JERUSALEM — I can recall back at the time of my aliyah (immigration to Israel), around twenty years ago, being thrilled by caustically Zionist writings by the likes of Hillel Halkin, the prominent American Israeli writer-translator, or A. B. Yehoshua, the prominent native-Israeli novelist, and others. These authors typically castigated Diaspora Jews for complacency and obtuseness, for not taking up the challenge of relocating to Zion where they were both needed as Jews and best able to live authentic Jewish lives.
It’s not that those works made up my mind for me; that happened in the summer of 1982, watching TV coverage of the Lebanon War in upstate New York, when I saw much of the world bashing Israel in a way that was reflexive and vicious and went beyond legitimate criticism. But after my mind was made up, there was no stronger reinforcement than writings by immigrant and native Israelis that fiercely affirmed the need to live in Israel even with the dangers and hardships.
It’s a far cry from those days to a recent Jerusalem Post article about Serge Klarsfeld, the French Jewish lawyer, Nazi-hunter, and author, in which he gives his prognosis for the Jews of France. In short, he tells them to leave. The French government, the article notes, reports that there have been “180 … attacks or threats against Jews or Jewish-owned property since the start of this year, attributed to an increasingly violent second- and third-generation Muslim population.”
And the problem is not only with the French Muslims, who now outnumber the French Jews by six million to 600,000. Klarsfeld also attributes French Jewry’s predicament to “openly pro-Arab” French foreign policy and years of “French public and media support for the Palestinian cause.” He predicts “an escalation of [Muslim] attacks [on Jews] in Europe, and especially in France,” and says “things cannot improve” for Jews living in France. (Klarsfeld, incidentally, is not planning to take his own advice; he cites his French education, lack of Jewish culture, and feeling more “at ease” in France than anywhere else.)
What has changed since the time of my aliyah, those heady days of Zionist harangues and Israel-Diaspora polemics, is that hardly anyone notices that the situation in France and Europe generally looks like a particularly stark vindication of Zionist doctrine. That doctrine maintained that Jews were not truly at home in the Galut (Exile) and, one way or another, things would get uncomfortable for them there (the hub of those old polemics). Massive aliyot from postwar Europe, Arab countries, the Soviet Union, and the post-Soviet Union seemed like vindications as well, but not nearly as dramatically so as the present situation in a Europe that is (still) at peace and considered a paradise of human rights, democracy, and tolerance — yet whose Jewish communities feel more endangered all the time.
It is, however, a vindication fraught with ironies. For one thing, the Zionist theorists were mostly European Jews who associated anti-Semitism with the Christian anti-Semitism of those times and could not have imagined a Europe in which large Muslim populations would take the lead in creating an anti-Semitic atmosphere. But a deeper irony is that it is now the conflict in Israel itself, especially as beamed on satellite TV, that gives the European rowdies the grist for their hate-mongering. The Jewish state, conceived by Zionist thinkers as a haven from Jewish insecurity in the Diaspora, now radiates insecurity outward to the Diaspora.
Indeed, Klarsfeld predicts that for that reason, French Jews who consider emigrating are likely to prefer the U.S. over an Israel “engulfed in nearly four years of Palestinian violence.” And on the Israeli side, the Halkins and Yehoshuas aren’t heard these days loudly badgering Diaspora Jews to pack their bags and come here. True, the Jewish Agency (an Israeli governmental body) is planning to launch an aliyah campaign among French Jews, but whether this reflects Zionist conviction or a bureaucratic agenda is hard to say. At least, I can give my own testimony: though I remain Zionist at the core and wouldn’t live anywhere but here, and though small numbers of distressed or brave immigrants keep arriving, it’s very difficult to exhort people to come and live in a country that’s under constant terrorist siege.
And the final irony is that it didn’t have to be this way. The Arab-Israeli conflict has always made life difficult here, but it’s only since 1993 and especially 2000 that it’s become a real crucible for the committed. That is, since a Zionist-Israeli but, alas, leftist government engaged in the primal intellectual and political sin of appeasement, of “making peace” and ceding territory to a longtime, implacable foe known as Yasser Arafat and the PLO — a sin that Jews of all people, and Zionist Jews in particular, should have been incapable of. Israelis are now praised for their hardiness amid the siege — to which I say, thanks, and it looks like for now, after our own betrayal of history and prudence, we’re in this alone.
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