One perennial issue of discussion is how much, if any, influence diaspora Jews should have over the direction Israeli policy should take. One argument in favor of international Jewish involvement was presented to me during the matzav (aka “The Second Intifada“). Then, as now, antisemitism seemed to increase as Israel stepped up military activity. The speaker argued that since Israel’s actions affected Jews everywhere, implying this impact was primarily negative manner, Jews everywhere should be able to influence the policy of the Jewish state.
The basic Israeli argument is very simple. We give our best years, put our lives on the line, bury our children. In the diaspora college and a job follow high school,you walk into restaurants and malls carefree, and war is just something on CNN, ‘and you want to tell us what to do?’ Israelis are physically there, reap the benefits and suffer the direct consequences of our sovereignty. To the rest of the Jewish world they say, you’re very important, and your influence would be more than welcome. But you cannot do so from the comfort of your western armchair. Put more than just your money where your mouth is, so to speak.
As Yoram Hazony says, Israel, like any other state has a purpose. “[Israel's] purpose is to be what Theodor Herzl called ‘the guardian of the Jews.’” One of Israel’s purposes is to serve as a shelter, provide safety and security for Jews. Not only in Israel, though, Jews everywhere. Just as the U.S. has a responsibility (albeit limited) to Americans abroad, Israel is responsible for Jews. What is that responsibility? If a synagogue in the Bronx is attacked, should the Israeli cabinet dispatch IDF soldiers to ward off the attackers?
Yes, Israel does have a basic responsibility for Jews around the world. The rescue mission in Entebbe and the capture and trial of Eichmann are two such examples. Yet, the founders of modern Zionism did not envision such a large Jewish diaspora. Jewish communities abroad are not to be nurtured, they are to be encouraged to come home. At its core, Zionism is the belief that all Jews must move to Israel. That is why the Jewish Agency was rightly angry at the UJC’s attempt to move Jews from Yemen to the U.S.
Jewish identity and Israel are intertwined. One and the same, some may say. However, this identity does not bestow upon all Jews an automatic right to affect Israeli policies. Last month, I heard A.B. Yehoshua declare the Jewish community in the U.S. has such rights. But the basic Israeli argument is correct. Zionism does not recognize this automatic right. It is a potential right, that can be easily realized. Demanding such a right, claiming authority to influence the affairs of the Jewish state from the comforts (or discomforts) of the West smacks of hypocrisy.
Freedom of speech is an entirely different matter. American Jews can lobby their country regarding Israel, promoting their views as they see fit. They are but Americans in this, and no more. When, however, one claims to represent American Jews, implying legitimacy is drawn from this fact, the line has been crossed. An American Jew can meddle in the affairs of Israel no more than an Israeli of German descent can tell Germany what to do.
Diaspora Jews are important, and their existence must be taken into consideration. Jews everywhere are targets of antisemitism, and may bear some of the brunt of Israeli actions, in the form of anger against them. Having a vested interest does not, however, lead to any real stake in Israel. Remaining in the diaspora is an active choice to stay away from Israel. Again, a stake in Israel can be realized in a heartbeat, by moving and being an active part of the Jewish people. Anything less is backseat driving.