What gives a person a vested interest in Israel and the right to opine on matters concerning the Jewish state?
Is it simply enough to be Jewish, or do you have to do a bit more; work a bit harder to earn the right to have your views taken seriously?
This question has been bothering me lately, owing to the growing number of Jews in the Diaspora who see fit to voice their opinions about the judicial reforms in Israel. Voices on both sides are being heard.
Some support the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who take to the streets, week after week to oppose the reforms, which is fair enough. Most people who live in democratic countries would be appalled by the idea of that precious gift of democracy being trampled.
Netanyahu's right-hand men abroad
Disturbingly, however, some parrot the appalling rhetoric being bandied about by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition, who call the protesters terrorists and anarchists, among other vile names.
Such people, who blindly hang onto Netanyahu’s every word, are advocating for the judicial reforms and with them, a major restructuring of Israeli society – without even living here. It is not they who will bear the consequences of those reforms, should they come to pass. In those circumstances, it cannot sensibly be argued that their voices are legitimate.
I THEN considered the broader question: What gives a person the right to speak out about Israel? Is simply being a Jew enough, since the country calls itself the nation-state of the Jewish people? Some would argue in favor of this, whereas others hold different views.
For example, a desire to live in Israel is necessary to give a person a vested interest in the country, according to Israeli-Brit, Helen Joyce, author of Good for a Single Journey. “I know many people (including my late mother) who never made aliyah, who always considered Israel her ‘home.’” (If you read her book, you’ll know why.)
Ruth Sheridan, another Brit living in Israel, agrees: “Even if the connection is merely emotional and in no way practical… such a connection can exist whether or not the person has family or even friends here.”
However, something more concrete is called for before a person’s word on Israel holds water, according to many who live here. A tangible connection, if you will, comprising regular visits, donating money, volunteering, studying, living in Israel for a period of time and having good friends or family here.
In short, you don’t have to live in Israel, but it has to be “More Than a Feeling” as the Boston song goes.
Going one step further and having “skin in the game” by living in Israel (or having children/grandchildren living in Israel) is what many believe is the key. Unless you live here, pay taxes, vote in the elections, serve in the army, or send your kids off to serve, and so on – anything you have to say is utterly irrelevant.
AS I SAID, this is a subject about which I hadn’t given much thought – until recently. When I lived in Manchester, I didn’t pay much heed to what was going on in Israel. Naturally, I considered myself a Zionist and would support Israel at any given opportunity, although demos and such were not part of my lexicon.
Draping myself in the Israeli flag, handing out leaflets, and bawling at passersby from behind a table on a suburban street, was not for me. Who was I, a Brit, to start shouting about a country 3,000 miles away in the heart of the Middle East?
As far as I was concerned, I lived in Britain, worked in Britain, had my children in Britain, schooled them in Britain – and that was that. Britain was my home. Just because I was a Jew didn’t entitle me to get involved.
That, of course, all changed once we decided to make aliyah. From the moment we received our teudot zehut (identification cards) and we all became Israelis, my voice mattered.
This feeling has been magnified over the years, particularly since my sons joined the army, and more recently, as I’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow Israelis at the demonstrations that have gripped the country.
Fighting to preserve our democracy is extremely important to me, my family and all of those who turn out week after week to voice their very real concerns. What the government does affects us all, in one way or another, unlike Jews in the Diaspora who, by and large, have no skin in the game – no children serving in the army, no taxes to pay, and no jobs to go to. For them, what happens in Israel is irrelevant insofar as their day-to-day lives go.
Consequently, those who are calling for change in Israel without actually living here or having any real involvement, should either put up (and move here) or shut up!
The writer, a former lawyer from Manchester, England, now lives in Israel, where she works at The Jerusalem Post.