The pioneers of the Diaspora had hardly reached the rivers of Babylon when they learned that back where they came from, in King Zedekiah’s Jerusalem, they were being disowned.
“Keep far from the Lord,” said their former neighbors, “the land has been given as a heritage to us” (Ezekiel 11:15). There is no way of worshiping the God of Israel outside the Land of Israel, they claimed, and those dwelling in foreign lands might as well adopt a foreign god.
The Diaspora’s dismissal by short-sighted nationalists is indeed as old as the Diaspora itself, having been voiced already during the brief twilight years between the sacking of Zedekiah’s Jerusalem in 586 BCE, and his nephew Jehoiachin’s departure to Mesopotamia the previous decade.
Now those biblical Jerusalemites’ insensitivity and tunnel vision are being dusted by the likes of Culture Minister Miri Regev, who just tried to cancel the Diaspora’s representation in the Jewish state’s official Independence Day ceremony.
The attempt failed, but still epitomized the ruling party’s distancing and abuse of millions of non-Israeli Jews.
ISRAELIS OF all walks were heartened in 2017 when philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, sponsor of the Taglit journeys to Israel, and Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, were made part of the annual ceremony at Mount Herzl that officially opens Independence Day.
The ceremony, in which 12 Israelis with varied achievements light torches “to the glory of the State of Israel,” is broadcast live on all major channels, and thus followed by millions as they make the wrenching transition from saluting the fallen soldiers to celebrating the state they bequeathed.
The emergence of Diaspora Jews among the torch-lighters was greeted here affectionately, inspiring a moment’s sense of solidarity that transcended geographic, political and religious fault lines. Yes, actress Mayim Bialik’s last-minute cancellation last year due to a scheduling conflict was a sad mishap, but no one thought that the new tradition should be nipped in the bud.
No one, that is, except Regev, who said cantingly that no commitment was ever made formally to include non-Israeli Jews in the ceremonies.
Regev’s real motivation will never be admitted, but was as transparent as the rest of her populistic shticks. Lighting the Independence Day torch is a big honor in Israel, and handing it to people or organizations that cannot pay her in local political currency is for her a political waste.
Regev backtracked following an outcry led by Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, but clearly the prospect of a torch being lit by Alan Dershowitz – as was suggested before her cancellation – was for her meaningless. She does not read what he writes, and she does not face the enemies he voluntarily fights daily for all of us.
The ceremony, with all due respect to its emotional intensity and political yield, is but a ceremony. Yet lurking behind the Diaspora’s attempted removal from it is a much broader estrangement, led by the ruling party and its leader.
The same disparagement of the Diaspora led the Likud’s leaders to renege in 2017 on their commitment to allocate a section of the Western Wall for egalitarian prayers.
Eager to ingratiate its ultra-Orthodox allies, the Likud effectively told America’s millions of liberal Jews what Zedekiah’s Jerusalem told Babylonia’s Jews, and what Regev tried to tell the entire Diaspora: You’re out.
Being the ideological hitchhiker she is, Regev said in 2017 of American Jewry: “I respect the way they chose to preserve their Judaism abroad, but in this land we have the heritage of Israel.”
It was almost exactly what ancient Jerusalem’s reckless nationalists told Babylonian Jewry. And in case this wasn’t hurtful enough to the millions who do not share her version of Judaism, Regev added that day: “I don’t want to see women in prayer shawls at the Wall,” because “it is against my values.”
Regev’s audacity is but a symptom of the Likud’s attitude toward the Diaspora, which is rife with religious hypocrisy, political ingratitude and nationalist conceit.
RELIGIOUSLY, KEY Likudniks like Benjamin Netanyahu or ministers Yariv Levin and Yuval Steinitz are run-of the-mill Ashkenazi secularists whose willing surrender to ultra-Orthodoxy’s whims has nothing to do with conviction.
Other Likud leaders, like ministers Israel Katz and Gilad Erdan, were raised religious but later abandoned Orthodoxy. That means that in their convictions they are actually closer to liberal Judaism than they are to ultra-Orthodoxy.
Even so, in their eagerness to serve ultra-Orthodoxy, the Likud’s leaders obey rabbis who fight Diaspora Jews on multiple planes, from marriage and conversion to burial in a Jewish cemetery’s grave.
If they can’t bring conscience to their treatment of the Diaspora, can’t the Likud’s leaders at least think about it instrumentally?
Looking to the past, they should recall that the Diaspora made unsung contributions to Israel’s success – for instance, when Shamrock Holdings’ Stanley Gold bought Koor, Israel’s largest employer, after it reached the brink of bankruptcy; or when economist Stanley Fisher helped conceive the austerity plan that saved Israel from economic ruin; or when investment banker Harvey Kruger paved Israeli hi-tech’s road to Wall Street; or when American, European and Australian Jews struggled for Soviet Jewry’s liberation.
Looking to the future, Likudniks should ask themselves how they will want distant Jews to feel on the cloudy day when, say, hell breaks loose between Israel and Iran: Will they want them to feel that Israel’s wars are their wars, or that Israel is for them what the Diaspora is for Miri Regev: a fifth wheel at best, a thorn in the side at worst.The writer’s new book,
Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019), is an interpretation of the Jewish people’s political history.
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