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The Rosner-Pinto Exchange, Part 2: Do Diaspora Jews Have a Say on the Conflict?

by Shmuel Rosner

June 27, 2013 | 8:24 am

Dr. Diana Pinto

Dr. Diana Pinto is a French-Italian Intellectual Historian and policy analyst living in Paris. Dr. Pinto, who received her PhD from Harvard University, is a former senior fellow and board member of the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research. She is a founding member of the European Council on Foreign Relations and was the editor-in-chief of Belvédère, France’s first pan-European review for a general public. She also worked as a Consultant to the Political Directorate of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe for its civil society programs in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

In part two of this exchange about her new book 'Israel has moved' (Harvard University Press, 2013), we discuss the idea of Israel considering the input of Diaspora Jews about the Palestinian issue. 

(Part one of the exchange can be found here)

 

Dear Dr. Pinto,

Thank you for your response. The idea of 'Israelis refusing to listen to the world which they believe is hostile to them' seems to be a recurring theme in your book. I'd like to focus on your sense of exclusion as a European Jew, on your feeling that Israelis are not really interested in your input.

You describe in your book a panel you were part of a couple of years ago at the 2011 President's conference in Jerusalem, a panel which was meant to openly discuss the role of Diaspora Jews in criticizing Israel but which soon became, according to your account, an almost violently anti-democratic affair. As you might recall, I was the moderator of that panel, and must say that my description of it would have been different. It was a panel in which Yesha Council head Danny Dayan represented a right-wing view but in which the other panelists were Rabbi Eric Yoffie, Prof. Fania Oz-Salzberger, Jeremy Ben Ami and you: hardly a panel of hard-line-defend-Israel- at-all cost-and-on-all-matters speakers. Still, here's what you write about it:

It was clear from the general mood that the Diaspora had only one purpose: to behave properly by not pronouncing any criticisms and to follow the Israeli government’s political line.  The Jewish tent with its millennial existential pedigree had all of a sudden become little more than a private political club with its own admissions policies. One could no longer dissociate ‘Judea and Samaria’ from Green Line Israel without immediately falling into the definitional trap not only of lacking ‘the love of Israel’ but, far worse, of being an ‘Israel-hater.’  

The chapter, entitled 'The Tent', essentially argues that official Israel exploits the idea of a great big 'Jewish tent' to create feelings of solidarity among the Jews of the Diaspora but that there are firm rules regarding what can and can't be said in the tent (if you don't comply you get kicked out). A lot of questions could be asked about the affair you described, of course, but mine (are) is the following-

What kind of role do you feel that Jews- and European Jews in particular- can and should play as outside consultants on Israel's security matters and foreign affairs? They are, after all, still citizens of other countries who are inevitably less informed about the region. They also don't pay the price for erroneous Israeli policies - maybe some price but not as much as Israelis- so why should Israelis even seek out their opinions on internal and foreign affairs?

And if they do, why wouldn't it be reasonable for them to want to have some ground rules for this conversation? And what happens when Israelis decide to disregard the advice, good or bad, of outsiders - is your support contingent on them doing exactly what you prescribe for them?

I know this is an issue you thought about a lot, and I am awaiting what will surely be an interesting answer.

Shmuel.

 

Dear Shmuel,

Thank you for this second round. I want to stress first of all that my book was never intended to be a diasporic political critique of Israel, but rather sought to offer a cultural portrait of a land in transition.  My chapter on the “Tent” addressed Israel’s self-appointed normative role with respect to world Jewry both in religious and political terms. The issue of whether the Diaspora is allowed to criticize Israeli policies and policies was not at the core of my analysis.

Neither issue, by the way, would raise so much steam if 1) so many Israelis, as the recent elections attested, were not so critical of their own country’s religious and political choices, and 2) if Israel’s choices on religious matters did not affect daily Jewish life both in Israel and in the Diaspora in such a heavy-handed manner. As for the politics, do not underestimate the price Diaspora Jews have to pay every time Israel acts in the name of strategic reasons that may or may not have the full consensus of its own people or appear to be the wisest among a growing number of friendly international (Jewish) experts.

Above all, why should someone in Israel have to define the “ground rules” for such a conversation? Why can’t Diaspora Jews be as openly critical of Israel as Israelis themselves? The Jewish people, since time immemorial, have always been fractious and prone to internal debate. Nowadays even the notion of the Israel-Diaspora divide is up for grabs. The two sides of this equation are traversed by the same internal fractures and pluralist concerns. As for deep strategic knowledge only Israel would possess, we all know such knowledge belongs to inter-state relations, and not to an intra-Jewish dialogue.   

I don’t want to be entrapped in this over-ploughed field whose land is severely depleted. I think we would all be better off with new categories. Before I suggest some, allow me a caveat. Our exchange would be fairer (and I believe more interesting) if you were more precise in your use of quotes from my book. In our first exchange I had to stress that the term ‘autistic’ was not mine and had instead been suggested to me by several Israelis. This time around, you omit the crucial first line of the paragraph you otherwise cite in its entirety: “Reassured and comforted by the reference to the Jewish tent, the public, composed mainly of Israeli officials and Jewish community leaders from around the world, leashed out against Ben-Ami with all the nuance of a crowd in a Roman circus.”

This missing sentence says it all. My critique included official Diaspora Jews who often have a vicarious patriotic sense of standing behind Israel right or wrong…and not just “right-wing” (as you describe Dayan) Israelis. The panel offered a skewed combat for it gave the impression that an Israeli spokesman for the settlers had the entire Israeli nation behind him against the American dove who could not possibly represent American Jewry.  Second, the “general mood” in the quote referred to the public in the room and not at all to the round table.

Now to your questions. I don’t think Jews outside Israel who comment on Israel’s domestic policies or strategic decisions should be considered as “outside consultants.” No one is paying them for their opinions.  They voice their views spontaneously out of their own concern for Israel, and in doing so they are hardly encroaching on Israel’s political sovereignty…the mere use of such a reference smacks of a Russian understanding of internal affairs, with its attendant stoking of fears or unleashing of often irrational passions. We can all profit from some true conversations and dialogue, the very opposite of what goes on today. Ideas flow creatively only in informal exchanges.   

Here is my take on what non-Israeli Jewish voices, who think independently rather than being loudspeakers for official Israel abroad, could bring to such a debate. They could analyze Israel’s challenges with a greater distance (the distance being in my mind a positive rather than negative--as you seem to imply--trait of such a reflection). A calm non-Israeli Jewish gaze can also allow Israelis to find out what friendly other countries around the world are thinking and often prefer not to say out loud about Israel’s choices…yes, these other visions do matter in mapping out Israel’s own strategic needs. Jews outside Israel can also tell Israelis just how deep the differences in democratic water levels are as Israel tries to negotiate its way through international locks. Israelis should think of us, the concerned and critical diaspora Jews as active two-way plugs, or as the other amplifier that produces a rich stereophonic sound. We are not voices that either wreak chaos or that are themselves in danger. We as Jews, and particularly as Jews in Europe, are no longer captive Jews, with a need to be obsequious to our respective countries or a need to be saved from our blindness. The vast majority of us now live in well established democracies, even in Europe. We know the kind of society we need to have in order to be able to live our lives fully as Jews. Therefore we are in a position to sound alarms not only with respect to our respective countries but also when Israel does not offer a similarly open society for some of the Jews as well as the non-Jews in its midst…and there is no point for Israelis to constantly rebut our concerns with the strategic Israeli-Palestinian issue. Israel is full of many other types of ‘others’, whose numbers are constantly growing.

The vast majority of Israelis and of Jews in the world firmly believe that Israel as a sovereign country is entitled to make its own choices. That is a perfectly legitimate position but it does imply one major caveat. Israel can only do so if it stops thinking of itself as the self-ruling guardian of world Jewry.  Europe’s Jews do not condemn Israel when it raises its not always pertinent or very productive voice when it comes to analyzing or fighting antisemitism on the European continent. This give and take can be friendly only if the two sides are perceived as more or less equal. I know you will disagree with me on this, but there is a role Jews outside the country can play. Since no one (myself included) wants to cut such a bond, then the least that Israel can do is to listen without condescension to what Jews elsewhere have to say. Listening in no way destroys national sovereignty. It may even enlighten it. 

That is my understanding of the Jewish tent, one that is vast, friendly and open. Not one that excludes or cuts out. And I know that there are forces inside Israeli society today who would welcome such stereophonic sounds. For we all desperately need to get out of a vicious circle of fear, pride and closed-mindedness with respect to the Israeli-Jewish future…for in the end, in our increasingly interconnected world, we are all in the same boat.       

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