Israel Loses Its Best

While economics is certainly playing a role in this emigration, it is not the only factor, writes Lawrence Davidson. There is also a question of conscience. 

Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport. (Sarah Stierch, Flickr)

By Lawrence Davidson

In 2012 the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on a poll suggesting that at least one-third of Israelis would consider emigrating abroad if the opportunity presented itself. This was not to be temporary phenomenon. An updated 2018 Newsweek article stated that “Israel celebrates its 70th birthday in May with the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Yet the country is grappling with an existential crisis. … Spurred by the high cost of living, low salaries, and political and demographic trends, Israelis are leaving the country in droves.” Given the fact that “Israel has one of the highest poverty rates and levels of income inequality in the Western world,” you can see why the notion that Israel is “absolutely essential … to the security of Jews around the world” is up for debate among Jews themselves.

While economics is certainly playing a role in this emigration, it is not the only factor. There is also a question of conscience. Particularly noticeable among those leaving are numbers of intellectuals and academics. And among this group are some of Israel’s most ethical citizens. Here we can again turn to Haaretz. On 23 May 2020 the newspaper published a series of interviews with some of the activists and scholars despairing of enlightened change and therefore choosing to leave the country.  Here are a few examples:

—“Ariella Azoulay, an internationally recognized curator and art theoretician and her partner, philosopher Adi Ophir, who was among the founders of the 21st Year, an anti-occupation organization.”

—“Anat Biletzki, a former chairwoman of B’Tselem — the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.”

—“Dana Golan, former executive director of the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence.“

—“Yonatan Shapira, … who initiated the 2003 letter of the pilots who refused to participate in attacks in the occupied territories.” 

—“Neve Gordon, political scientist, who was director of Physicians for Human Rights and active in the Ta’ayush Arab Jewish Partnership.” 

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And the list goes on for quite a while. According to the article, “the word that recurs time and again when one speaks with these individuals is ‘despair.’ Percolating despair, continuing for years.” That is, despair among those people trying to build a society where Israeli Jews and Palestinians could live in harmony as equals. It has gotten to the point where such a humanitarian stance can result in being “forced out of their jobs because of their political beliefs and activities” and/or the realization that “they could no longer express their views in Israel without fear.” Those with children expressed concerns about raising them within the political and social climate that now dominates Israel. 

Israeli soldiers searching a Palestinian in Tel Rumaida, Gilbert checkpoint, 2012. (Friends123, CC0, Wikimedia Commons)

Empowered Fanaticism

It is to be expected that each of these expatriates has mixed feelings about leaving Israel. After all, they leave not only a suffocating political and social climate, but also their community and a Hebrew language that many find personally enriching. Unfortunately, empowered fanaticism puts at risk all that is culturally and socially positive. 

And empowered fanaticism is what you get when nationalism merges with an exclusive tribalism characterized by racism and religious zealotry. Eitan Bronstein, an Israeli activist now living abroad, gives a sense of this when he observes that “There is something quite insane in Israel.” To grasp it fully an Israeli must learn to see it from the outside—“to look at it from a distance is at least a little saner.” Neve Gordon tells us just how much distance is required to fundamentally change things: “What I understood was that the solution cannot be contained in Zionism.” 

Gordon is correct. The source of Israel’s fate, as well as its behavior toward the Palestinians, lies in its founding ideology. Here is an explanatory sequence:

— Zionism, the ideology underlying the Jewish state, originated in the 19th century as a response to the persecution of Jews, particularly in eastern Europe and Russia. 

—The 19th century was a prime period of nationalism and the nation-state. It was a logical decision of the early Zionists that the solution to Ashkenazi (northern European) Jewish persecution lay with the founding of their own state. And so began the melding of Judaism and Zionism.

—However, in the 19th century the nation-state was also tied to Western chauvinism and imperialism. Peoples outside of Europe and North America were seen as inferiors.

—The founding Zionists, mostly Poles, Russians and Germans, were, if you will, just as infected with this chauvinism as their non-Jewish European counterparts. They took the superiority of European culture over that of non-Europeans for granted and therefore believed the Palestinians had few rights in the face of European imperial expansion. In this way the Zionist Jews identified with and absorbed the role of the aggressor. It was an ironic stance because that same European culture was the source of Jewish persecution. 

— Come the early 20th century, the Zionists made an alliance with the British government, which would soon conquer Palestine. The British promised the Zionists a “Jewish national home” there. This allowed the Zionists to begin bringing ever larger numbers of European Jews into an Arab land.

— The inevitable Palestinian resistance to this Zionist invasion was used to further justify the racism most Israeli Jews feel toward those they have dispossessed. 

David Ben-Gurion publicly pronouncing the Declaration of the State of Israel, May 14 1948, Tel Aviv, Israel. (Wikimedia)

David Ben-Gurion publicly pronouncing the Declaration of the State of Israel, May 14 1948, Tel Aviv. (Wikimedia Commons)

‘Good Riddance’

This interpretation of events probably raises a negative emotional response in almost all Israeli Jews. This is not because it is inaccurate, but because they have all been raised within a Zionist culture that teaches them that Palestine is rightfully Jewish and now, as a consequence, only Jews can be full citizens of Israel. Somehow that indoctrination ultimately failed to overcome the basic humaneness of those exiles described above. It is their lack of tribal solidarity as defined and demanded by Zionist ideology that renders them renegades in the eyes of many doctrinaire Israelis. A sense of this is given in some of the reader comments that followed the Haaretz interviews. My responses are in brackets. 

—They are all “radical leftists” or of the “far left.” [This assignment of political position is really ad hoc. There is nothing inherently “left” or “radical” about what in truth is a recognition that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs share a common humanity, and a common fate.]

— These radicals fail to appreciate that Israel is a democracy and their political faction lost. [When it comes to human rights and human decency, a liberal democracy protects the rights of its minorities. In a society where minorities have shrinking rights, or no rights at all, democracy is only a facade.] 

— The exiles are themselves bigots who fail to respect the points of view of true Zionists. [This is just sophistry. To stand against bigotry cannot make one a bigot. If we have learned anything from history, it is that not all points of view are equal.]

— Those who chose exile think they are principled, but then so did Hitler. [Equating those who show compassion toward the Palestinians with the Nazis is a sure sign that Zionism has corrupted the minds of its adherents.]

—Israel is better off without these people: “May they meet their destiny among Israel bashers in their new utopias.” [With the Zionists, it is always “us” against the world.]

The increasing number of empathetic Israelis — peace activists and those who just seek basic human rights for both Palestinians and Israeli Jews — who are being pushed to choose exile is a tragic and telling sign. They are literally being chased out of their own country, much as are the Palestinians, by those Jewish citizens committed to the reactionary, tribal doctrine of Zionism. The state has now been given over to doctrinaire chauvinists and religious extremists. Under such circumstances, is it any wonder that, as one of the few enlightened commenters stated, “Evil is driving out good” and “This is the price that Israelis of conscience are paying for [their opposition to] the steadfast persistence and growth of bigotry in Israel today.”

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

This article is from his site,

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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7 comments for “Israel Loses Its Best

  1. Deniz
    June 12, 2020 at 14:24

    Israel has a symbiotic relationship with nefarious Western powers and all too willingly embraces its role as the knee on the neck of the Arab world. But this is about Jewish oligarchs, not the average Israeli, who also suffers, albeit significantly less, from its leaders.

  2. Tim S.
    June 11, 2020 at 19:20

    It is one of the supreme ironies of history that there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of Jewish Israeli emigrés living in Berlin — many of whom left for just such reasons.

  3. Marko
    June 11, 2020 at 18:43

    “….conscientious Israelis, involved in Palestinian rights or Left politics express that they had no hope of the future there, that things were only getting more sinister and fanatical, and they were leaving. ”

    Conscientious Americans and Brits would express similar sentiments about the US and UK , respectively. Leaving is the smart move. You can always come back if at some time in the distant future things miraculously turn around , but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  4. Steve Naidamast
    June 11, 2020 at 13:49

    This exodus of Israelis has been going on for quite some time and is one of the primary factors why Israeli society has become so insane.

    It will continue to get worse and there is no real hope for either side; The remaining Israelis want all the Palestinian land and the Palestinians refuse to yield it as much as possible.

    This is what is called “mourning war” and there is no known historical factor that has shown that either of the parties has ever been capable of breaking this cycle…

  5. June 11, 2020 at 07:31

    A first-class piece.

    You could call the phenomenon a human version of Gresham’s law that says bad money drives out good.

    Who would want to raise children in a place so loaded with hatreds and brutality? Certainly not humanity’s most thoughtful and feeling.

    By so many measures, Israel is such a huge disappoint. It is anything but a point of light for humanity.

    Apart from so many other considerations, just the fact that it is such a militarized society and packed with security services. It is literally a garrison state.

    And of course, armies and security services inherently have values that are different than the values of democracy and human rights. They are authoritarian organizations. The bigger the role they play in a society, the more impoverished ethically and morally that society will be. Just look at the United States, a similar though less intense case.

    Israel’s practices and methods and prejudices have played a major role in perpetuating tyrannies in the region too. Israel always likes leaders like Mubarak or Field Marshall El-Sisi, leaders who suppress their own people’s hopes and dreams. The bloody Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is almost a bosom-buddy with Netanyahu. The democratic Hamas is castigated while a long-unelected and ineffective man is propped up in Fatah.

    Absolutely, Israel’s influence has contributed to the lack of democratic development in the Arab world. Why? Because leaders like Netanyahu or Sharon are comfortable with masses of people being suppressed.

    I often think of the old USSR when I think of Israel. There are many striking parallels. A national ideology that allows little or no deviance. Military Frankenstein monsters. Highly aggressive. Riddled with spy agencies and police of every description. A heavily distorted and unbalanced economy.

    The entire trail of destruction of the Pentagon’s Neo-con Wars – wars killing several million and creating many millions into desperate refugees – owe a great deal to the drives of Israel and its right-wing supporters in America. Men like Ariel Sharon were intense advocates. And men like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz in America.

    I also think of the USSR when I hear Israel’s most vicious, unthinking defenders accuse those who criticize a heavily armed state which ignores rule of law of being anti-Semitic. The charge is ridiculous on its face.

  6. Moi
    June 11, 2020 at 02:52

    Who is the master, who the dog? This headline from today’s Times of Israel:

    “In first, AIPAC gives US lawmakers green light to criticize Israel on annexation”

    “Leading pro-Israel lobby privately telling officials it’s okay to condemn planned controversial West Bank move as long as they don’t push to limit US aid to Jewish state”

    The US is the promised land for all those non-Zionist Israelis. They go to the US, donate to AIPAC and support Israel’s atrocious treatment of Palestinians anyway.

  7. Ian
    June 11, 2020 at 02:46

    I visited Israel 5-6 years ago and even at that time I encountered numerous conscientious Israelis, involved in Palestinian rights or Left politics express that they had no hope of the future there, that things were only getting more sinister and fanatical, and they were leaving. Shortly after Netanyahu was re-elected in a surprise victory attributed to him claiming on the radio that the “Arabs were voting in droves” and being bused in, and the solution was to vote Likud. The only remotely left wing party, Meretz, was completely wiped out of the Knesset. I can only imagine how much this “Exodus” has accelerated.

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