Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What got into Yehoshua?

Author A.B. Yehoshua is one of the most respected Israeli authors.
Intelligent, articulate, insightful.
It was therefore surprising to hear him at the centennial celebration of theAmerican Jewish Committee in May 2006 in Washington, DC.

As one of the panel members, Yehoshua passionately claimed that only theState of Israel can ensure the survival of the Jewish people.
With wild gestures, he claimed:
"For me, Avraham Yehoshua, there is no alternative...I cannot keep my identity outside Israel. [Being] Israeli is my skin, not my jacket. You are changing jackets... you are changing countries like changing jackets. I have my skin, the territory".
The flabbergasted audience was told that Israeli Jews live a Jewish life in a totality that the American Jews do not know.

Nice way to go, Avraham, especially since Israel exists thanks to the unwavering support of the US and its Jewish population.
Needless to say, not all Israelis agreed.
Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, distanced himself from Yehoshua's statements, emphasizing that Israel goes to great effort to help Jewish communities around the world, proving that that Israel finds the Jewish Diaspora important for its existence.

Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic, strongly objected to the bold statements.
He told Yehoshua that he took the concept “Jewish” and narrowed it down to “Israeli”.
He got a point there – Yehoshua failed to take into account that 20% of the Israelis are non-Jews. So where does that leave them?
I agree with Wieseltier that the concept of Judaism existed long before the State of Israel was created.
To quote Wieseltier:
"There is Jewish religion, Jewish culture, Jewish literature, texts that have been with us form 3,000 years. Why do you insist on narrowing it down to Israeliness?”

The panel moderator, charismatic news anchor Ted Koppel kept his cool, although he was obviously offended.
He pointed out to Yehoshua that all the contributions of Diaspora Jews ensured the continuity of the Jews as a people and could therefore not be disregarded.

In the newspaper the Jerusalem Post, Yehoshua voiced his surprise at the uproar over his arguments.
"It seems to me obvious that our Jewish life in Israel is more total than anywhere outside Israel. I think this is common sense.
If they were goyim they would understand it right away."
So does that mean that the goyim understand him better than his fellow Jews?

Yehoshua’s views represent the traditional Zionist one:
Jews who live outside this country and do not play a part in its cultural development will either be destroyed or assimilate.
To some extend, this is correct – more than 6M. (Bar and Bat Mitzvah) Jews have been assimilated and “lost” in the US alone. This is a frightening number, but is making Israel the sole Jewish enclave in the world the answer?
In my opinion, Israel needs the Diaspora Jews as much and the Diaspora Jews need Israel.

With all due respect to Mr. A. B. Yehoshua, I strongly disagree with his viewpoint.
The vitriolic response that he received in and outside of Israel (especially in the blogosphere) had more to do with the way he delivered his message than the content alone.
Let’s face it, it’s extremely poor taste to criticize one’s gracious host in such a public setting.

Next time, the American Jewish Committee might consider inviting Amos Oz when discussing "The Future of the Past: What will become of the Jewish people?"