Israeli Citizenship Cannot be the Common Denominator Among the Jewish People

Israeli Citizenship Cannot be the Common Denominator Among the Jewish People


A response to an article by Haggai Segal, the Editor in Chief of the Makor Rishon newspaper.

July 6, 2018

By: Ilan Geal-Dor

Last week Haggai Segal, the editor of this [Makor Rishon] newspaper, wrote an article saying that we should not involve ourselves with the Jews of the world unless they want to make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel), or as he puts it: “The Jews of the Diaspora are guilty. The Jewish state can do very little for them as long as they insist on living on the rivers of Babylon. The only thing we can offer them to ensure their continued Jewishness is to move their homes to Israel as soon as possible.” In my view, this position is both problematic and dangerous. It will alienate them from the Jewish people and from the state of Israel. I am not speaking from a theoretical perspective, but rather, from experience.

A few months ago, I travelled with a group of Israeli leaders, as part of a joint program with the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Gesher, to the Los Angeles Jewish community. On our tour of the UCLA campus we met with a group of students who found it important to speak to the Israeli group.

The words of the head of the entire student union on campus, a young Jew of Iranian descent, still reverberate within me. She noted that her Jewish identity was a central component of her personality. She is a young woman who is likely engaged with her Judaism much more than most Israelis I know. She and her friends ask themselves about their commitment to Judaism, what their connection to Israel means, and how to express these feelings across an American campus. They are American Jews, or perhaps Jewish Americans. Our common denominator with them is that we are both a part of the “Jewish people”, part of a shared heritage and I hope… a shared future.

Is it because they do not live in Israel that we need to cut off communication? Is the common denominator of the Jewish people today exclusively Israeli citizenship, everyone else is outside the camp? It seems that some people have replaced the common denominator of the Jewish people from being Jewish to being Zionists. Is that so?

Here we need to ask another question: To whom does the state of Israel belong? The state of Israel is the largest project of the collective Jewish nation. Jews from all over the world concentrated their efforts, political influence and of course their resources to help establish the State of Israel. The building of the State was a collaborative effort of many good Jews and lasted over 50 years.

The Jews of the world saw, and still see themselves as part of the State of Israel through their continued support in establishing new infrastructure, facilitating international partnerships and philanthropic donations. It was and still is a team effort of all the parts of the Jewish nation, with the exception of marginal groups, who see the establishment of the state for the Jewish people as the fulfilment of a dream and the realizing of a vision. Therefore, now that the State is built, rejecting parts of those who helped and continue help in its establishment and existence – would be unfair and unwise.

But that’s not all. I will go out on a limb and say that Haggai’s statements in this context are themselves proof of the Galut (Diaspora) mentality that he himself preaches against. For also during the time of the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) there were Jews living abroad for various reasons. You do not find anyone accusing them of “Diasporaism” or doubting their Jewishness, as long as they remained loyal to Judaism. The reason: A strong nation with a strong State does not need to constantly disqualify a group of its people based on their place of residence. First and foremost, because it makes no sense, but also because a disqualification like this attests to an insecurity that comes from being a young nation that has just arrived on the stage of history.

We must remember that most living today in the world were born into a reality in which the State of Israel was already established. For them it is their second homeland and their loyalty to it is very great.

Questioning the legitimacy of their affiliation to the Jewish people based on their place of residence or their citizenship is, in their view, a strange phenomenon at best. It certainly does not bring them closer to the State, to Judaism or to their decision to make Aliyah. Also, let us not forget that in the face of this strange criticism hurled at them, they also have alternatives in the form of radical leftist organizations who offer a different and no less attractive set of values. Criticism like this presented by Haggai pushes them into these circles more than it brings them closer to us. It causes the state of Israel to be viewed more as an exclusive group of friends and less as a large and important nation that they would like to be a part of.

The State of Israel must continue to establish itself as the world center for the Jewish people, and this is how Jews around the world should view it. It is the fulfilment of our vision and dream- theirs and ours together, even if they are thousands of miles away. The great change that I see in our generation is the need for us in Israel to take responsibility and extend our hand to our brothers and sisters overseas as a significant ingredient in their own Jewish identity. The State of Israel should be a “light unto the Jews” even if immigrating to Israel is not part of their plans. It has already been proven that the Jews of Israel and the Jews of the world can be a strong and united nation across all borders. Let’s not give up so quickly on parts of our own family. It is national and Jewish duty.

Ilan Geal-Dor is the CEO of Gesher