you are a pest, because they are happy being Americans or French or British. And sometimes they dislike Israel itself, oppose nationalism of any kind, or feel sorry for the Palestinians.

I used to avoid doing it. But not anymore.

For those living in continental Europe or Britain, it’s simply a question of how much Jew-hatred you are prepared to tolerate in your daily life. Yes, you are a tough guy, no antisemite can force you to do anything, but do you really want to live in a place where a large proportion of your neighbors dislike or even hate you? You know it’s going to get worse over time, so unless you perversely enjoy conflict, you are probably already thinking of leaving.

But what if you live in the US? The commitment to tolerance of Jews and other minorities is high, expressions of Jew-hatred have been relatively rare (until very recently), and there are large Jewish communities as well as places where there are practically no Jews at all, so you can choose whichever you prefer. You are not going to be rounded up and forced into ghettos, and your kids probably won’t get beaten up on their way to school (although that’s more likely than it was 10 years ago).

Nevertheless, you should still start planning your aliyah.

As a member of the Jewish people, can you share the national goals of your diaspora home? For example, the US has just delivered a shipment of weapons and equipment to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which we know is tantamount to giving them to Hezbollah, Israel’s most immediately threatening enemy. And this happened during the relatively friendly, if somewhat erratic, Trump Administration! The previous President did far worse, of course, making a deal with Iran that basically granted the regime the right to develop nuclear weapons in a relatively short time span, and pumped money into its economy (including delivering pallets containing millions of dollars in cash). How do you feel about the way your taxes are used?

We don’t want to admit this, but the interests of the US and the Jewish people are not the same. Support for Israel has become a partisan issue, and surveys show that the Democratic party has moved far to the left on issues related to Israel. When the Republican administration is replaced (as it surely will be) by a Democratic one led by a progressive candidate (almost a certainty) then the relationship with Israel will take a sharp turn for the worse.

Yes, you can stay where you are and try to turn it around, a frustrating and probably impossible enterprise (anyone involved in pro-Israel advocacy in the US today knows this). Or you can decide to try to strengthen the Jewish state with your own hands.

Recent news reports about violent confrontations in the US between the extreme Right and Left have been shocking. Not so surprisingly, when their spokespersons are interviewed, it turns out that they agree about one thing – the Jews. The Right prefers to say that Jews control international finance and the media, while the Left is all about intersectional anti-Zionism and how it’s Israel’s fault when black people in America are shot by police, but they both have a problem with Jews.

Don’t kid yourself, the distinction between anti-Zionism and Jew-hatred is one without a difference. Although it is still socially unacceptable on the moderate Left to directly attack Jews (but even that is changing), the Jewish state is a legitimate target. It’s not an accident that the same people support self-determination for every indigenous group except the Jewish people, ignore oppression throughout the world but discover it when Israelis defend themselves against Arab terrorism, and question the right to exist of only one out of 193 UN member states.

If you live in a large city or a suburb of one, are a student or academic, or in a coastal area – in other words, a “blue” area, your neighbors will probably share some of the “progressive” attitudes about Israel mentioned above. If you live in a “red” area, many of them will hold more traditional anti-Jewish beliefs. Which do you prefer? Neither will be comfortable.

Many of the strongest anti-Zionists (and therefore antisemites) are Jewish. This has driven a wedge through liberal Jewish congregations in which many older members still believe that the Zionist aspiration for self-determination in our historical homeland is still legitimate, and those, mostly younger, who see it as a contradiction of their intersectional progressive belief systems. This phenomenon is increasing as anti-Zionism becomes more and more entrenched in the educational system.

What should a Zionist Jew who finds him or herself in such a community do? What if even the leaders of the community share the anti-Zionist position, something increasingly common in liberal congregations?

Polarization in America is increasing. I lived in America through the Clinton, Bush and much of the Obama years, but judging by the media (mainstream, alternative and social) and my own correspondents, I don’t recognize my former home today. Social cohesiveness seem to be disappearing, divisions deepening, the economic state of the middle class never recovered from 2008, and confidence in government, media, business, law enforcement, education, health care – almost every major institution and societal function has fallen to unprecedented lows.

This is bad for America as a whole, but it is terrible for the Jews. For literally thousands of years, whenever there has been social instability, the Jews suffer. They are a visible element (even those who think they aren’t, are) and it is natural and traditional to blame them. They were blamed for the Black Death, for Germany’s defeat in WWI, for Communism, for various financial panics, for AIDS, for 9/11, for Obama and for Trump.

I am not predicting pogroms or purges of Jews. But I do think that life in America for Jews will become less comfortable, possibly more dangerous, and most importantly for those who are Zionists, without national purpose.

I’m not discussing all the problems involved in living in Israel. There are plenty. But in the diaspora, you struggle just to survive. In the Jewish state, you struggle, at least in part, for the Jewish people. If this is something you care about, it’s more significant than anything else.

There are those with good reasons to stay where they are: family, age, responsibilities. But if you believe that the Jewish people should exercise their right of self-determination in their historic homeland and are not prevented from making your own contribution, then – what are you waiting for?

Posted in American Jews, American politics, American society, Jew Hatred, The Jewish people, US-Israel Relations, Zionism | Leave a comment

Why you should make aliyah

There about 6.5 million Jews living in each of Israel and the USA, and another two million in the rest of the world. As everyone knows, the great Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, the Muslim world and Russia have declined precipitously as a result of the Holocaust, expulsions and voluntary emigration.

In some places, like the UK, Sweden, France, Poland and Venezuela, Jews who had no problem with diaspora life a short time ago are discovering that their neighbors (in the case of the UK, Sweden and France, we are particularly talking about their new Muslim neighbors) are not as friendly as they previously thought.

Good riddance to those places, many say. And I agree. In fact, in light of recent developments, I have decided to change my general recommendation about aliyah to Israel. In the past, my view has been that you should make aliyah only if you find yourself driven by love for the idea of a Jewish state, or if your life or well-being are endangered by Jew-hatred.

My new advice is this: if you are a Jew and not an anti-Zionist (either the religious or leftist kind), then it is past time for you to make aliyah.

Right now some of you are saying that you are perfectly happy in London or Los Angeles and I have no right to tell you what to do. That’s true, but I’m doing it anyway.

Here are some reasons to not make aliyah: if you are middle class, your standard of living will probably decline. If you live in the US now, you will almost certainly end up with less living space. If you are young you will have to do military service, and if you are older your children will. If you are a professional like a doctor, lawyer or architect, you will have to jump through hoops to be permitted to practice your profession in Israel. Unless you are lucky enough to have a Jewish education, you will have to learn the Hebrew language starting from zero. There will probably be a war here within the next couple of years, during which rockets will hit our cities.

I could go on, but you get the idea. So why am I urging that you make aliyah? Two reasons:

One is that I care about the survival of the Jewish people as a people, and I am convinced that this depends on the survival of the Jewish state. And the Jewish state needs you. We need your Jewish DNA, we need you and your children to be soldiers, and we need your children and their children to give birth to more Jews. This is the place to do it, the place in which it will be most likely that they will remain Jews.

Let me interject a short true story: I knew a man in California that I will call Avraham. Avraham was a survivor of the camps and an artist. His wife and children and other relatives had all been murdered by the Nazis. Only Hashem knows how he managed to survive. In America he painted pictures of destroyed synagogues that he remembered from before, married a nice (non-Jewish) Mexican woman and had numerous children. “This is my answer to the Nazis,” he said. When he died and was buried, I went to a big party at his house in his honor. I looked around, and there was his big Mexican family. Not one of his children or his wife had wanted to convert to Judaism or had the slightest interest in it. There was absolutely nothing Jewish left except his paintings and some incomprehensible books that the family would give away. So much for his answer to the Nazis.

The other reason is that the diaspora is coming apart. Europe’s Islamification is proceeding apace, and will either make countries like France or the UK as inhospitable to Jews as Iraq is today, or give rise to a bloody civil struggle, like in Syria. Do you want to live – do you want your children to live – in an Iraq or a Syria?

America is another, different story. Although I wouldn’t try to predict what will happen there as a result of its crazy politics and growing social unrest, one thing that I can be sure of is that the non-Orthodox community is hemorrhaging Jews. More than half are intermarried, and the ones that aren’t are having children at a rate way below what is required to maintain a stable population. Many are drifting off into a totally secular condition, where all that is left of their Jewishness is nostalgia for “Jewish food.” Many of them, formerly traditional pro-Israel Jewish liberals, have become political progressives and adopted the conventional wisdom of the Left, which sees Israel as the villain in the Mideast conflict. This is the lost generation of American Jews, and most of them are lost forever. Those who still crave some connection to either Judaism or the Jewish people might or might not find it in Israel – but they certainly won’t find it in America.

Orthodox American Jews do have more stable communities, but the demise of the “lost generation” will leave them a tiny minority in an increasingly hostile gentile society. What progressives call tolerance and diversity, things that should theoretically make the lives of all minorities better, are actually forms of identity politics in which Jews, especially visible Jews, are the losers. Clearly, the writing is on the wall.

And despite all of the things on my list above about why aliyah and living in Israel can be hard, the fact is that Israelis, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report, are happier than the great majority of people in the world, coming in 11th out of 155 countries (the US only made 14th place). Israelis prove it by having children: even secular people have 3-4 children, and religious families even more. There is something special here. In my opinion, it is a sense of national purpose that no longer exists in France, for example (in 44th place).

If you are Jewish, not anti-Zionist (members of Neturei Karta, Jewish Voice for Peace, or If Not Now are excluded from my invitation), then start thinking seriously about aliyah. The world is changing – maybe faster than you expect.

Posted in Jew Hatred, The Jewish people, Zionism | 1 Comment

The People of the Narrative

Tuesday’s news contained a particularly infuriating although totally predictable report to add to my collection of “things that show why coexistence is impossible.” It seems that Israel is required by the 1994 Paris Protocol to the Oslo Accords to grant permission to ‘qualified’ Palestinian tour guides to work in Israel. Tour companies hire them because they cost about half as much as an Israeli tour guide, or in some cases if the company wants to provide a ‘balanced’ tour in which both the Israeli and Arab narratives are honored.

So what happens is that Palestinian guides take naïve foreigners to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and  explain that the lessons to be learned there are that today’s Israelis treat Palestinians the way the Nazis treated them; that Israel was founded because of Western guilt over the Holocaust; and that Palestinians are victims of genocide (despite the fact that their number has tripled since 1970).

Then they go to the Old City where they tell their clients that the Jews have no history in Jerusalem, and that whether or not there was a Jewish Temple there is “controversial.” They explain that there was a Palestinian civilization in existence for hundreds or even thousands of years, until colonialist Jews came along and dispossessed, expelled and occupied them.

This is yet another small but significant way that the Palestinian Arabs chip away at historical reality and promote their narrative – an untrue story that they believe with absolute sincerity.

They believe that the Jewish state is entirely illegitimate and has no moral or legal authority to arrest or imprison Palestinian murderers, who are not terrorists or criminals but political prisoners or prisoners of war, and that it is appropriate to treat them as heroes and for the Palestinian Authority to pay pensions to their families.

And they believe that the occupation narrative justifies any form of ‘resistance’ including the murder of Jews, whom they call “settlers” (even if they live in Tel Aviv). They even believe that like James Bond, they have a license to kill, granted to them by international law!

But it isn’t merely a belief about historical facts or international law or human rights or who was here first or whether Arab refugees fled voluntarily in 1948 or were kicked out (both happened). There is an overwhelmingly powerful emotional content in the narrative. It places a massive weight of humiliation and shame on the shoulders of the Palestinian Arabs, whom the entire world knows were defeated in war, expelled and subjugated – by Jews, of all people!

Every argument is used to prove that the Jews didn’t do it themselves – that they had the Western world on their side  and the money of international Jewry behind them, that the Arab nations betrayed the Palestinians, and so on. But excuses don’t cut it. The only thing that can lift the burden of the narrative from the Palestinian man is the blood of the Jews who humiliated him.

The narrative is independent of the religious imperative that drives pious Muslims to murder infidels who infest a land that was once and therefore must forever be, Muslim. It is independent of the fury born of shame felt by a Muslim who has to submit to even the slightest restraints on his right to worship (like metal detectors, or temporary closures or age restrictions at the Temple Mount) imposed by Jews. But the intense shame and rage it generates fit neatly alongside the religious humiliation felt by Muslim Palestinians.

If you sat down and tried to invent a way to prolong a conflict forever, you couldn’t do better than the Palestinian narrative. It is the narrative that justified the way the Arab nations that hosted the 1948 refugees forced them into refugee camps and refused to allow them to integrate into their societies. Even the Palestinian Authority, which they claim is actually the “State of Palestine,” refuses to end their refugee status! It is the narrative that fuels the rejection of any kind of “normalization” process that might help make it possible for Jews and Arabs to live side by side in the future. It is the narrative that insists that only the “return” of the descendents of the 1948 refugees to “their homes” – that is, the expulsion of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel – can even begin to correct what they view as the moral inversion of 1948.

Some Zionists say that there is no Palestinian people, that they are just a bunch of Arabs whose ancestors migrated into the land in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And it is correct that few of them have any long-term history here, and that they don’t have a distinct language or religion.

But I would not agree that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people. If the Jewish people are “the people of the book,” the Palestinians are the people of the narrative. The narrative, and the always simmering and sometimes boiling conflict with the Jews, made a people out of them just as the journey through the desert finished the work of creating the Jewish people.

The Palestinian identity today rests entirely on their narrative and their opposition to us, even their hatred of us. If the Jewish people disappeared tomorrow, there would be no Palestinians, just Arabs.

And this is why the conflict will not be ended by a peace agreement, a compromise of some kind, another partition or even a gradual reconciliation. An end to the conflict would mean an end to Palestinian identity, something which they will not give up voluntarily. It’s all they have.

The narrative feeds on itself and only grows stronger with conflict and time; and the stronger it is, the more conflict there is. There is only one way for it to end: one side must win and the other must lose.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs | Leave a comment

The most clueless Jew in the world

Arik Ascherman calls himself a “human rights activist.” I call him an anti-Zionist one. For years he has been doing his best to interfere with the Israeli authority in the territories, support Bedouin tribes squatting in the Negev, oppose the demolition of the homes of terrorists, and besmirch IDF soldiers fighting in Gaza.

Ascherman’s former organization, Rabbis for Human Rights, is paid for its activism by European anti-Zionists and the American New Israel Fund. He sees no moral problem in taking their money (he is no longer associated with RHR and has recently started a new Jewish/Arab organization called “Haqel.” Doubtless he will continue to take money from the enemies of Israel. Who else would support him?)

He works against the state because “all human beings are created in God’s image” and therefore it is forbidden to “discriminate” against any of them, even, apparently, those who murder us or steal our land and property.

But the other day he met a Jew who wasn’t clueless, and the interaction – documented by Ascherman himself to display his moral superiority – shows precisely what is lacking in his soul (or psyche, if you prefer).

Ascherman took some old recording media to a technical expert to convert it to digital form, and this is what happened:

The ultra-Orthodox man took a look at the first film clip, which included aggressive behavior from Itai Zar, the founder of the infamous Khavat Gilad outpost  He then looked at me, and asked what I did.  I explained that I was a human rights activist, working for the rights of all human beings, Jewish and non-Jewish, because all human beings are created in God’s Image.   No amount of recounting what I have done on behalf of Jews living in poverty, or any other argument helped.  I was harming the Jewish people.  He politely said that he was willing to pay me for the time I had wasted getting to him, but was not willing to work with my material.

Ascherman, who has rabbinical ordination from the Reform movement in the US, tried to argue “Judaism, theology and halakha” with the man, who apparently was better grounded in these subjects than he was. After losing the argument (he believes that he won, but he lost), he notes that,

I was dumbstruck by the enormity of the moral disaster that has befallen us as the Jewish people. How could a deeply religious man so blithely desecrate God’s Name and defame Judaism by saying that the God of all creation could possibly endorse discrimination against fellow human beings whom God created in God’s Image?

I, on the other hand, am equally dumbstruck by the fact that Ascherman and other Jewish activists of his stripe believe that they owe no special loyalty to the Jewish people.

The Torah is a story starring Hashem, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. I am not a scholar but it’s hard to miss. Yes, there are things in the texts of Judaism that call for doing justice to all the nations, but certainly not to consistently take the part of others against the Jewish people.

Ascherman and many in the Reform world find a different message in our texts, a universalist one in which the job of a Jew is to be an example for how to provide justice and equality for every human being. The greatest sin for them is “discrimination” in favor of one’s own people.

Even if it were correct, this interpretation of Judaism would be suicidal in a world where the Jews and their state are commonly despised and targets for violence.

Ascherman is myopic. He looks at the microcosm of relations between, say, the IDF and the Palestinian Arabs of the territories, or the government of Israel and the Bedouins, and sees that we are the stronger party. So he takes the side of the perceived underdog, even when, for example, the Palestinians are trying to murder us and the Bedouins are stealing us blind. They have “rights” that he must defend.

But his vision doesn’t take in the bigger picture in which Israel is very much the underdog, facing a huge Arab and Muslim world that would be happy to wipe her off the map, as well as a Europe – and an American State Department – that believe it is unfortunate a Jewish state was ever created.

That’s a logical explanation of his thought process. But there is another way to see it, which is that he simply lacks a connection to his people. A piece of his brain, his psyche, or his Jewish soul (as you prefer) is missing. He can see tragedy in the lives of Palestinian Arabs and Bedouins, but he doesn’t see or feel the tragedy in the potential loss of this miraculous reconstitution of Jewish sovereignty in the land promised by Hashem. Ascherman sees “God’s image” in Palestinian Arabs, but he doesn’t see it in the Jewish people or their state. That’s the “moral disaster!”

Ascherman’s technical expert politely told him that he wished that he would stop harming the Jewish people. I couldn’t agree more.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, The Jewish people | 3 Comments

Tisha b’Av 5777

Tisha b’Av was weird for me this year. I sat in shul and listened to the eicha reading, and it spoke to me about current events, not about what happened thousands of years ago. Last week the Jewish people suffered a terrible defeat, but unlike the sack of Jerusalem life went on though the wall was already breached. Jerusalem wasn’t destroyed and we didn’t eat our children, and everything is continuing as it was before – perhaps there is an upsurge in Arab terrorism, but as yet it’s still small (give it time) – but notice or not, we have just passed over a crack in history, one of those currently invisible seams that historians a hundred years from now will describe as chasms.

The Arabs noticed. What most Jewish Israelis saw as yet another incident in Jerusalem (and most diaspora Jews had no idea even occurred) was marked by the Arabs with celebrations, giving out sweets and firing in the air. The Arabs who breathe the air of symbolism and national honor understood the significance of their victory over the yahood.

All your enemies have opened their mouths wide against you; they hissed and gnashed their teeth and said, “We have engulfed her! Indeed, this is the day we longed for; we have found it; we have seen it!” – Eicha, II-16

At first it seemed the opposite. It seemed as though we might have started to turn around what has been an inexorable process of retreat and submission that began almost immediately after our great victory in 1967, when the entirety of the holy city of Jerusalem and its Temple Mount came into our possession for the first time since the days of King David. “What do we need this whole Vatican for?” said Moshe Dayan, when he relinquished control of the Mount to the Muslim waqf and planted the seed for the conflict over the heart of our land that has been simmering and sometimes boiling ever since.

Dayan and the de facto alliance of Haredim and leftists that would be happy without “this whole Vatican” ignored the symbolic importance of this spot, the center of the world for Judaism. But the Arabs did not ignore it. Every chance they got, they pushed and chipped and nibbled away at the “status quo,” which actually hasn’t been static at all but has moved steadily in the direction of the Muslims for the past 50 years.

So our government installed metal detectors and cameras in response to the bloody murder of our policemen, a step that any rational being can understand, and the Arabs answered by inciting their street to rage and murdering three members of a Jewish family. But then the unexpected happened. The waqf called for a boycott of the site, and for the first time in years Jews could walk about on the Temple Mount unmolested!

Some of us thought that this time the Arabs had overreached themselves. This time all we have to do is stand firm to assert our sovereignty over the place that, after all, is in the center of our capital. Maybe this can be the start of a process that could bring about a change in the demeaning policy that Jews aren’t allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, or do anything (even to cry) that looks to our Muslim overlords like praying. Maybe more hours could be allocated to Jewish visits, and maybe the banshees that shriek allahu akbar into Jewish ears could finally be banished.

But as everyone knows, we did not stand firm. None of the above will happen. There were riots all over the country and even in Europe and the US, and our leaders, our Prime Minister, blinked. We removed the metal detectors, took down the security cameras, and when that didn’t calm the ravening mob we even removed the scaffolding that had been installed to hold the cameras. At the same time announcements were made about new super-high tech security devices that someday would replace them.

As if. The Arabs weren’t fooled. They understood that we had submitted to their demands, submitted, actually, to the power of Islam, because the Jewish people are weak, because we are cowards, because we aren’t prepared to fight for what belongs to us. All of the explanations, the excuse of the crisis with Jordan – we had to bring the hostages home, didn’t we? –  the need to calm things down, the argument that the metal detectors would be difficult to use and wouldn’t provide adequate security (so no security is better?), it’s all a bunch of crap and the Arabs know it.

And the victory has made them hunger for more. Maybe it will become harder for Jews to visit the Mount. Or maybe they will press their claim for what they call the “al-Buraq wall” (our Kotel). Maybe they will find a new issue that nobody has thought of yet. Or maybe they will just try harder to murder Jews wherever and whenever they can.

What starts in Jerusalem spreads throughout the country. Just a few hours ago in a town next to mine, an Arab walked into a supermarket, pulled out a knife and stabbed one of the workers. The victim is currently fighting for his life. Expect more like this.

Our government made a serious mistake. But not because nobody predicted what would happen. Many voices in and out of politics told them to be strong. And not because they didn’t know what to expect. Simply, they couldn’t take the pressure, so they gave in.

Personally, I have lost confidence in PM Netanyahu. Not because I think he didn’t understand the situation or our enemies, but because he did. He understood, but he didn’t  act with strength as he should have. It’s not the first time.

Today the Jewish state and Jewish people are threatened from multiple directions. There is very little room left for mistakes or weakness.

Where (and who) are our leaders?

And gone from the daughter of Zion is all her splendor; her princes were like harts who did not find pasture, and they departed without strength before their pursuer. – Eicha, I-6

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Politics, Terrorism | 7 Comments