I Own Israel: A Diaspora Jew's Claim


Israel is mine. I own it – or rather, I hold an ownership stake in it.
No, I am not a citizen of the country – I’m an American Jew, born upon Georgia’s red clay, now living amidst lush, Pennsylvanian foothills. And no, I am not obligated to send my children to the IDF, nor do I pay taxes or vote in the country’s elections. I did not pitch my tent this past summer along Rothschild Boulevard, nor have I physically stood with Palestinian and Israeli protesters in Nabi Saleh on a Friday afternoon, inhaling tear gas and fleeing from cannon-propelled skunk water.
True, I lived in Israel for many years, though such prior residence has nothing to do with my ownership status. And true, I descended into the visceral depths of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when my wife was bombed at Hebrew University in 2002, though such suffering – and our State-supported care – doesn’t grant me any greater stake in the country or right to possess it.
I own Israel because the country insists upon such an arrangement, flailing as it struggles to be both Jewish and democratic. I’m a stakeholder because, as a legally-recognized member of the people of Israel (having in the past proven to the State that I have a Jewish mother and father), I’m granted the unequivocal right to return to my country at a moment’s notice. I am encouraged, even solicited, to return to my country at a moment’s notice.

This ownership stake I hold in Israel is less a possession than it is a responsibility – a responsibility I accept willingly and with a seriousness of purpose. I don’t own an apartment in Jerusalem or an Israeli passport, but I do own the shared responsibility of ensuring that Israel, as the national outgrowth of my people, creates a just society. It is a responsibility that has its origins in tradition, in the Talmudic precept that all those within “Israel” are responsible for one another (כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה).
However, in political terms, it’s a responsibility that comes directly from Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a declaration which established the country as one “based on freedom, justice and peace” for all its inhabitants. It’s a declaration that appeals to me directly, in the diaspora, to help Israel realize this reality:

WE APPEAL to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream – the redemption of Israel.

The redemption of Israel. This is why I often sharply critique Israel’s hawkish political elite, its settlement enterprise, its brutal suppression of the Palestinian people. It is why, when Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf recently wrote in his review of Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism that “the occupation is the greatest moral challenge of my generation,” I nodded in agreement. I nodded instinctively to the words my generation. For his generation is mine. As Jews, we are responsible for this. I am responsible for this – responsible for realizing the Israel envisioned upon its founding, an Israel created to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants.”
Now, my claim upon Israel is different than that of a citizen, and I wouldn’t pretend otherwise. I am not impacted, in my daily life, by the decisions of the body politic in Israel, and my civic responsibilities within the country are almost non-existent.
Which is why, perhaps, when I stated recently that “the occupation is the greatest moral challenge of my generation,” personal objections from fellow Jews, both American and Israeli, littered my inbox, voices I didn’t know chanting a singular theme: You don’t have a claim, you don’t have the right to make such a claim.
But they are wrong.
The reality is this: most who chant that I have no claim do so for political reasons, do so because of my willingness to critique the country as a “leftist,” not because they truly believe that diaspora Jews have no legitimate stake in Israel. For those same people who attack my critiques place upon me the responsibility to support and defend Israel at untold costs. Why? Because it is my responsibility, as a Jew – they say – to defend it.
To do otherwise is to be branded as self-hating, as anti-Semitic, as a capo (as Jon Stewart knows all too well).
But my defense of the Israel envisioned at its founding manifests itself, at times, in the form of critiquing the way in which Zionism manifests itself today, a Zionism that allows for an Israel which unspeakably suppresses the rights and dignity of the Palestinian people living under its thumb in the Occupied Territories. An Israel which regularly suppresses nonviolent Palestinian protest marches, full of families and children, with military force. An Israel which, through its repressive system of military justice in the Occupied Territories, often indefinitely detains Palestinians without charge or evidence for months and, sometimes, years. An Israel which, between 2005 and 2010, convicted 99.8 percent of 853 Palestinian minors charged with rock throwing, 15 percent of whom (contrary to Israeli law) served sentences of over six months in adult prisons.
Joseph Dana recently argued in his own review of Beinart’s book that such critiques are an essential entry point for saving Israel from itself:

Rigorous critique of Zionism, not Israeli settlements, is the first step towards safeguarding Israel as a haven for Jews while preventing the country from sliding deeper into moral bankruptcy.

I would argue that it is not just my right as a diaspora Jew, but my responsibility to engage in such rigorous critiques. Not to destroy Israel, but to protect it. To safeguard the country which long ago granted me an ownership stake, and which, at its founding, appealed to me for assistance in realizing the country’s redemption – a moral redemption that is increasingly becoming endangered.
A redemption increasingly standing on the precipice.
Follow the author on Twitter @David_EHG

0 thoughts on “I Own Israel: A Diaspora Jew's Claim

  1. I lived in Israel, hold and israeli passport and was drafted into IDF service as the 1982 war in Lebanon was getting underway, I served 9 months in a war zone, That said, I live here in the US. Therefore I cannot claim ownership as I do not live there I cannot dictate to Israeli that they must make difficult concessions without guarantees as a diaspora Jew. So why do yo make this claim when I cannot make it.? Both you and i would not pay the ultimate prices should concessions go wrong.

  2. I am an observor of the unfortunate everlasting conflicts that engage Israel, its citizens and its sympathizers worldwide.
    The genesis of my convictions applicable to Israel and humanity elsewhere is simply – give all water, bread, a roof, protection of family, occupation, and an expectation of a better future of their choice. Israel has denied all of this to the Palestinian people for generations. The Israeli actions are daily brutality…killing….degradation….all in violation of human worldwide norms. I am appalled at the violation of the voices of the prophets, the tenets of the spiritual traditions, the rules of law, the resolutions of the UN. The political implotion beginning in Israel….the condemnation of all countries…the boycott movement and on and on tell us the future of Israel.I have great sadness that the [promises of 1947 and the 60 years history have been sacrificed in the name of hollow beliefs, contorted jingoism and ancient tribalism..

  3. Thank you for the contribution, David. I wish that Israelis could start to think that there could be one nation, maybe with international supervision – but that it is possible. The land can be shared. I have heard many Palestinians say this. One Palestinian man said to me, “It would be medieval to say that we cannot live together in peace. We lived in peace beside Jewish people for generations. If the settlers can treat us justly, we can surely live with them where they are now.” This one state with equal right for all is what is needed. There has to be right on return for both Jewish people and Palestinians. Most Palestinians have roots elsewhere and will not return permanently.

    • Sue, you are right. I actually eipxreenced what Palestinians face in Hebron in June. Our group of 18 was told to stay close together as the week before Jewish residents (Settlers) threw a bottle at a tourist. An older women who was a member of Christian Peace Maker Team gave us a tour of Hebron. They (CPT) were asked there to accompany Palestinian children to school so that they would not be attacked by Jews. Hard to believe, that a group that was so awfully treated by Germans would inflict such suffering on others.I saw The Boy in Stripped Pajamas on Sunday and wondering about the inhumanity of people. It is so easy to manipulate people into believing they are evil and you good.

  4. John, Thanks for your concern for atrocities in Syria, Darfur, Tibet, but David’s misguided blog claim to ownership is about Israel.
    One satte? Look north to Lebanon for a glaring example. Abbas has expressed that eh want to clear the West Bank of all Jewish settlers. I have not heard Israelis express that sentiment about Arabs living within pre-67 Israel. Jews did fight and die for a state, where any Jews worldwide can live, with the intention of handed over to Palestinians.
    What di yo enan by a right of return for Jewish people? Return to where?

  5. I strongly agree with you ,David, when you say,”the occupation is the greatest moral challenge of my generation”, and of the United States. We can not use the excuse of “Israel is our ally” to continue to support its continuing brutal, illegal, and unethical occupation of Palestine and continued taking and destroying of Palestinian homes to make further settlements. No matter how strong our tries to our children, and our dear friends are we cannot support them in acts of violence including murder and robbery. To do so makes us accomplices in the crimes morally, ethically, and legally, especially when we provide money and or weapons when we fully realize ow they will be used.
    In solidarity for a peaceful and just settlement.
    Agnes Maier

  6. A fascinating piece of writing, David, and I thank you for it. As another Diaspora Jew, I’m in a similar situation, and my views are pretty similar.
    As Spiderman says, “With power comes responsibility”. Jews have the power to choose to emigrate to Israel because we were born Jewish. We were given that power by the state of Israel. So we also have a responsibility to let our voices be heard on moral issues concerning Israel in a way that we don’t around Syria, Darfur, and Tibet.
    I agree with Don that our voices are different from those who live in Israel. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need to be raised or heard.

  7. Yes the may need to be heard, but it’s Israelis who will have to make the had decisions. Personally neutralizing Iran’s nuclear ambitions will go a long way to moderating Israeli voices and softening Palestinian voices. Hamas has a Persian friend that emboldens them to continue dream of Israel’s demise.

  8. The writer reminds me my blogger friend – Israeli-born Gilad Atzmon, who told me the he was proud to be called a “self-hating” Jew by the Zionist mafia. In fact, after publishing his controversial book ‘The Wandering Who: A study of Jewish Identity Politics’ – he has become the image of biblical prophecy of the “Promised Messiah” – whose job was to unite the Hebrew tribes.

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