(January 19, 2015 / JNS)
The moment the news broke about the horrific attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris, there was almost completely unanimous reaction here in Israel. The expressions of anger and shock at the series of recent ghastly attacks in France were followed almost immediately with calls for the Jews of France to move to Israel. There is no denying that aliyah is a central element of political Zionism. But at the same time, we as elected leaders of the State of Israel must take greater care to ensure the emotional and physical safety, and wellbeing, of our brethren who still choose to live outside the borders of the Jewish state.
Such restraint does not come easily for us. Like all Israelis, we were raised in the Zionist ethos and with the understanding that our generation has been blessed with the opportunity to live in the first sovereign Jewish state in two millennia. Through our educational system, and for many of us from hearing the firsthand testimonies of those far too few survivors of the Holocaust, we are keenly aware of the horrors that befell our people when the State of Israel did not exist to defend the Jewish people.
Throughout its existence, the State of Israel went to great lengths to bring the Jews of the world home to safety. One of the first laws the Knesset legislated was the Law of Return, which ensures that every Jew has the opportunity to become a full-fledged Israeli citizen. The wave of Russian immigrants that came to Israel with the fall of the Soviet Union was a dream come true for so many of us. On many occasions, we even initiated special missions like Operations Magic Carpet, Moses, and Solomon to bring Jews in danger home to Israel. Even today, together with Jewish organizational partners, we are hard at work extracting the Jews of Ukraine from danger and helping them move to Israel.
That being said, it is important for us to recognize that the vast majority of Jews in the world today live in countries where they are completely free and only rarely encounter anti-Semitism. This means that “aliyah by choice” is the future of Jewish immigration to Israel. We as a country must do all we can to convince the Jews of the world that Israel is the best possible place to live a full life and raise a family committed to ensuring a meaningful future for our people.
This also means that even when tragedy strikes, we need to choose our words carefully. It is inherently understood by Jews worldwide that Israel is not only our historic homeland, but also the birthright of all members of our nation. Nonetheless, Jews today are—and will remain for the foreseeable future—loyal citizens in Western democracies where their traditions are respected and their contributions to general society are very much appreciated.
Calls for entire communities to pick up and move to Israel due to an uptick in terrorism or anti-Semitism are not only impracticable, but also send a message that extremists have the power to influence how and where the Jewish people choose to live their lives. Additionally, such statements by Israelis might give the mistaken impression that the nations of the world are not responsible for ensuring that their Jewish communities have the right to live full and public lives with the same safety and security enjoyed by other segments of society.
Let me be clear. As an Israeli, a Zionist, and a lifelong student of the teachings of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, I hope and pray that the day will come when all the Jews of the world make the choice that my grandparents did a generation ago and decide to come home to Israel. Moreover, I intend to continue to do all within my power to keep building a stronger, safer, and more prosperous Israel that will serve as a beacon of hope and a dream of a better life for our people. Nevertheless, we must at the same time be realistic and work diligently to ensure that Jews are safe and secure wherever they may live.
I realize that this is a delicate balance that must be struck by all Israeli leaders. It is, however, our duty to act responsibly to both continue to build the Zionist dream while at the same time looking out for the wellbeing of our brethren throughout the Diaspora. I have full confidence that we will succeed in this highly important mission.
Member of Knesset Danny Danon is the chair of World Likud and Israel’s former deputy defense minister.