The New Israel Fund's Law of Return

 Jennifer Gorowitz, vice President of the New Israel Fund (NIF), writes in Haaretz (Friday Feb 17), that despite being harassed for an hour and a half at Ben Gurion Airport on her last entry to Israel, she, and all supporters of the NIF, will return to Israel to do their good work. I too have just returned to Israel from the US. The only difference is that I live in Israel and try to influence it as a citizen, which is my understanding of how democracy works.

I can identify with Gorowitz’ passionate description of the ideals the NIF wants to see realized in Israel. She doesn’t want Israel to be like the Trumpian United States, which is closing its gates to refugees and, at the same time she was being detained, arrested and interrogated Hina Shamsi, an activist in the American Civil Liberties Union on her return to the US. Good company. No doubt she would also, like me, want to see Israel do a better job absorbing the 50,000 African refugees that Israel has not deported to countries where they would be in danger. As I have tried to explain to Israelis concerned with these refugees, what a great contribution they could make to our country if we only knew how to treat them according to Jewish values and a bit of common sense.

Gorowitz doesn’t want the Israeli police to discriminate against Arabs, Ethiopians and Leftists. She is concerned that, like Trump, Bibi Netanyahu has embarked on a campaign to gag the free press and persecute human rights groups like the NIF. Never mind that at the recent press conference, Trump carefully selected friendly questions, while Bibi had no way to stifle tough Israeli journalists who were there. Gorowitz says she would be ashamed for her late father, who brought her to Israel when she was 17 to plant a tree, and who told her Israel was a safe place. He would be upset to know that her year as an exchange student at the University of Haifa from Stanford, aroused the suspicions of Israeli border guards, rather than congratulations. Kind of the way my parents might be ashamed of the American Midwest that they loved so much and brought us Donald Trump, swatiskas on Jewish Community Centers and my Canadian wife being questioned why she comes into the US on her Canadian passport when her permanent residence is in Jerusalem. Yes, America used to be a safe place with affordable health insurance to boot. If you want the latter, Israel is the place to be.

Yes, I too, would love to see none of those behaviors in Israel. That’s why I returned from a six month sabbatical in Manhattan, where I told fellow Jews that they ought to move to Israel in view of the worrying decline of American civil society. And indeed, most of those to whom I said that responded by saying, “you are so lucky to be getting out of this place.” That’s why I, and the relatively few American Jews who have made aliya are here: to try to realize in Israel the values of fairness, democracy, accountability and solidarity on which were raised in America. We want Israel to be both Jewish and democratic. But now, with a slip of the Trumpian tongue, we are on our way to a binational state that will probably end up being neither. The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick has argued for years that Israel should annex the West Bank and that demography will be no problem. Aside from the debatable sanguine population projections that underpin her argument, where is the focus on getting more Jews here from the last remaining exile: North America? But at least Glick also lives in Israel.

Gorowitz says she will continue to return to Israel. I am reminded of my exchange with David Arnow, the first President of the NIF in 1987. In response to my query as to why the NIF does not encourage aliya as the best way to bring about change in Israel, Arnow wrote: “ As for aliya, until Israel becomes the kind of place in which I would want to bring up my children, that is not something I can encourage.” Ah, the ancient Jewish Catch 22. Babylonia vs the Holy Land, German Reform Judaism vs Herzilian Zionism, the Council for American Judaism vs Israel. Jennifer Gorowitz, how about stopping the constant returning, with its high profile martyrdom at the airport? Why not just come here, with half a million of your closest liberal Jewish friends, to really have an impact on Israel?