Berlin kippot rally.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Having watched Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expose Iran’s secret nuclear program, we can only marvel at the Israeli intelligence coup that managed to bring some 100,000 documents from Tehran to Israel. The Mossad’s achievement is simply mind-blowing.
But does the ability to know our enemy’s intentions, plus having the military edge over those who would wish to destroy the one Jewish state, provide the entire answer to Israel’s security concerns?
To what extent is a secure Israel of relevance to Jews in the Diaspora?
Some 70 years ago, young Jews came to fight in Israel’s War of Independence. I spoke with Sam Tucker, who in 1948 was living in South Africa. At the age of 19, having completed his first year of medical school, he left his studies to enlist in what eventually became Israel’s air force. He arrived with eight others, seven of whom had been pilots in the South African air force, while he and another were trained navigators. The fledgling air force consisted of young volunteers coming from numerous countries, plus some paid American pilots recruited by Israel. Sam’s family was shocked at his decision, but Sam felt his place was in Israel fighting for its survival against five Arab armies.
Today, while there are committed young men and women who choose to leave the comfort of their Diaspora homes specifically to serve in the IDF as lone soldiers, they are not representative of the majority.
What of the majority? Are they connecting with Israel? This was the question raised by Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, when addressing the recent Jerusalem Post Conference in New York. His conclusion? Disconnection more accurately describes the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, particularly when speaking of the younger generation born into a world where Israel has always existed and the Holocaust is “ancient” history. There is scant awareness that the systematic murder of six million Jews by the German Nazi regime was assisted by the passive collaboration of the free world. How else can one describe those countries whose gates remained firmly closed to Jews seeking refuge from Hitler’s final solution?
Jewish demography would have looked different had there been a Jewish state for those endeavoring to escape Nazi annihilation. Pre-1939 world Jewry numbered 17 million; post World War II the number decreased to 11 million. Today, according to the Hebrew University’s demographer Prof. Sergio DellaPergola and the Pew Research Center, European Jewry numbers just over one million.
As we witness an unprecedented rise in antisemitism, especially in Europe, there is no evading remembering the past. Should we be surprised at the distinctly uncomfortable atmosphere in which the European Jewish communities find themselves at this time? Yes it is very positive that 2,000 people (including many non-Jews) came out onto the streets in Berlin donning kippot last month, but 2,000 out of a population of more than 3.7 million is not very impressive.
Coupled with the UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s acceptance of antisemitism in his party, the future for Jews in Europe is questionable.
It is against this background that Israel must retain strength and security. But how do we define security? Is it only in military terms?
What about the significance of the support for Israel from our brethren in the Diaspora?
A GLANCE at university campuses worldwide provokes the gravest of anxieties. Whereas the Arabs have invested billions in projecting an anti-Israel view, we, the Jewish people, have failed dismally in instilling in our Jewish students support, knowledge and appreciation of the one Jewish state. At best, there are those who are simply turning away; at worst, too many who are buying into the Palestinian narrative emerging as activists against Israel.
Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman initiated the successful Birthright (Taglit) program 19 years ago, enabling young adults to experience a 10- day visit to Israel free of charge. Now we must offer pre-university potential leaders the opportunity to come here for a two-to-three-month training and educational Israel experience. Universities are the breeding ground for future leadership.
Virtually from its inception, Israel has enjoyed the support of the United States. The 5,700,000 Jews there have proven to be a major catalyst in the continuation of US backing, but with waning Jewish identity, growing assimilation and ignorance of Israel, the future does not bode well for the continuation of this staunch relationship.
The harsh reality is that we have failed to build meaningful bridges with the Diaspora, resulting in the demise of the Zionist spirit that brought people like Sam Tucker to fight in the War of Independence and successive youngsters who came to work on the kibbutzim.
As we witness a turning away from Israel, we must begin the process of educating toward a love and appreciation of the one Jewish state. We must bring back that early pioneer spirit that brought youngsters here to build and create the beautiful Israel of today.
What makes for a secure Israel? History has taught us that when we Jews are together we are strong and secure, but when we divide and fight among ourselves, we become victims of those who wish our destruction.
The late ambassador Shlomo Argov, seriously wounded by Arab terrorists in June 1982 as he emerged from a diplomatic reception in London, spoke these words when addressing a meeting of UK Jewish leaders in January that year.
“Never will Israelis have reason to suspect or fear that they have been left holding the bag. Everything that provides Jews in the Diaspora with opportunities to associate themselves with this enterprise that we Israelis continue to look upon not as our exclusive preserve but belonging to all of us remains of vital importance. We are in this boat together – it is a sturdy boat, a fine boat, and it is a boat that with God’s help and with everyone’s help will reach a safe haven in our times.” The writer is public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society