Think About It: Why Israelis moved to Europe

Lapid: A word to all those who are fed up, and are leaving for Europe.

By
October 27, 2013 21:58
Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

Lapid looking sharp 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Finance Minister Yair Lapid had the following to say in one of his recent Facebook posts: “A word to all those who are fed up, and are leaving for Europe. You happen to catch me in Budapest. I came here in order to speak in the parliament against anti-Semitism, and remind them how they tried to murder my father here just because the Jews did not have a state of their own, how they killed my grandfather in a concentration camp, how my uncles were starved, how my grandmother was saved at the last minute from the death march. So forgive me if I am a little impatient with people who are willing to throw the only country the Jews have into the trash can because Berlin is more convenient.”

Lapid was reacting to a series of reports by Channel 10 TV’s financial correspondent Matan Hodorov about young Israelis who have chosen to emigrate to Berlin, London and New Jersey, primarily for economic reasons.

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Like everyone else in a country which purports to be a democracy, Lapid not only has the right to his opinions, but also the right to share them with the world at large.

Nevertheless, there is something very disturbing about a high-ranking public figure expressing himself in this manner. Where else in the democratic world does the finance minister tell off citizens for deciding to emigrate? At most, finance ministers of other countries will try to make sure emigrants do not leave behind any debts to the tax authorities when they leave.

In the early days of the state, for an Israeli to leave the country was considered something to be ashamed of. As late as 1976, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin called the yordim, emigrants, a “nefolet shel nemushot” (an untranslatable expression meaning something like “contemptible wimps”). But that was almost 40 years ago, and many of us actually believed that Israel had moved away from that narrow and intolerant state of mind. Well, apparently we have not.

There are other problems with Lapid’s statement. First of all, the yordim do not want to “throw Israel into the trash can.”

They simply have decided not to live in it, and in a democratic society people have the right to choose where, with whom and how to live.

The reasons for their decision to leave are varied, and include besides the economic reasons (usually the straw that breaks the camel’s back) loss of hope that peace will ever prevail between Israel and its neighbors, for which they believe Israel is as much to blame as the Arabs; discomfort with the lack of determination of Israel’s leaders to make a serious effort to separate religion and state, and enable seculars to enjoy nonreligious marriages and burial services, public transportation on Saturday etc.; and the feeling that life in Israel frequently feels like life in a pressure cooker, where too many people are nervous, intolerant and violent.

Another problem with Lapid’s post is that it argues that the Holocaust as the ultimate reason for Jews to live in Israel.

While it is undeniable that the Holocaust provided the ultimate proof for why the Jews need a state, where they can live their lives as Jews without harassment or worse, the fact that the Holocaust occurred is not a good enough a reason for a Jew to live in Israel, especially when the country’s prime minister keeps warning the world of the dangers to the Jewish state from a nuclear Iran, Muslim terrorist organizations, and unstable Arab regimes.

With all due respect, I think it is physically safer for a Jew to live in Berlin these days than in Jerusalem, though I do not belittle the emotional difficulty involved for a Jew to do so, given the not-too-distant history.

In a letter to one of the Hebrew dailies a woman recently wrote that she regretted not having allowed her eldest daughter to participate in one of the organized trips of high-school kids to Auschwitz, since her daughter had subsequently decided to move to the US and is living there with a non-Jewish American.

I feel sorry for this mother, who appears to believe that a visit to Auschwitz could solve the problem (if indeed one views the daughter’s choices as a problem). Certainly it is important that the younger generation of Jews should be familiar with the Holocaust, and I do not belittle the danger of forgetting, or of simply not knowing.

However, why do people believe that a visit to Auschwitz will strengthen the determination of the younger generation to live in Israel, rather than strengthen their awareness of the terrible dangers inherent in racial prejudice and intolerance gone wild? Maybe had the woman’s daughter visited Auschwitz she would have returned feeling repulsion in face of the way Israel as a state, and individual Israeli Jews, look at and treat African refugees, to the point of not even bothering to verify whether they are bona fide refugees or merely seekers of employment who entered the country illegally? Maybe she would feel sick to the stomach to see how the authorities treat Israeli Arab citizens (including Arab MKs) at Ben-Gurion Airport, and feel shame at the frequently callous and insulting conduct of some of the more extreme Jewish settlers in the West Bank, and some IDF units serving in the territories against the Palestinians, who might not be “Lovers of Zion” but are human beings, for whom this land has been home for many centuries and even millennia, and feel (not without justice) that their rights are being trampled on? Don’t get me wrong. I am not happy to see the younger generation leave, and I would never seriously consider leaving the country myself – at least not as long as I am able to lead my life as I wish to lead it, without any serious intervention from the powers that be. One of my daughters lives in Berlin, and no one would happier than I if she were to return after being there for 11 years. However, I understand why she is there, and I do not judge her for it, trying to make the best of the situation.

The fact that Yair Lapid feels contempt for my daughter, without knowing her, merely reflects his provincialism, superficiality and total lack of understanding of what democracy and free choice mean in the deeper sense of the terms.

Instead of badmouthing those Israelis who have decided to leave, Lapid is advised to concentrate on doing his job properly – namely, making sure that fewer young Israelis have cause to consider leaving. Furthermore, perhaps the time has come for our finance minister to stop dealing with the insomnia he claims to suffer from by getting up in the middle of the night to write irritating and ill-considered posts on Facebook. May I recommend a good sleeping pill? The writer is a retired Knesset employee.


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