Israelis living abroad: Guilty as charged

‘Former’ Israelis try to assuming a super-protective posture.

By DAVID J. FORMAN
March 12, 2010 18:00
Israelis living abroad: Guilty as charged

david forman 88. (photo credit: )

 
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In his book How to be a Jewish Parent, Dan Greenberg wrote: “Let your child hear you sigh every day; if you don’t know what he’s done to feel guilty, he will!”

Guilt is one of the personality traits of us Jews; either we have too much of it or not enough. At times, we try to weld a synthesis between the two – that is, finding the right amount of healthy, justified and conscious guilt. This would essentially mean creating a notion of non-neurotic guilt, which would certainly be a novelty for the Jewish people. As Mel Brooks’s 2,000-year-old man said when knocking on the cave door of one of his thousands of children as rain was pouring down: “It’s okay. You don’t have to let me in, I just want to look at you – I’ll stand in the rain.”

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Greenberg: “Control guilt and you control the child.”

Indeed, guilt has sometimes taken charge of much of the Jewish response to so many events. This is particularly true of those Israelis who permanently live abroad. Oftentimes, the guilt they feel for having “abandoned” the country overwhelms them. As I continue on
my lecture tour in the States, I run into dozens of yordim – all of whom upon meeting me become extremely defensive about what brought them to America and why they remain there.

These former Israelis (they hate being referred to as “former” Israelis) try to assuage their pangs of conscience by assuming a super-protective posture regarding Israel. They feel a macho attitude will expiate their guilt for living far from their former homeland (they also hate the concept of “former” homeland). In short, no one is going to accuse them of not being loyal Israelis. They will prove their patriotism, which basically translates: “My country – right or
wrong.”

WITH ALL the unjust criticism of Israel being bandied about in many quarters in the States, they view themselves as our emissaries, fending off attacks from all sides. They are on the front lines – reminiscent of those good old days when they were in the army, as they
regale you with inflated tales of their military feats. They won’t permit anyone to gang up on Israel. It is not enough that they feel guilty about not living here; they will not also be made to feel guilty for what Israel does. For them, everything it does is justified.

Our tradition teaches: “Every Israeli is responsible for all Israelis.” So, what can be done to ease the gnawing pain in the pit of the stomach of these transported Israelis? Voting in Israeli elections would be one way to address their guilt. For a moment, it looked like such an opportunity would be realized, and Israelis living across the ocean became very excited. But their initial excitement has turned into bitterness as it has become clear that the government does not have the votes to pass a bill giving them this privilege.



Motivated by expediency, not principle, our prime minister was more than willing to introduce a law extending the right to vote to expatriates, convinced it would strengthen his political hold on office. But the general public is resentful that Israelis abroad would share in the nation’s democratic process without assuming any of the country’s responsibilities. This is very much like the general attitude toward the haredi community. Many are sick and tired that the haredi parties, whose religious/theocratic demands grow bolder by the day, are never reined in because of crass coalition considerations – that is, the sense that the government would fall if the haredi population was alienated. They are justifiably incensed that haredim are exempt from serving in the IDF (or volunteering for national service), letting others defend them, especially since some of their cherished rabbinic gurus have had the hutzpa to blame many of our soldiers for their own deaths in the Lebanon and Gaza campaigns because “they did not observe Jewish law.”

OLIM ARE caught in a dilemma. I hold dual citizenship – American and Israeli. I am accorded the right to vote in US elections. Polls in Israel determine that those US citizens who live here tend to vote Republican, which stands in sharp contrast to the voting pattern of
the American Jewish community that overwhelmingly votes Democratic.

Israel plays a minor role in the minds of most American Jews when they enter the voting booth; whereas American Jews living in Israel only think about US presidential politics in parochial terms: Which candidate is “good” for Israel? Given that over the past years olim
from North America are primarily Orthodox, they unanimously vote conservatively. I would venture to say that Israelis who are now American citizens also have Israel foremost in their minds when voting for the US presidency.

Allowing displaced Israelis voting rights would be emulating the example of the freest country in the world. However, there is one major difference: Those Israeli Americans, as well as those American Israelis, who voted for George W. Bush because they thought he would
be more supportive of the Jewish state than Al Gore or John Kerry, share in the responsibility for the disastrously ill-advised war in Iraq. Because America sports a volunteer army, transplanted American Jews don’t worry when voting in the country of their birth that their
sons or daughters will be required to bear the ultimate consequence of their vote – the possibility of dying in battle.

Because serving in the IDF is mandatory – except for Israeli Arabs and haredim – those Israelis in America who vote in our elections, whether they be on the left or the right of the political spectrum, take upon themselves the direct responsibility that their vote could send off to war not only any Israeli, but possibly their own relatives and friends, while they sit comfortably in their homes in Hoboken, New Jersey. Such thoughts irritate me beyond words. There is little more that irks those of us who have cast our lot with the Jewish people by actually living in this country than those in the Diaspora who are more than willing to sacrifice our blood for their ideological purity.

I would argue that the US is mistaken by granting the right to vote in its elections to Americans living abroad. It would be a major error for Israel to do the same. One cannot have it both ways. Israelis who have chosen to live elsewhere have forfeited their rights in their native country. If this increases their level of guilt, well, in the immortal words of Rhett Butler: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The writer is a Reform rabbi, author, lecturer and ongoing contributor
to The Jerusalem Post Magazine

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