Love is always better than fear. Choice is always better than coercion.
With Israel’s next birthday being its 70th, you would have thought it would have figured that out by now. When you get to be 70, you should have learned what’s the right way to behave, what’s the decent way to act.
Unless, of course, you are 71-year-old Donald Trump, who clearly hasn’t learned either of those things, clearly never will and whose lack of grace and compassion and humanity is having a very detrimental effect on the character of the United States.
What message, after all, does it send to young men and young women in our country when the leader of our country supports Roy Moore, who, it could not be clearer, is a sexual abuser of children. Things like that corrode the very essence of a country.
What a leader of a country embraces and what he condemns sends very powerful signals. Which is why I was so upset to see that no less than Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has joined the disgusting effort to get Israel’s president to issue a pardon to Elior Azaria, the Israeli soldier who was convicted for having walked up to a Palestinian lying on the ground, unarmed and incapacitated, and shooting him in the head. For that act of cold blooded murder, the soldier is serving all of 14 months. But even that is too much for Netanyahu, who wants him pardoned.
Tell me please what message that sends to the people of Israel, the young people of Israel, the soldiers of Israel. Right wing politics before Jewish values. Appealing to your base above clinging to the Torah.
And so we have a president who is backing a man who undressed and fondled a 14 year old girl. And Israel has a prime minister who is backing the pardon of a soldier who walked up to an 18 year old man lying on the ground and shot him in the head.
But my point this time has to do with love and fear, choice and coercion. And why Israel needs to more choose love and choice and stop it already with the fear and coercion.
A new report showed that most of the Jews making aliyah to Israel this year did so out of fear, did so because they were fleeing from their country, not running to their homeland.
Indeed, the vast majority of Jews moving to Israel this year came from the former Soviet Union. Meanwhile, there was an 11 percent decrease from last year of Jews coming from the United States. Yes, although there are about six million Jews in the United States, all of 2,282 of them moved to Israel this year. That’s in comparison to 5,661 immigrants from Russia, which has a Jewish population of 186,000. In all, 13,192 Jews making aliyah this year came from the former Soviet Union.
They came from Russia because sanctions and a financial crisis exacerbated by low oil prices have halved the value of the ruble. Policies limiting personal freedoms in Russia under President Vladimir Putin also has contributed to the increase. They came from Ukraine because the economy crashed following a revolution and territorial disputes with Russia.
And so they came because they had to, not because they wanted to, they came out of desperation not out of love of Zion. They came because things were bad for them where they were.
And yes, we should be happy and grateful Jews today have a refuge in Israel, a safe harbor to flee to. But we should not be happy that that is what we have made Israel out to be.
Israel is an amazing, beautiful, wondrous place, a place where Jews are meant to be, the best place to live an authentic Jewish life, feel yourself each and every day to be a part of and making Jewish history. And yet way too much do we not emphasize that, talk about it as a place Jews should want to be, yearn to be, a place that even if Jews live in a great country they still will choose to come, because they want to be in their own land for positive reasons.
But that’s not how Israel sells itself. Consider. Just recently Israel’s ambassador to Macedonia told the Jews of Europe that they should move to Israel because of all the terrorist attacks in Europe. Dan Oryan said to the Jews of Europe that a “strong Israel tells them: there is another option.”
Meaning if you’re afraid, Israel is for you. Nothing about love of Israel, only fear of terrorism. Nothing about choosing, only about being forced to run for their lives. His words echoed a speech in 2015 by Netanyahu who urged Jews in France to move to Israel, following a massacre perpetrated by Islamists at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, which was quickly followed by the murder of four Jews at a local kosher supermarket.
Oryan defended what Netanyahu said then and what he is saying now. “From the prime minister you hear a lot of these calls, especially after terrorist attacks and it will continue – with good reason. If the Holocaust victims had somewhere to go as they do today, had they had a prime minister calling them, saying: ‘This is where you need to go,’ then they would have been able to lead a full Jewish life.”
First, what is going on today in Europe is a trillion miles away from what the Holocaust was, and second, to use the Holocaust to make a political point is shameful. Beyond that, how’s the Netanyahu/Oryan fear strategy working out? Yes, things were bad for a while there for French Jews, and yes, out of fear, thousands of French Jews made aliyah. But things are much better for French Jews now, the government of France has done much to protect its Jews and so guess what? French Jews are no longer moving to Israel.
Since the reason they were told to come was out of fear, now that they are not afraid, they aren’t coming. Too bad they weren’t appealed to out of love, from choice. And so, according to that recent report, immigration from France continued to plummet for the second straight year, with this year registering a 26 percent drop. Coinciding, not coincidentally, with a decrease in anti-Semitic incidents since 2015 in France.
And oh, there was an increase in aliyah this year from Turkey, where many Jews are worried about political instability and state-tolerated anti-Semitism under President Recep Erdoğan. This year, twice as many Turkish Jews came as did in 2016. Out of fear.
But back to American Jews. One would think with immigration from the United States down, the government of Israel, realizing that because American Jews don’t have to fear, that they should emphasize them coming out of love.
Instead what we heard recently from Israel’s most senior diplomat were words of hate, words of insult, words belittling American Jews.
As we all know, it’s very important that Israel has good diplomatic relations with the countries of the world. And yet, it is an unbelievable and yet true fact that Israel has no foreign minister. Has not had one for several years in fact. Yes it has no face to present to the world, to represent it at world gatherings. It would be like if the United States went for several years with no secretary of state.
And why is that? Because of Israel’s insane politics. Without going into all the machinations, Netanyahu has refused to name a foreign minister, instead for years now has held on to that title for himself. Indeed at this moment, Netanyahu is not only prime minister, he is also foreign minister and health minister.
Which means that for all intents and purposes, Israel’s deputy foreign minister is its number one diplomat. Her name is Tzipi Hotovely. And good old Tzipi recently said of U.S. Jews that they are “people that never send their children to fight for their country” and that “most of them are having quite convenient lives.”
She said that on an Israel-based English-language news channel while talking about increased tensions between Israel and U.S. Jewry, including over restrictions on non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall. But instead of saying that perhaps the Israel government should change its policy so as to not alienate 90 percent of American Jews who believe in being able to pray as they wish at the Wall, her answer instead was to say that she wished more American Jews would move to Israel to influence the political process there. “Everyone is welcome to come here to influence Israeli politics.”
Okay, but then in issuing her invitation, she decided not to take the love route but the nasty route, not to show American Jews why they should want to live in Israel but rather why they need to do so because they are so pathetic.
What she did was insult us, saying U.S. Jews are distant from the sacrifices other Americans make, and the threats that govern life in Israel. “People that never send their children to fight for their country, most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, or to Iraq. Most of them are having quite convenient lives.”
The fact, dear Tzipi, is that while the U.S. military stopped recording the religion of recruits decades ago, until then Jews served in slightly greater proportion than their percentage in the general population, with a large number of Jews serving during World War II. And there continues to be a Jewish presence in the military, including in the highest ranks. Gen. David Lee Goldfein is the U.S. Air Force chief of staff. There is an organized Jewish presence at all the military academies. Additionally, a significant proportion of the U.S. Jewish population has lived in Israel, including stints in its military, with at this moment many young Americans serving as ‘lone soldiers’ in the Israeli army.
The leader of Reform Jewry, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who was physically assaulted when he tried to pray at the Western Wall recently, said it best in reacting to Hotovely’s comments. “The Deputy Foreign Minister has a right to her ill-informed and insulting views. But such views disqualify her holding such an important role in Israel’s diplomatic corps. Her comments serve to underscore how the Israeli government disdains the majority of North American Jews.”
If you want people to move to your country, to our country, to the Jewish country, insulting them isn’t the way to do it, just like scaring them isn’t the way to do it. Might be nice to try a little love for a change.