A.B Yehoshua and Israeliut
Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua set off a firestorm at the gala 100th anniversary celebration of the American Jewish Committee when he contrasted the totality of Jewish life that one is capable of living in Israel to the “plug and play” Judaism of the Diaspora.
Yehoshua might as well have released a stink-bomb. His speech quickly became the sole topic of discussion, not all of it printable.
True to his classical Zionist negation of the Diaspora, Yehoshua assumed that the future of world Jewry outside of Israel is bleak and that of Israeli Jewry secure.
For the former proposition — at least as applied to the non-Orthodox segment of Diaspora Jewry — Yehoshua can cite an impressive array of demographic evidence. Unfortunately, his confidence about the secure future of Israeli Jewry is less founded.
Yehoshua conflates intermarriage and assimilation in his assessment of the future of Israeli Jewry. He assumes that because intermarriage is less likely in Israel than in the Diaspora that Israeli Jews are immune to cultural assimilation as well.
Needless to say, the total Jewish life that Yehoshua insists is possible only in Israel has nothing to do with the greater number of mitzvot capable of being performed here, or the unique qualities of the Land of Israel, which, according to Rabbi Yehudah Halevi in the Kuzari, make it the natural habitat for the Jewish soul.
He stressed that Jewish religion plays no role for him. Rather his “total” Jewish existence is a function of the fact that he speaks Hebrew and lives among Jews in Israel. As Leon Wieseltier rightly noted in rebuttal, Yehoshua succeeded in reducing more than 3,000 of Jewish history and culture to a phenomenon barely half a century old: the State of Israel.
Yet contrary to what Yehoshua so confidently asserts, the twin pillars of language and territory upon which he predicates his Israeli identity provide scant protection against total cultural assimilation. The language spoken by most Israelis today bears only scant resemblance that of Tanach. Seemingly, every five minutes another foreign word or slang term infiltrates spoken Hebrew – a language already famous for its distortions of Biblical Hebrew.
Yehoshua’s generation may have been shaped to a very great degree by their love of the Land, but that is hardly the case with their children and grandchildren, whose knowledge of Israel’s geography often extends no further than the local mall or nearest beach. Many young Israelis have traveled more extensively in India and the Far East than in their own country.
“The very word Land’, writes Uri Elitzur, “has been removed from the enlightened Hebrew vocabulary. Whoever dares mention it is stigmatized as a worshipper of idols, who bows down to rocks and graves.” In the eyes of “enlightened” Israelis, we Jews are “a people who dwells on another people’s land” (to quote Ha’aretz’s Avirama Golan).
THE CULTURAL ELITES for whom Yehoshua speaks no longer believe that there is any reason for the continued existence of the Jewish people, any unique national mission. They conceive of the Jewish people as little more than a specific gene pool. Their Israeli identity, ultimately, provides them with nothing to counteract the weariness described by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in speech last year to Jewish donors in New York: “We are tired of fighting; we are tired of being courageous; we are tired of winning; we are tired of defeating our enemies.”
Even the basic animal instinct of self-preservation has deserted them, as evidenced by last week’s Israeli Supreme Court decision upholding, 6-5, a temporary statute that denies Israeli residence to residents of the Palestinian territories who marry Israeli citizens. (The decisive sixth justice agreed that the law was unconstitutional, but declined to strike it down on the grounds that it is soon to expire.)
In an Email to a Yale Law School colleague, Court President Aharon Barak boasted that he had convinced nine out of the eleven members of the Court that the Basic Law of Human Dignity includes “family rights,” and that within those rights is included the right to dwell with one’s spouse in Israel. He even convinced a majority of the panel that security concerns could not justify the law, even though Arabs resident in Israel by virtue of “family reunification” have committed a full 11% of all the terrorist acts committed by Israeli Arabs.
No country in the world grants residency to citizens of states with which it is in a state of belligerency. That is elementary common sense. (During World War II, both Britain and the United States routinely incarcerated Jews fleeing Nazi Germany as enemy nationals.)
And it is also elementary common sense that the Palestinian Authority is at war with Israel. Its democratically elected government refuses to recognize Israel, and legitimizes terrorism against Israeli citizens as acts of self-defense.
Since the onset of Oslo, the official Palestinian media and educational system have whipped the population into a frenzied death cult glorifying the killing of as many Israelis as possible, even at the cost of one’s life. What sense does it make to offer admission to those raised in such an educational system, or to require the Israeli government to demonstrate, on a case by case basis, that any particular resident of the PA represents a threat?
No European country confronts security threats in any way comparable to those which Israel faces from the Palestinians. Yet even the feckless Western Europeans have begun to dramatically tighten restrictions on immigration, including grants of residency based on marriage, in the face of a future in which many of their major cities are moving towards Moslem majorities. And they are employing explicitly racial and economic criteria in doing so. Yet no one claims that the Western European countries are apartheid states, unworthy of being called democracies.
The dependably sharp-tongued Justice Mishael Cheshin was not far off when he told Ha’aretz, “Justice Barak is ready for 30, 50 people to be blown up, but we will have human rights.”
Those whose identity is purely Israeli have been infected with a death wish.