Latest update: June 27th, 2013
On a beautiful Sunday morning in May, I was driving south on the West Side Highway in New York City, heading towards the Israel Day Parade. As my car made it’s way along the mighty Hudson river, I marvelled on how awesome this city is. I saw myriads of buff joggers, happy barbecues taking place on well-tended Riverside park lawns, and of course, the imposing, surreal, gigantic skyscrapers that adorn this world-capital metropolis.
I travel often to New York to promote a stronger connection between North American Jews and Israel, and to encourage Aliyah, and every time I go I am struck by the thought: How is the Aliyah idea going to compete? This place just has too much of a magnetic pull and Jews have everything here – financial success, the best of world culture, freedom to worship, and all in relative safety, in the shadow of this great city.
While I was pondering this, I saw an airplane flying low over the Hudson River, at first thinking it was a WWII relic. But then I realized it was one of those propeller planes that tow a sign for people to read at the beach. I could make out the first letter was a “J” and so I guessed it was Christian advertising promoting you-know-who. “New York is still a non-Jewish town, and Jews will never feel fully comfortable here” I thought. But as the plane got closer, the sign said something else, something very Jewishy indeed.
It read: “Judaism rejects Zionism and the State of Israel -NK, USA.”
Yup, Neturei Karta rented a plane and flew an anti-Zionist sign from the Rockaways all the way up past Manhattan – all in an effort to push back against the Israel Day Parade. Now I felt totally dejected, because I realized how doubly hard it will be to detach Jews from New York. Not only is the city tantalizing, but there is a conscious effort being made to disconnect Jews from Israel.
You may argue that Neturei Karta is an extremist group and is unrepresentative of American Jewry, and that is true. But they are not the only ones mounting a distance-yourself-from-Israel campaign. On both ends of the Jewish political spectrum there are movements which seek to disengage Jews from Israel.
For some in the Progressive movement it has been in vogue to see Israel as immoral, repressive, racist, as an apartheid state, and even equivalent to the Nazi regime. In a recent article featured on Tikkun Magazine’s website, reprinted from Haaretz, the writer asserts:
“The practice of denying the Palestinians their basic civil rights in the occupied territories under the army’s colonial regime – exemplified by the scandalous policy of administrative detentions and the disappearing of people in Israeli prisons for years because of their opposition to repression and humiliation – is frighteningly similar to the persecution practiced by the dark regimes of the 20th century against their opponents.”
These Progressives may believe they are helping Israel through their criticism, but the real effect is that Jews who come in contact with them are distanced from Israel. Israel is decidedly not their country because it does not meet their progressive Jewish moral standards, or in other words: their Judaism rejects Zionism. “Forget it man, Israel is a mess,” says the liberal-minded Jewish student on campus.
The ultra-Orthodox Chariedim may come from the polar opposite world view, but they too have a Jewish moral reason to get some distance from Israel: Israel is not religious enough, not Torah enough. According to this doctrine Israel was built as a secular State by those antagonistic to Judaism and today is still run by those antagonistic to Judaism. The coercive secularism of Zionism is at the root of the real Israel, and the advent of Yair Lapid only prove that nothing has changed.
Hamodia, the self-described, “Daily Newspaper of Torah Jewry,” had this as the opening line of a recent article: “Secular politicians in Israel — not all of them, but those who are leading the campaign for an ‘equal sharing of the defense burden’ — want to deal the chareidim a crushing defeat.”
How ironic. Both of these Jewish groups could see Israel in a totally different light if they only chose to.
About the Author: Yishai Fleisher is the Contributing Editor and PR manager at the JewishPress.com, and Israel's only English language broadcast radio show host (Galey Yisrael 106.5FM). Yishai is an Israeli Paratrooper, a graduate of Cardozo Law School, and the founder of Kumah ("Arise" in Hebrew), an NGO dedicated to promoting Zionism and strengthening Israel's national character. Yishai is married to Malkah, they have two children, and they live on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
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