Israel. From all corners of the world, Jews come, like birds guided only by some internal instinct. An instinct to see, to touch, to live the place that bridges past, present and a potential future.
A fresh breeze in Jerusalem tells 3000 years of history, as do the hands of the Arab man in the shuk, pleading for your purchase. Meanwhile, the pride marches and music festivals keeping Tel Aviv awake, remind us of the nature of the changing landscape.
Israel. The land where survival is not a question, and thriving is a necessary destiny.
A land forever misunderstood. A land forever begging the question of its future.
The question “where will our Israel be at 100 years young” is undoubtedly a puzzling and thought provoking question.
Having only been on this earth for 21 years, I find this topic particularly perplexing, as I am yet to have seen 30 years of Israel thus far, making it all the more challenging to cast my eyes into the future another 30 years.
And yet, in my lifetime alone, one third of the life span of the state of Israel, there have been numerous notable, landscape changing events that have occurred in Israel’s timeline:
- Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005;
- The Lebanon and Gaza wars;
- The 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, and more recently,
- The US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
A 21 year snapshot in the 70 year history of the Israel that we know today – that overshadows that which other nations experience in a number of centuries.
In light of this, some amongst us may question whether in fact Israel, in some semblance of its current state, will endure in the coming decades. Indeed, Israel has faced existential threats from its neighbours since its establishment.
I am an optimist, however, about the land that resonates with one, so loudly and strongly that its echo remains even far beyond Israel’s boundaries.
As a young Jew and Zionist, I see the landscape around me constantly changing with respect to connection to Israel. As conflict endures, and prospects for a peaceful resolution seem increasingly improbable, I have seen the distinct shift from advocate to critic in my generation of Zionists.
Israel contains a dazzling selection of Jews from across the spectrum of culture and religious affiliation. Israel does not, however allow voting rights for, or, necessarily reflect the views of the diaspora Jewry who continue to unequivocally support Israel.
As a diaspora Jew, I have spent what feels like the accumulative hours of weeks and months, discussing and defending Israel on campuses, sporting pitches and on social media. I have always found it my responsibility, as a Zionist in the diaspora, to remain articulate, and yet reasoned, on the hotly discussed campus topic of Israel and the Middle Eastern conflict.
And yet, on visiting Israel, on the reviewing the Basic Law earlier this year, and on reflecting on the growing power of the extreme voice within Israeli society – admittedly, it has become challenging for me, at times, to remain connected to a place that is increasingly fragmented.
As Israel grows, with exaggerated population and power growth amongst the extreme voices in the nation, I see the country reflecting these views more and more, and I find myself increasingly concerned that the initial vision of the state, the vision that President Rivlin reinforced by saying “The State of Israel was, and will always be, the home of every Jew” may not always be a reality.
But how do we reconcile this? How do we ensure that in 30 years time, despite the growing disbelief that peaceful reconciliation will occur in my lifetime, and despite the inequalities that persist in Israel’s society as it grapples with the dichotomy of religion and democracy, Israel remains a place that diaspora Jewry are proud to advocate for?
I believe that the very answer to this question lies in the responsibility and occasional burden felt by diaspora advocates. The challenge of balancing advocating for Israel’s right to exist, yet maintaining our right to criticise the morally wrong, or counter productive social norms or governmental actions, rings true. And yet, I believe that it is this very engagement, this desire to debate Israel, to challenge its norms, and advocate for an improved society, and disagree amongst us, that will allow Israel to endure, and with it, the diaspora’s connection.
No longer can we turn away from those who wish to engage with Israel through the lens of questioning or concern. Should we want many of the next generation of diaspora community leaders to remain connected to Israel, we must acknowledge that engagement with, and passion for Israel comes in various colours, from all sides of the political spectrum. If we are able to open our communal doors to those who critique Israel, only then will we be able to find the partnership between criticism and advocacy. A place where we, the diaspora Jewry, can productively advocate for an Israel that reflects our views and vision – in addition, and with respect to, those of all of the varying facets of Israel.
In 30 years time, I see a vision of an Israel that is shaped and influenced by diaspora Jewry – and is better for it. Yes, the diaspora does not give up our sons and daughters to fight for our borders and security and do not necessarily understand the enormity of the fear and sacrifice that an Israeli lives with.
I understand that my sacrifice of attending a campus, and being labelled a “bloody Zionist” or “baby murderer”, simply for being a Jew, cannot be compared to, or even grouped with the sacrifice made by my sisters and brothers in Israel each and every day as they defend the global Jewish peoples right to freedom and safety.
However, I believe that the current Israel relies on the diaspora for support, too and should this grow, so too should the requirement of Israel to hear and consider the views of their global advocates and supporters.
With this, I see an Israel that will be willing to compromise, and adapt for modernity and equality’s sake. In 30 years time, I see our main engagement with Israel being that of advocacy and activism, so that all Jews may have a place in Israel – and I am okay with that, for I believe that this will only bring the diaspora closer in connection to the land that we love. In 30 years, the relationship of support and advocacy will be symbiotic. However, I worry that if this is not achieved, the Israel of 2048 will not, and cannot be, a place for every Jew, nor a place that every Jew is proud of.
On the eve of Israel’s 100th birthday, I see potential for a thriving, peaceful Israel that reflects its diversity of population and worldwide support. I see potential for an Israel that every Jew is proud of, and can call home. I believe that we, in the diaspora, can, must and will take some of the responsibility for ensuring this future.
(This was delivered as a TED talk at the Zionism Victoria AGM 2018)