By Ithamar Handelman-Smith, Jan.10, 2013 | 2:23 PM
Russian-born Hebrew-language writer Yosef Haim Brenner said, “There is no other country” than Israel. But in reality, there are plenty of other countries. These are the facts: The majority of Jews in the world live outside the State of Israel. Nearly three-quarters of them, in fact, reside in the Diaspora, including about 850,000 Israelis who have emigrated from Israel in recent decades.
I am among them. I emigrated from Israel about four years ago (first to Britain and then to France) and I have no intention of returning in the foreseeable future. I do, in fact, have another country.
About two weeks ago Haaretz published a survey that said about 40 percent of Israelis want to leave this country. So what’s new? The myth of “no other country” has never stood the test of reality. It never had a chance of doing so. The myth of “there is no other country” was, and remains, a figment of the imagination, a march of folly.
In his Haaretz opinion piece “The empty suitcase.” Uri Misgav railed against the dwindling group of rational (left-center-secular-liberal-democratic) Israelis and their constant threats of emigration from Israel. Misgav fumes over the “leftist” threat to emigrate. He expects these good people to stay in the State of Israel and to “fight with all our might for the legacy of our ancestors.”
But exactly what legacy does he have in mind? The one that is asserted by such slogans as “Hebron since then and forever” and “Yesha [an acronym for Judea, Samaria and Gaza] is here”? “Without loyalty there is no citizenship”? “Israelis to Israel, Sudanese to Sudan”?
If the heritage he is talking about is the pseudo-native sabra culture of the days this state’s founding, then it is long gone. The land-of-Israel sabra, in the classical sense, doesn’t exist any more. Nowadays only Thai laborers go out to the fields and from the sea come only aid flotillas to besieged Gaza.
In the 65 years of its existence Israeli society has undergone processes that took other peoples 2,000 years or more. Just as there is no visible connection between the Egypt of the pharaohs and the Egypt of today, or between the Greeks of the classical age and those of the Golden Dawn, so there is no connection between the sandal-wearing, Palmach-weapon wielding sabra and the new Israeli of now.
And in any case, most Israelis are at most of the third generation in the land of Israel. Ours is a society of immigrants who came to the land of Israel during the past 100 years seeking a better and more secure life. Today, from the distance of 65 years of Jewish-Zionist sovereignty in the land of Israel, any sensible person can see that in this place, there is neither a “good life” (society, economics) nor “security” (Pillar of Defense).
Why should a secular Jewish Israeli, who wouldn’t touch new messianic-fundamentalist Zionist discourse with a 10-foot pole, cling to the dream of “there is no other country”?
(And let me note here: A spade must be called a spade. The current Zionist discourse is not “nationalist-racist,” “anti-democratic” or just plain “fascist.” By any criterion it is fundamentalism, plain and simple.)
Why should the rational Israeli continue to deceive himself that this is his country and these are his people and for that reason he must continue to fight? For what? For whom? This struggle for the democratic-Western nature of the State of Israel is, plain and simple, a losing battle.
The Jewish demography in contemporary Israel proves that there is no change on the visible horizon. Fewer than 44 percent Israeli citizens define themselves as secular. If we start with assumption that at least half of those 44 percent of secular Israelis are supporters of the nationalist-racist right, then we are left with about 22 percent of the population being rational leftists. What kind of revolution could such a small group hope to foment? Why try to plant hope in the hearts of a public that has long since lost this battle?
The rational-leftist public in Israel deserves more than the scorn and ridicule Misgav articulates in his article. They needs a leadership that will rise up and take the bull by the horns. A leadership that will offer it an immediate alternative. A leadership that will offer it the Judaism of the sages of Yavneh, rather than Bar Kochba’s suicidal fanaticism.
The Zionist idea was born in the 19th century as a Jewish answer to the national movements in Europe. The fathers of Zionism sought a solution for the ethnic group of European Jewry. They found it in the land of Israel. Other streams in turn-of-the-century Judaism, far larger than the Zionist movement, offered other ideas; the Bund, for example, hoped to get a Yiddish-speaking Jewish state in Eastern Europe. Now, just as it did back then, the rational Jewish people in the state of Israel need a leadership (with a crazy vision) that will pull it out of the very dangerous place it finds itself in.