It is too easy to dismiss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appeal for a “mass-immigration” of European Jews to Israel, following the recent terrorist attacks, as another one of his election campaign gimmicks.
By invoking aliyah, the quintessence of Zionism, Netanyahu could have supposedly been trying to position himself as the true Zionist, in contrast with his Labor opponents, now called the Zionist Camp but badmouthed by the prime minister’s campaign spinmasters as post-Zionists and even anti-Zionists.
Deep inside, however, Netanyahu is a true ideologue, inspired by the leader of the Jewish Revisionist movement, Zeev Jabotinsky (his father, Professor Benzion Netanyahu, was Jabotinsky’s secretary).
Borrowing a page from the Jabotinsky book offers an interesting parallel with today.
With the deterioration of conditions for Jews in Poland in the mid-1930s, Jabotinsky had a plan – an idea, rather – to “evacuate” one and a half million Jews from Europe to Palestine.
One of the major criticisms of Jabotinsky’s “evacuation plan,” coming from the Jewish socialist movement Bund, argued that the plan would only put the Jews in a greater danger, throwing them straight into the fierce fighting between the Arabs, the Jews and the British, then raging in Palestine.
Today, according to Netanyahu’s own rhetoric, Israel is facing an existential threat from Iran, which is going nuclear under his watch. If this is true, then is it really wise of him to invite more Jews to face that threat? Of course one laments the fact that Jews didn’t heed Jabotinsky’s appeal to evacuate Europe before the Holocaust. But despite all the current attacks – on Jews and non-Jews alike – Europe today is not the same continent it was, ready to surrender to Nazi Germany eight decades ago.
And yet, by reducing the issue to security only, we are missing a much greater point.
I still remember the days when we had another prime minister, David Ben Gurion, who had called upon us to turn Israel into Or LaGoyim, “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah, 49:6). While in some areas, like high-tech, we have accomplished that, in the more important areas of social justice and humanistic values, our Jewish state still has a long way to go.
This is exactly where diaspora Jews step in. Jews in Israel have to run the state affairs, which naturally erodes the idealistic morals of the prophets, and must arm themselves against their bad neighborhood, as Jabotinsky has advocated. However, diaspora Jews can devote themselves almost fully to the old Jewish goal of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
There is a place, indeed a need, for these kinds of Jewish existence and action in both forms.
Had Israel been the true “light unto the nations,” then Jews from all over the world would have flocked to her without even one word of encouragement from her prime minister.
Until that happens, the state of Israel and diaspora Jews should continue to live in a delicate duality, respecting the fact that in promoting Jewish values, each has a special role to play.
(Uri Dromi is the Director General of the Jerusalem Press Club)