Families of French terror victims in soldiarity march.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Before leaving for Paris on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s message was unambiguous: “To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the State of Israel is your home.”
After stepping on French soil, however, the prime minister toned down his call for mass aliya.
“I want to say to you what I say to all our Jewish brothers, that you have the full right to live secure and peaceful lives with equal rights wherever you desire, including here in France,” he said.
Netanyahu did nod to the right of Jews everywhere to make Israel their home, noting during his speech at the Grand Synagogue of Paris that “these days we are blessed with another privilege, a privilege that didn’t exist for generations of Jews – the privilege to join their brothers and sisters in their historic homeland of Israel.”
But it was clear the prime minister was trying to strike the right balance between offering warm hospitality and unabashed proselytizing.
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon that it was “a mistake and not smart” to say French Jews should immigrate to Israel now. Doing so would give the impression Israel was exploiting anti-Semitism to further its interests, Sharansky said.
From its inception, Zionism has had a symbiotic relationship with anti-Semitism. Leo Pinsker, perhaps the first to articulate political Zionism, argued in his 1882 book Auto-Emancipation that Judeophobia is intractable.
“As a psychic aberration, it is hereditary; as a disease transmitted for two thousand years, it is incurable,” he wrote.
This fatalistic diagnosis led Pinsker and many Zionists who came after him to conclude that national self-determination for the Jews in their own territory was the only answer to the Jewish question.
Anti-Semites have figured prominently as proponents of a Jewish state – not because they were interested in the betterment of the Jews but because they wanted to be rid of them.
To this day, the anti-Semites are often adamant about kicking out the Jews, while friends of the Jews want to see them stay. Prime Minister Manuel Valls – a true philo-Semite – noted poignantly last week that “if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France.”
Calling on Diaspora Jews to come to Israel en masse is wrong for several reasons. First, it reflects a fundamentally pessimistic and fatalistic view of human behavior. We must not fall into the trap of believing that anti-Semitism is a chronic condition of mankind, we must fight it.
Second, most streams of Zionism strove for the normalization of the Jewish condition. Part of this normalization process entails the recognition that some Jews will choose to live outside the Jewish state, just as some Irish, Greeks, Turks, Chinese, Australians and dozens of other émigré communities choose to live outside their respective countries. No people – Jews included – should be forced to “go back to where they came from.”
Finally, Diaspora Jewry has an important to role to play in the continued flourishing of the Jewish people. The circumstances of Diaspora living create unique opportunities for intellectual and cultural cross-pollination. And strong Diaspora communities that lobby on the part of Israel are an important foreign relations asset.
Israel is not separate from the Diaspora, rather it is an integral part of the Diaspora. That is why Netanyahu’s participation in Sunday’s march in Paris was so important.
Many Jews have found that only in Israel can they imagine living a full Jewish life. But millions of others believe that Jews have an important role to play in the Diaspora. This is their right; it should be honored and protected. The government and the person who heads it should strike the right balance between these two realities.