relax American-style. The fast-food chain
may be called MacDavid, the hamburger
may be kosher and the hot-dogs may be
spiced with hot peppers and stuffed into
a pita, but the spirit is the thing.
Israel is still home, always will be. But
the role model is, frankly and unashamed-
ly, the United States of America. And for
an increasing number of Israelis, the
American dream is the ultimate goal. Not
content with simply watching, copying and
living a vicarious American existence in
the Middle East, thousands are packing
their bags each year and opting for the
"real thing." Last year, the number was
estimated at 30,000. Some 300,000 Israel-
is, out of a population of four million, are
now believed to be living in the United
The fact that there are no firm figures
provides some clue to the fundamental di-
lemma that still troubles most Israelis who
form part of the new exodus: an inability
to admit — to their friends, their families,
or even to themselves — that they are leav-
ing for good.
Most Israelis leave "for a year or two."
They're coming back, they insist, even if
the temporary sojourn stretches into 20
years and several generations.
The subterfuge on the part of those who
are leaving — and those who are staying —
is necessary to avoid the pain of "rejection"
and desertion. It is, it seems, still too pain-
ful for the emigrants to concede that so-
meone else will have to protect the families
they leave behind, do their tedious one-
month-a-year army reserve service, don the
flak j ackets, load the mortars, man the
Just 10 years ago, Yitzhak Rabin, then
Prime Minister, echoed the visceral feel-
ings of most Israelis when he described
emigrants as "garbage," weaklings who did
not have the guts to face the challenge of
nation-building. To have a "yored," an
emigrant, in the family was a badge of
shame. But times have changed. lbday, few
Israeli families do not count emigrants in
The new attitude is reflected in the some-
what patronizing tone of an immigration
official in Jerusalem. "We cannot treat
them like pariahs," he says. "We need not
condone what they have done, but they are
still our beloved sons and daughters and
we must do all we can to maintain contact
Moreover, the Israeli government has
mounted campaigns in the United- States
— describing employment opportunities
and financial incentives — aimed at
persuading them to come home.
This more forgiving approach is also mir-
rored in the Israeli media, which once drip-
ped a very special vitriol over any Israeli
expatriate who made the mistake of being
too successful overseas.
Musical superstars like Daniel Baren-
boim, Itzhak Perlman and Pinhas Zuker-
man were generally spared because it was
accepted that their special talents deserv-
ed an international setting. But film
magnates Menachem Golan and Yoram
Globus, making their fast bucks in
Hollywood, could expect the treatment
whenever they returned home. Now, how-
ever, the Israeli press basks in their
reflected glory. And it is enough for the
young Israeli dress designer who is mak-
ing it big in New York to vow that he wants
only to come home again — some day —
to win the admiration and affection of a
A mature understanding of the reasons
for emigration is one thing. But nothing
can mask the fact that emigration on this
scale represents a stunning failure for
Even more damaging is the fact that on-
ly 50,000 of the six million American Jews
have chosen to make their home in Israel:
The dream of the early Zionist pioneers
that Jews from throughout the world
would come flooding into their new home-
land has not been realized.
The emigration of 300,000
Israelis represents a stunning
failure for Zionism.
Ironically, the success of the Jewish state
infuses American Jews with a special pride
and strengthens their Jewish identity and
their Zionist commitment.
Israel may monopolize their time, and
draw heavily on their energies, skills and
money. They may admire and cheer the
plucky little state. But they are content to
admire and cheer from a distance.
Ironically, too, Israel is lucky that they
have not made the move. For a potent in-
gredient in the intimate relationship bet-
ween the United States and Israel is the
political, financial and organizational clout
of American Jews.
According to Professor Gabi Sheffer, a
political scientist at Hebrew University in
Jerusalem, the relationship rests on what
he describes as "soft" factors, such as
ideological affinity, a common pioneering
sense and deeply ingrained religious sen-
timents, which see the revival of Israel as
a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
Balanced against this are the "hard" fac-
tors, which regard Israel as a strategic
asset in a volatile region, as blocking
Soviet influence in the Middle East. "But
I am constantly amazed at how strongly
the emotional factors influence senior of-
ficials and politicians in Washington," says
No American president has epitomised
this approach as much as Ronald Reagan.
"Israel is not only a nation, it is a symbol,"
he once told a Jewish audience in Washing-
ton. "In defending Israel's right to exist,
we defend the very values upon which our
nation is built."
For Israel's part, America is regarded as
a loyal friend. "And Israelis are properly
grateful for its aid," says PrOfessor Moshe
Arens, another former ambassador in
Washington and now a minister in Israel's
national unity government.
"Israelis also consider themselves to be
loyal allies of the United States. Who can
America rely on in a time of emergency?
The West European countries, which are
tied to the United States by a military
pact, do not always stand by her, and it is
not at all clear which of them would come
to her aid during a crisis," Arens says.
Such sentiments, however, disguise the
invisible layers in the relationship which
only rarely surface and then for fleeting
moments. They are infinitely more complex
and, apparently, less harmonious than the
public pronouncements of political leaders.
The spy scandal involving an American
Jew, Jonathan Pollard, a former naval in-
telligence analyst, who recently pleaded
guilty to charges of spying for Israel, has
tapped a rich vein of resentment among
various United States officials who believe
that the White House is "soft" on Israel.
Of far more long-term concern to Jeru-
salem is the impact of Israeli dependence
on American aid. While not limiting Is-
rael's freedom of action, it does act as a
constraint on policy-making. The extent of
this dependence defines the limits of
Israel's behavior. But as long as Israel
senses differences of opinion in Washing-
ton, it can continue to pursue its own goals
and perceived interests.
The real test of the relationship would
come if a real and fundamental difference
of opinion arose between Jerusalem and
Washington on which there was solid
And for all their affection and admira-
tion, there is a body of Israeli opinion
which chafes at the idea that Israel has
become, in effect, the 51st state of the
union, an American outpost in the Middle
East. It is a long way from the national vi-
sion of independence and self-sufficiency.
Nevertheless, when ships of the United
States Sixth Fleet sail into Haifa bay, their
crews are met with flowers and smothered
with home hospitality. And when Washing-
ton invited Western nations to participate
in its SDI (so-called Star Wars) project,
Israel signed up with barely a word of in-
For Israelis, this is not slavish obedience
to the American will. Rather, it is a realistic
acknowledgement that in the cold, hard
world which Israel inhabits, there is simp-
ly no question of equivocation or doubt
about accepting shelter under the America
Helen Davis is a writer living in Jerusalem.