Eco­nom­i­cal with the truth

The Econ­o­mist’s anal­y­sis of the ties be­tween Is­rael and di­as­pora Jews misses the point


When it comes to ar­ro­gance in the me­dia, The Econ­o­mist has no match. Its force­ful edi­to­ri­als pro­nounc­ing on ev­ery is­sue from Chi­nese busi­ness to Euro­pean en­ergy are writ­ten with a con­fi­dence and brio which leave the im­pres­sion that they must be right. Such over­whelm­ing self-be­lief is in­fec­tious and it is among the rea­sons that a jour­nal with such an un­promis­ing name is such a roar­ing suc­cess, sell­ing over one mil­lion copies weekly, half in the United States.

In re­cent times the jour­nal has not been no­tably Is­rael-friendly. In­deed, the coun­try brief­ing on its web­site gives a fairly clear view of the start­ing point. It notes that “Is­rael’s harsh oc­cu­pa­tion poli­cies, the ac­cel­er­ated con­struc­tion of Jewish set­tle­ments, the plight of refugees and the dis­pute sta­tus of Jerusalem” con­tinue to block progress on the peace process — echoes of the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen.

In its latest con­tri­bu­tion to the de­bate on the Mid­dle East, it seeks to drive a wedge be­tween Is­rael and di­as­pora Jewry. It is dif­fi­cult to quarrel with the mag­a­zine’s re­port­ing over three pages in the “In­ter­na­tional” sec­tion. It is a thor­ough sur­vey of the Jewish world from Moscow to Paris and from New York to Lon­don. Yet de­spite nu­mer­ous quotes from well-re­garded sources, there is no real aware­ness of the present de­bate in Is­rael over ways of giv­ing the di­as­pora a greater say in Is­rael af­fairs.

In­deed, be­fore his fu­ture was clouded by mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions, this was one of the pet causes of Pres­i­dent Moshe Katzav. He has been seek­ing to pro­mote the idea of a World Jewish Fo­rum, a sort of sec­ond cham­ber of the Knes­set, which would bring to­gether lead­ing sci­en­tists and schol­ars of the Jewish peo­ple. Or­gan­i­sa­tion of the project, still sched­uled for this year, has been del­e­gated to the In­ter­dis­ci­plinary Cen­tre, a Her­zliya-based univer­sity.

I t i s the edi­to­rial, headed “Di­as­pora blues”, which has raised the hack­les of An­glo-Jewry and will no doubt pro­voke a sim­i­lar de­bate in the US if The Econ­o­mist, which graces the wait­ing rooms of most ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions, is ac­tu­ally opened and read. The leader opts for glib gen­er­al­i­sa­tions. It ob­serves that “Is­raeli sec­u­lar Jews found Is­rae­li­ness a handy sub­sti­tute for re­li­gious ob­ser­vance. Some re­li­gious Jews re­vived the pre­vi­ously fringe creed of Mes­sianic Zion­ism” by set­tling Bib­li­cal lands.

There is an el­e­ment of truth in both as­ser­tions, but they fail to un­der­stand a rich ta­pes­try of ideas and mo­ti­va­tions among both sec­u­lar Jews and their re­li­gious coun­ter­parts. More­over, it is hard to square mes­sianic Zion­ism with the with­drawal from Gaza and the end to the Greater Is­rael agenda prop­a­gated by Ariel Sharon and ad­hered to by Kadima.

The great­est ca­nard is the as­ser­tion that “as the threat of geno­cide or Is­rael’s de­struc­tion has re­ceded, a grow­ing num­ber of di­as­pora Jews nei­ther feel com­fort­able with al­ways stand­ing up for Is­rael, nor feel the need to in­voke Is­rael in defin­ing what makes them feel Jewish.”

As a mem­ber of the re­cent Board of Deputies mis­sion to Is­rael, I am acutely aware that the threat of geno­cide is cur­rently more real than it has been for decades. Iran has Is­rael sur­rounded. On the north­ern border, Hizbol­lah, fi­nanced by Iran (to the tune of an es­ti­mated $200m), threat­ens the north­ern cities. In the West Bank and Gaza, Iran has been step­ping into the fi­nanc­ing breach left by the US and Europe by fund­ing Ha­mas.

Iran, in an echo of the Shoah, threat­ens to wipe Is­rael of the map. At the same time, the ay­a­tol­lahs are gal­lop­ing to­wards the de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear weapons while the West looks on ap­par­ently help­less. Far from the geno­cide threat hav­ing re­treated, it has in­creased and the fear is en­er­gis­ing the Jews of the di­as­pora.

The Econ­o­mist some­how sug­gests that the only peo­ple out­side Is­rael who are now sup­port­ing the Jewish state are the “pro-Is­rael lob­bies” in an “un­holy al­liance” with Chris- tian evan­gel­i­cals. The idea that pro-Is­rael lob­bies live in splen­did iso­la­tion with no con­nec­tion to di­as­pora Jews is un­sup­ported. They are grass­roots or­gan­i­sa­tions, with strong sup­port in each of the 50 Amer­i­can states, which dur­ing the Le­banese war man­aged to raise $348m for Is­rael in 33 days. As for the evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians, they are not a fringe mi­nor­ity, but a huge po­lit­i­cal force which pro­vides the bal­last in most pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in the South and the Mid­West.

In its fi­nal per­ora­tion, The Econ­o­mist de­mands that di­as­pora Jews should be free to crit­i­cise Is­raeli politi­cians such as Avig­dor Lieber­man and add their voices to those of mil­lions of Is­raelis who be­lieve it is time to leave the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries.

The idea that some­how di­as­pora Jews find it hard to be crit­i­cal of Is­raeli politi­cians is ris­i­ble. Af­ter all, the JC last year dis­played on its front page pic­tures of the present batch of eth­i­cally flawed Is­raeli lead­ers and the charge sheets against them.

The with­drawals from Si­nai, south­ern Le­banon and, most re­cently, Gaza, demon­strate that Is­rael does not have im­pe­rial am­bi­tions. End­ing oc­cu­pa­tion is not a point of dif­fer­ence be­tween Is­rael and the di­as­pora but one of agree­ment be­tween the Jews out­side Is­rael and within. Is­rael is al­ready a safe haven for democ­racy and peace would make it even more so.

Aside from the ex­cep­tion­al­ism of Ne­turei Karta, the right of the State of Is­rael to ex­ist, oc­cu­pa­tion or not, is not in dis­pute in the di­as­pora.

Alex Brum­mer is city ed­i­tor of the Daily Mail

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