Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 5, 2011 - 1:00am

An uproar in the "holy city" of New York. An Israeli Absorption Ministry campaign - using the slogan "Before Hanukkah turns into Christmas, it's time to return to Israel" - has convulsed the offices of Jewish professionals in the city. How dare those Israeli beggars patronize us? Who has ever heard of such chutzpah: delegitimizing Jews in America?

Heads of Jewish federations have sent urgent letters to Israel's prime minister, warning that the campaign is liable to harm relations between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community. Really! Ambassador Michael Oren apologized, and Benjamin Netanyahu canned the slogan. Apologies were made, now everyone can prepare for Hanukkah parties. And the main thing? "Jewish leaders" are now free to become involved in a renewed struggle against the "delegitimization of Israel." Or, in other words, they will defend Israel's government, whose forte is promoting the delegitimization of the "other."

The pointless initiative aimed at convincing Israelis living abroad to return to this country has shaken an organized American Jewish community that is not unnerved by the mounting threat to Israel's character as a democratic, Jewish state.

But even if the campaign was pointless, it nevertheless had some sort of foundation when it came to the facts, which show that intermarriage rates among the non-Orthodox community (that is, among the decisive majority of U.S. Jews ) stands at 50 percent. Less than 30 percent of the Jews polled have some sort of connection to Jewish frameworks; more or less the same percentage has visited Israel at some point in their lives. The danger that the children or grandchildren of Israelis who were born in Arizona will prefer Christmas trees to Hanukkah menorahs is immeasurably greater than it would be if their offspring had been born in Tel Aviv.

For several long months, the (mostly self-appointed ) "leaders" in the U.S. community have ignored the unbridled incitement launched by Israel against human rights organizations, the Supreme Court and the media. As far as is known, the federations have not sent protest letters to the prime minister to express dismay about the rise of violence and racism toward Palestinians in Israel and in the territories. The Anti-Defamation League has said nothing about the exclusion of women soldiers at Israel Defense Forces events. The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC passionately defends settlement policies which are shutting the door to a two-state solution. Thus everything is all right - until the ethnocentric wave which engulfs Israel crosses the ocean, and throws cold water on their egos.

For many long years a group of Jewish philanthropists and activists - some of them with right-wing, conservative outlooks, others rank opportunists - has been throwing fuel on the fire of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that threatens to extinguish Israel's democracy.

As Hanukkah approaches, somebody should translate for them the important essay published recently by Prof. Moshe David Herr in the latest edition of the New Directions (Kivunim Hadashim ) journal, entitled "The Rise and Decline of the State of Israel." This historian proposes to take as an example the Hasmonean state, which rose with meteoric speed, but fell like ripe fruit into the hungry hands of the Romans the moment it became a thorn that irritated the balance of power in the region.

"The fate of the Hasmonean dynasty was sealed after it opted for unrestrained territorial conquest, which was justified in 'religious' terms, rather than promoting balanced, prudent domestic and foreign policy," writes Herr. He adds: "Israel can still change its policy course and rise strongly."

Such change could be effected via concrete steps to end the occupation, to change relations between religion and state, to strengthen the status of democratic principles and to reduce socioeconomic gaps.

Our Jewish brethren in the Diaspora should issue calls for all of these steps. They can start by contributing $2 to offset each dollar that will be lost by human rights organizations as a result of the new NGOs law.

The prime minister's resolute response to the protests opposing the so-called campaign aimed at yordim (Israelis living overseas) bears witness to the strength wielded by Jewish leaders and philanthropists in the United States. It turns out that a little tension in relations with America's "Jewish leadership" troubles the prime minister more than a crisis in relations with President Obama. In the final analysis, when the White House closes the door in his face, his Jewish friends in America open up the gates to Congress.

If it's really important that your children take pride in their Hanukkah menorahs, it's also time for you Jews in the Jewish state to wake up.


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