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Jews Should Join the Debate about Israel, Not Just Defend It, Declares The Economist

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January - February 2007

In an article entitled “Israel and the Jews; Diaspora Blues,” The Economist of London (Jan. 13, 2007)  
declares: “What is a Jewish state for, and what should it be like? Jews have been debating that for 200  
years. Even today, with Israel already 58 years old and taken for granted by most of the rest of the  
world, they still cannot agree ... In Israel secular Jews found Israeliness a handy substitute for religious  
observance. Some religious Jews, for their part, revived the previously fringe creed of messianic  
Zionism, holding that to settle in all the biblical land — including the lands Israel captured after 1967 is  
a God-given duty ... Meanwhile, diaspora Jews have developed an even more eclectic mix of Jewish  
culture and attitudes to Zionism. And that is partly because, as the threat of genocide or of Israel’s  
destruction has receded, a growing number of diaspora Jews neither feel comfortable with always  
standing up for Israel, nor feel a need to invoke Israel in defining what makes them Jewish.”  
At the same time, The Economist notes, “...the big Jewish diaspora institutions have not caught up.  
Their relationship to Israel is still based mainly around supporting it in times of crisis and defending it  
from critics. This is true of the big umbrella groups for Jewish communities, but especially so of the  
pro-Israel lobby groups in America, formed to influence American foreign policy in Israel’s favor. Often  
these lobbies have ended up representing not Israel but its right-wing political establishment, with  
American defenders of Israel accusing critics of being ‘anti- Semitic’ for saying things that are  
commonplace in Israel’s own internal debate.”  
This attitude persists, in The Economist’s view, “because the lazy way to defend Israel is to suggest that  
its critics, even legitimate ones, are anti-Semites; and partly because the pro-Israel lobbies have  
formed an unholy alliance with evangelical Christian groups who believe, like the religious Zionists, that  
the ingathering of the Jewish exiles will bring forward Judgment Day. In their fervor, these evangelical  
Christians are more uncompromisingly Zionist than most Jews. That they also believe that Judgment  
Day will entail the destruction of Israel and the deaths of a great many Jews does not seem to bother  
the Jewish lobbies; that, after all, is the theology of the future, and their job is the politics of today. This  
knee-jerk defensiveness of Israel does not help the Jewish diaspora, at least in terms of keeping young  
Jews from leaving the faith. Some find the uncritical attitude to Israel distasteful; others simply find  
Israel irrelevant. Some strike out on their own, finding new and creative ways to explore their Judaism.  
But many are simply drifting away.”  
Beyond this, argues The Economist, “The tendency to stand by Israel right or wrong brings a second  
problem. It locks diaspora Jews out of the fateful and often bitter debates that rage inside Israel itself.  
Israel is an increasingly divided society. Secular and religious Jews used to have more beliefs in  
common ... but for decades their interests have been diverging. They disagree on most basic questions:  
borders, who is a Jew, the role of religion, the status of non-Jews ... Helping Israel should no longer  
mean defending it uncritically. Israel is strong enough to cope with strong words from its friends. So  
diaspora institutions should, for example, feel free to criticize Israeli politicians who preach racism and  
intolerance, such as recently appointed cabinet minister Avigdor Lieberman. They should encourage  
lively debate about Israeli policies. Perhaps more will then add their voices to those of the millions of  
Israelis who believe in leaving the occupied territories so that Palestinians can have a state of their own,  
allowing an Israel at peace to return to its original vocation of providing a safe and democratic haven  
for the world’s Jews.”  
The Economist concludes: “Israelis may still speak of the gola; but the Jews who fled to the Hellenistic  
world after the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple in 70 AD deliberately adopted the Greek word  
diaspora, ‘dispersal,’ because it was more neutral. ‘Diasporism’ — the idea that Jews are better off  
outside the Holy Land — is a tradition that began with the prophet Jeremiah and still exists among a  
few ultra-Orthodox Jews. But increasingly, today’s young Jews see the future not as a choice between  
Zion and exile, but as a fruitful fusion of both.”  

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