It is common for some Israelis, especially olim, to look down on Jews who live in the Diaspora as “lesser” Zionists. Diaspora Zionism is criticized as less serious than Israeli Zionism, and lacking in the kind of commitment that leads to aliyah.
Israeli Zionists sometimes reason that Zionism was a movement focused on creating a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, therefore a Zionist who does not heed the call and move to Israel themselves is not a “real” Zionist. If Diaspora Zionists were serious about their Zionism, the critics say, they’d “buy in” completely and move to Israel.
I do not agree with this critique. The fact that there are differences between people who share the same basic beliefs doesn’t make one greater than the other. Yes, Israel-based Zionism and Diaspora-based Zionism are different. But each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
It is important to note that, from its very inception, Zionism was a Diaspora-based movement. Whether one thinks Abraham, Moses or Herzl was the first Zionist, each of them were outside the Land of Israel when they began their quest to establish their people in it.
Abraham, for example, began his life in Mesopotamia, and only left his homeland for the Land of Israel when God ordered him to do so. As for Moses, he never reached the Land of Israel. He brought the Jewish people to the Jordan River and passed away before they entered the land. Herzl also died outside the Land of Israel and never saw the Jewish state he had inspired.
Moreover, it is important to point out that it took more than 30 years after Israel’s founding for an Israeli-born citizen to become prime minister.
What this means is that the passion needed to create a Jewish state was born outside the Land of Israel.
Of course, Zionists who live in Israel are not the same as those who do not. These Israeli Zionists can be considered “stakeholders” in the Jewish state. They don’t just support Israel, they’ve staked their lives on it. The decisions Israel makes and the policies it implements have a direct impact on them.
Zionists outside of Israel, on the other hand, are “investors” in the State of Israel. Their life might not depend on it, but an investor still cares deeply about their investment. They sink their efforts and resources into it and sacrifice on its behalf. If their investment is big enough, they’ll check on it multiple times a day and continue investing more of themselves and their assets into it. They’ll lose sleep when their investment is at risk and celebrate when it succeeds. Their happiness and well-being are greatly dependent on it. This is Diaspora Zionists’ relationship with Israel—they work day and night to ensure Israel not only survives but thrives.
Moreover, Diaspora Zionists have access to resources that Israeli citizens do not. For example, it has a greater impact on elected decisionmakers to hear from fellow Americans about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship than from an Israeli.
There are countless examples of the Diaspora’s success in aiding Israel in both good times and bad. Whether it was Eddie Jacobson convincing President Harry Truman to recognize the new State of Israel against his staff’s advice, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger advising President Richard Nixon to resupply Israel in the middle of the Yom Kippur War or the inspiring daily efforts of AIPAC members and staff to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship, the stakeholders of Diaspora Zionism have made significant contributions to the success of the Jewish state.
It is impossible to say that one of these two types of Zionism is “more” Zionist than the other. There is no such thing as “higher” or “lower” Zionism. The important lesson to be taken from the differences between Israeli and Diaspora Zionism is to appreciate the contributions of both sides to the success of the State of Israel and be grateful for them.
Without stakeholders in the State of Israel, Diaspora Jewry wouldn’t be able to invest in the future of the state. Without the contributions and efforts of the Diaspora investors, ensuring a successful Israel would be much more challenging for Israeli stakeholders.
While Israeli Zionists eagerly await the aliyah of their Diaspora brothers and sisters, they should wait patiently, because those brothers and sisters are working hard on Israel’s behalf.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. He is the author of three books and teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.