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July 28, 1989 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-07-28

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


l i ng ■


At the time of Pollard's arrest, many
American Jewish leaders were highly em-
barrassed by the fact that Israel had been
spying in the United States, and they lec-
tured Israeli ministers for weeks on how in-
solent this was — much to the annoyance
of many Israelis, who felt that their coun-
try was as entitled to spy as any other and
didn't have to put up with any lectures
from American Jews.
It always seemed to me that this Israeli
tennis player's anger was rooted some-
where in the resentment many Israelis had
come to feel upon discovering, through the
Pollard affair and other incidents, that
they were not as superior to America and
American Jewry as they might have
As my Jerusalem neighbor, Harvard-
trained Israeli economist Yoram Ben-
Porath, described it: "When I was much
younger, Israel was at the takeoff of enor-
mous achievement, growth, absorption of
Jews, and turning the deserts green, with
all the macho pioneer spirit that went with
it. We had a certain supremacy complex
toward American Jews. There was no
doubt that we were in the right place for
Jews. With our maturity we lost some of
these elements. The society became more
normal; it became clear after the 1973 war
that the fight for survival was not a one-
shot affair but a never-ending struggle. It
wasn't so patently obvious that this was
the safest or most exciting place for Jews.
The sense of absolute moral superiority
began to disappear."
Because Israeli leaders always had a
romanticized notion of America — as a
country that fawned all over them, adored
them, and confirmed them as heroes —
they never really took it seriously as a way
of life for Jews, and hence they were very
late in realizing the potential of a thriving
America as a magnet for Jews, a magnet
as powerful, if not more so, as Israel. One
day, though, Israelis woke up, looked at the
emigration-immigration statistics, and
realized that America had become the
greatest threat to the Zionist revolution.
By 1988, an estimated 300,000-400,000
of the roughly 4.2 million Israelis had
moved to the United States on a perma-
nent or semi-permanent basis, with an
estimated 100,000 in California alone.
These figures must be compared with the
fact that only 50,000 of the 6 million
American Jews have moved to Israel since
the Jewish state was founded in 1948 —
some of them having moved back since —
and only 25 percent of American Jews are
estimated by the Israeli Ministry of
Tourism to have visited Israel even once in
their lives.


In the decade of the 1970s, 265,000 Jews
left the Soviet Union. Of those, roughly
165,000 went to Israel and 100,000 to the
United States and Canada, with the per-
centage of those going to North America
rising so sharply in recent years — to 90
percent — that Israel has tried to force
Soviet emigrants to take direct flights
from Moscow to Tel Aviv, so that it would
be impossible for them to "drop out" in
European transit points and go to America
as refugees instead.
In 1988, Bezek, the Israeli national
telephone company, began running a televi-
sion commercial during prime time featur-
ing an elderly Israeli grandfather sitting
in front of a shabby bare desk and dialing
a number. Subtitled beneath the man were
the words "Netanya, Israel, 6:30 a.m." The
screen was then given over to what ap-
peared to be the Israeli grandfather's
children living in Los Angeles. They were
seated in a comfortable, affluent-looking
living room, which included a color televi-
sion and an Israeli boy playing with a foot-
ball in the background. Their plush sur-
roundings were subtitled: "Los Angeles,
8:30 p.m." The family members then have
a trans-Atlantic conversation in Hebrew.
This commercial occasioned the follow-
ing letter to the editor in the Jerusalem
Post from one Sarah M. Schachter of
Jerusalem: "Sirs, I was appalled to see the
new Bezek commercial . . . The not-so-
subliminal message: (Grandpa) is still in
Netanya, but Los Angeles is the land of op-
portunity for the young and ambitious.
Emigration is indeed a major problem for
the state of Israel, but I think it is in poor
taste for Bezek to legitimize and exploit
this unfortunate fact, and I am surprised
that the editors of Israel Television in-
cluded this message on the air."
The letter was followed by an editor's
note that read: "This public service an-
nouncement has been discontinued follow-
ing complaints that it would encourage
It was bad enough for Israelis to find
themselves in competition with America,
but it was even more galling to find
themselves dependent on an American
Jewish community that Israel itself was
largely responsible for emboldening,
revitalizing, and transforming into an
energetic community of power.
Although Israeli officials never admitted
it aloud, they came to understand that
Washington gave the extraordinary
amounts of aid to Israel that it did in large
part because of the electoral clout of the
American Jewish community.
It was not only American Jews' political

lobbying of the American public at large
— the way they kept Israel on the Ameri-
can agenda and reiterated its affinity with
American values. Zvi Rafiah, who served
as the congressional liaison for the Israeli
embassy in Washington in the early 1980s,
once conceded with unusual candor for an
Israeli, "Pull the American Jews out of the
(American-Israel) relationship and the
whole thing will start to shake." In other
words, Israelis discovered, their security
and economic well-being had become par-
tially dependent on assistance from
America — assistance that would be forth-
coming on a large scale only if there con-
tinued to be an energetic, wealthy, power-
ful American Jewish community that did
not move to Israel.
That has not been an easy reality for
Israelis to swallow, and they have re-
sponded in a variety of ways. One is to
argue that America gives $3 billion a year
to Israel not because of the electoral clout
with Congress of American Jews but
because Israel is such a "strategic asset."
Or, as a well-known Israeli T-shirt em-
blazoned with an F-16 fighter jet says:
"Don't worry, America, Israel is behind
Another tendency has been to ignore

As in any romance,
there comes a moment
when the starry-eyed
couple discover who
the other really is.

American Jewish life. In 1987, the
American Anti-Defamation League of
B'nai B'rith brought an exhibit on the
history of American Jewry to Israel.
"When it was touring in America, it was
called 'Jewish Life in America: Fulfilling
the American Dream,' " said Harry Wall,
the director of the ADL's Jerusalem office.
"But when we brought it to Israel we
decided that we had better change the
name, so we took off the business about
fulfilling a dream, because there is only
supposed to be one dream and that is the
Zionist dream.
"We just called the exhibit 'Jewish Life
in America: From Pre-Revolutionary War
to rIbday.' I invited the top people from the
Ministry of Education to come to the open-
ing, and when it was over I told them that
they could have the exhibit. They said to
me, 'Well, that would be just great, because
we've never done anything about American



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