From Israel’s perspective, a silver lining in anti-Semitism: It increases aliyah
By Rabbi Dow Marmur
JERUSALEM, Jan. 26–We may be forgiven if, when we read reports about anti-Semitism around the world, we’re tempted to conclude that many Israelis regard it as good news for at least two reasons: a vindication for living in Israel and a promise of continued aliyah, which Israelis love (even when they can’t stand the immigrants).
The latest report on behalf of the Jewish Agency about an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in most countries is, therefore, despite the official indignation and the accompanying rhetoric, quite welcome in many quarters.
There’ll be a lot of rhetoric this week when many countries mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. President Peres will speak in the German parliament and Prime Minister Netanyahu has gone to Poland. They’ve even found a country that’ll receive Foreign Minister Lieberman: Hungary.
Though the speeches will be ostensibly made to locals, these politicians’ real audiences are Israelis at home. Thus, whatever symbolic significance may be ascribed to the fact that Peres will address the German parliamentarians in Hebrew the target audience will be at home.
This isn’t to suggest that anti-Semitism isn’t a problem in the countries where there are Jews, including Germany, Poland and Hungary. But it seems that most of the Jews who should be affected don’t appear to be as alarmed as the reports might suggest. Is it their willful blindness or a better, more dispassionate, assessment of the situation?
After the unrealistic Jewish reactions in the wake of Hitler’s assumption of power in Germany in 1933, and the illusion that the craze will soon pass, analysts of contemporary events are justifiably on the alert. Even if they don’t want to be alarmists, they feel obligated to warn their fellow-Jews of possible consequences. They know that German Jews in the 1930s may have had nowhere to go, whereas today every Jew will be welcome in the Jewish state.
Even the modest increase in very modest aliyah figures from Western countries in recent years has been big news in Israel. Though the economic situation does make Israel sufficiently attractive to some Americans and Europeans, everybody knows that most immigrants run from a place rather than to a place. Even in the epoch of pioneering, many of those who came here went back. Pioneering has now been fused with settler ideology.
Most of those who have immigrated to Israel since its establishment – notably from Arab lands and the former Soviet Union – came from terrible circumstances and were thus better equipped to endure the challenges of resettlement here. Growing discomfort in the West could bring more Jews. (This may explain, for example, why a disproportionate number of Jews from the Scandinavian countries have come to live in Israel. In absolute numbers they’re few, but relative to size quite impressive.)
Though around six million Jews (!) live in Israel today, more are needed to ensure that the state remains Jewish. This is particularly urgent for those who want to keep the West Bank within Israel’s borders. It’s therefore not surprising that they and their sympathizers are especially eager to talk about anti-Semitism in the Diaspora.
They may not be wrong, but their motives cannot be ignored either. The latter prompts the uncomfortable question: Is the statistics being exploited for other things?
Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He now divides his time between Israel and Canada