Jews in the Diaspora Have No Obligation to Follow the Sharon Government's Line

Roundup: Media's Take

Arthur Hertzberg, writing in (Jan. 7, 2004):

The root of the Jewish claim under international law to the right to establish a national presence in the land of their ancestors lies in the Balfour Declaration of November 1917. The British government addressed this document to a leading figure in the Diaspora, Lord Rothschild of England, rather than to the chief Jewish negotiator and then de facto leader in Britain of the World Zionist Organization, Dr. Chaim Weizmann.

At the moment when this declaration was made, there were 50,000 Jews in Palestine and over a half a million Arabs. Nonetheless, the British government declared that the need of the Jews for a home of their own, and the longstanding connection of this worldwide people with the Holy Land, entitled them to superior consideration. The Balfour Declaration expected that an international"Jewish agency" would be constructed to foster the growth of the Jewish connection with the land. To this day, even after its creation as a sovereign state in 1948, Israel has presumed, without question, that the Jews of the world are obligated by special concern to help the upbuilding of the new entity. The basic institutions of the Diaspora are expected to carry a special burden, both economic and political, in the defense of Israel.

The trouble with this construct is that there is no mechanism whatsoever through which concerned Jews of the Diaspora can give effective voice to opinions that the incumbent government of Israel does not want to hear. Israeli politicians have said aloud for decades that they make it their goal to dominate every body in which they supposedly consult Jewish opinion that might be critical. From right to left, each prime minister has expected the"leaders of the Diaspora" to obey their political line and never to dissent.

It is an open secret that someone from the Israeli government will veto you for election to a leading role anywhere in the Jewish establishment if you are known to hold independent views. One of my own proudest moments was the day some thirty years ago when Abba Eban and I, who were both suspected, correctly, of being"doves," were described in an article by one of the neoconservatives as"functional anti-Semites." To disagree with the then dominant line of Menachem Begin's government, that it was Israel's destiny to hold on to the West Bank, was not to be discussed as an argument about policy; such views were to be defamed as"Jewish anti-Semitism."

This kind of nonsense is ending in these very days. The great divide has come now because it is clear that the present government of Israel simply does not tell the truth. The government's own statistics tell us that, in the last decade, since the supposed agreement in Oslo to end settlements in order to move toward making peace, the Jewish population in the West Bank and Gaza has doubled! By no stretch of imagination can this be ascribed to natural increase; the Israeli birthrate of less than three per family would simply not produce such an increase within ten years.

Natan Sharansky, the minister of Diaspora affairs, has recently been in and out of the United State making speeches attacking Jewish students on campus and Jewish professors for not standing up for Israel. Sharansky attributed this failure to a lack of information on their part and he proposes that this be corrected through better Zionist education. But in what Zionism does he intend to educate these students and faculty members? Does he propose to teach them his own Zionism, in which he went home after a recent tour of some American universities to announce that, contrary to a promise that Israel had made to the American government, he was going to finance the construction of 650 new apartments on the West Bank in order to"thicken" the Jewish presence in some of the settlements?

I have no doubt that Natan Sharansky knows that there are apartments going begging right now in some of those places. The building of new ones is a barefaced challenge to the Palestinians.

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