Unlearning the Lessons of the Diaspora

If you won’t eliminate the Diaspora – the Diaspora will eliminate you. – Ze’ev Jabotinsky, 1936

For Jewish individuals and communities, life in the Diaspora can be fraught. They must be vigilant for attacks from all sides. Even today, in a free and tolerant country like the US, there are Jew-haters under every rock: extremist Muslim Imams, obsessed neo-Nazis, black admirers of Louis Farrakhan, even anti-Jewish Catholic cults. Violent attacks on Jews are on the rise on the European continent, in Britain, and in the Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn, New York. Some of the anti-Jewish prejudice stems from the worldwide campaign against the Jewish state, exemplified by the BDS movement. The rise of identity politics in the West also tends to amplify anti-Jewish phenomena. Despite attempts at education since the Holocaust, belief in antisemitic stereotypes is widespread throughout the world.

Nevertheless, the situation of Diaspora Jews has been much worse in the past. From the time of the Roman destruction of the Second Temple until founding of the State of Israel, the welfare of Jewish communities in both the Christian and Muslim worlds was almost always dependent on the attitudes of the particular ruler, and could become intolerable overnight. Even in the best of times, Jews were treated as second-class citizens, often taxed heavily and restricted in where they could live, how they could earn their living, whether they could obtain higher education, whether they could own land, and so forth. Sometimes the local citizens would take it into their minds to attack Jews, beating, raping, and murdering them, and of course stealing their property. Often the authorities would cast a blind eye to such outbreaks, or even encourage them for political reasons.

Naturally, Jews developed strategies for survival in such hostile environments. Some of them are assimilation, hiding, appeasement, suffering in silence, and collaboration. Assimilation can protect an individual, although since its mass adoption leads to the extinction of the community, it is in a larger sense self-defeating. And as is well-known, it’s ineffective when the basis of Jew-hatred is “racial,” as it was for the Nazis. Hiding is hard to pull off, and can become indistinguishable from assimilation. Appeasement – paying the jizya or ransoming captives – is giving into blackmail, which leads to greater and greater demands, which ultimately become unbearable. Collaboration with the antisemitic enemy may work for a few individuals for a time, but in addition to its immorality, it only accelerates the destruction of the community.

After millennia of diasporic compromise and the need to rely on others for our defense, it became possible for the Jewish people to contemplate – and even actualize – the return to their historical homeland and establishment of a Jewish state, which would put an end to the need to choose between these distasteful options. The existence of the state also makes true Jewish self-defense possible. There is a meme that was popular a few years ago, a picture of IAF aircraft with the caption ”Jews: not so easy to f— with any more.” And that is, or at least ought to be, true.

But unfortunately, the aforementioned diasporic millennia accustomed the Jewish people to ways of behaving that may have helped them survive in that unnatural and unhealthy environment, but which actually work against their survival in a world in which there is a sovereign Jewish state. These attitudes are found both in the diaspora and in Israel herself.

In the Diaspora today, there are Jews whose diasporic adaptations only affect them and their communities, such as the assimilators. These are usually acting as individuals, but it can also be argued that the Reform Movement in America, by accepting – almost encouraging – intermarriage, and at the same time transforming traditional Judaism into a politically-oriented “Tikkunism,” is actually bringing about mass assimilation in fact if not in name. More serious are the collaborators, whose actions affect the entire Jewish people. They are Jews whose identification with the enemies of the Jewish people take the form of extreme anti-Zionism, or Misoziony. This would include Jewish supporters of the BDS movement, Jewish members of organizations like “A Jewish Voice for Peace” or “If Not Now,” and so on. Just as dangerous or more is the phony “pro-Israel” group J Street (see also here). While pretending to responsibly support dovish solutions to Israel’s regional conflict, J Street received funds from Arab, Iranian, and extreme left-wing sources, and consistently acts against Israel’s interests.

In Israel, we find the collective guilt complex toward the Palestinian Arabs, which makes some Israelis feel the need to compensate them for the nakba, the mass exodus of several hundred thousand Arabs from what would become the Jewish state before and during the war that accompanied its birth. There is also a tendency to appeasement, as is exemplified by various schemes to stop terrorism emanating from the Gaza Strip by helping Hamas build facilities like a port that would improve the economy, or by allowing aid money from Qatar to flow into it.

There is also the policy that a certain amount of terrorism – a few stabbings in Jerusalem, a few rocks thrown through car windshields (which have caused death on several occasions) on the roads, a few thousand acres of farmland, nature preserve, and forest burned – is an acceptable level. Better that than war, think the decision-makers. Meanwhile, the terrorists grow bolder and the incidents more frequent. But we wouldn’t want to make them angry, would we? Is it diaspora thinking or battered woman syndrome?

Today’s newspaper has a headline story about a program being pushed by Yisrael Katz, the supposedly “right-wing” Foreign Minister who has just taken over the position from PM Netanyahu, to encourage governments to move their embassies to Jerusalem. A wonderful idea, but the article notes that there is a budget of 50 million shekels (about $14 million) in aid for countries who do so. So we will bribe them to recognize our capital!

There are also the activities of the extreme Israeli Left, who are actively assisting Israel’s enemies in their efforts to delegitimize and demonize the Jewish state. Even the important Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz has several writers that contribute to this campaign on a daily basis. Nobody is saying that we shouldn’t have a free press, but Gideon Levy, for example, long ago crossed the line from social/political criticism to foaming-at-the-mouth loathing for the homeland that gave his parents refuge from the Nazis in 1939. This is a sign of a psychological disorder, and it’s a disorder that is common enough to be considered a social pathology.

Assimilation, appeasement, collaboration, and acquiescence to humiliation or even to terrorism. They are all social pathologies of the Jewish people, in the diaspora and even in the Jewish state, that are vestigial remnants of diasporic survival strategies.

It’s time for us to overcome them. In a world containing a thriving, powerful, Jewish state, they are as useful to the Jewish people as an inflamed appendix is to the human organism.

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2 Responses to Unlearning the Lessons of the Diaspora

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    All of this is correct but it says nothing about what I believe to be the predominant attitude of Israeli Jews, one which understands that Israel is fighting continually for its survival, that it does not have a moment of peace, that it has enemies that cannot be appeased but must be fought, and if possible destroyed.
    In other words I think Israel itself in its formation and its creation has exemplified an attitude in direct opposition to that of much of our time in the Diaspora.
    This said there is also much to be said about Israel being a bit too good, a bit too worried about being ‘fair’ to the other side, a bit too worried about what others in the world think.
    And here I would point to what I think is the irony of ironies of our existence. Yes, the Jews in Israel have created a Jewish state, have developed great powers of self- defense but have by no means ‘normalized’ the Jewish situation or made us acceptable to the mass of mankind.

  2. Pinchas Baram says:

    or as the phrase goes: it’s easier to take the Jew out of Egypt than the Egypt out of the Jew.

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