Please, Our Dear American Cousins, Stay Out of Israel’s Business

Opinion

By Gideon Levy

Published May 15, 2008, issue of May 23, 2008.
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The involvement of American businessman Morris Talansky in the latest scandal surrounding Ehud Olmert ought to raise questions that go far beyond what the prime minister did or did not do, and whether he ought to pay the price. Some serious soul-searching is in order about the relationship between American Jewry and Israel.

Granted, Talansky is a mere individual, but he is not the only one. Jerusalem is full of wheeler-dealers, functionaries, lobbyists, donors and philanthropists. There are rich men and middlemen, envoys and delegations — many of them with good intentions, but some without.

They wheedle and schnorr and contribute to various causes. It’s the kind of schnorring that begins with Shaare Zedek Medical Center and could end in court. The question here is why did Talansky, or any other American Jew, invest, allegedly, in Olmert? What do they receive in exchange for this pot stirring?

It’s time to reorganize the system, to air out the relationship between the world’s largest and second-largest Jewish community — a relationship that has long become distorted and even harmful.

It is time to say to American Jews directly, as is customary among relatives: Leave us alone. Take your hands off Israel. Stop using your money to buy influence in Israel. Stop contributing to advance your interests and views, some of which are at times delusionary and extremely dangerous to the future of the country you’re supposedly trying to protect.

No thank you, we’re doing all right. No thank you, some of you are causing us great damage. If you want to wield influence, do it in your own country. You have a lot of power and influence there. Perhaps too much; it’s none of our business.

You are American, not Israeli citizens, and no amount of money can or should change this fact. War and peace, social justice and government, education and religion in Israel are a matter for its citizens alone.

Our door should of course remain open to visits, immigration and displays of interest. But the extent of American Jewry’s intervention in our affairs has long become intolerable. It’s time to show them the door — the one that separates them from us.

Israeli politicians from all parties engage in an overly close rapport with American Jews, and of course, their money. The American Jewish establishment may support all Israeli governments blindly and automatically — this, too, is inexplicable and raises weighty questions. But under the official countenance of not intervening in our internal affairs, they have a thumb in every pie.

Sixty years old, economically sound, enjoying the great superpower’s massive support, which is unequalled worldwide — Israel is strong and mature enough to manage without the interference of American Jewry.

The name of the game, of course, is money. Everything is about money, even if it is concealed under a pile of cliches and promises. From the prime minister to the mayor of a remote town, from hospital director to community center manager — all look to American Jewish money. That’s a guarantee for unhealthy relations.

If it could be justified in the state’s early days, when everything was still new, it no longer has place in a 60-year-old state that can and should build its own community centers and avoid the price it will be charged for schnorring. We are dealing with an impatient, aggressive Jewish community, one whose aggression is reflected in its relations with Israel.

In many areas the damage is direct and considerable. The settlements in the territories, for example, would not have thrived and grown had it not been for the big money flowing from American Jews. An investigation by the Ynet news Web site released around two years ago found that American Jews sent $100 million to the settlements in the past decade.

Dozens of Jewish associations foster and finance the most nefarious project we’ve ever had here, from the One Israel Fund to the Hebron Fund, from American Friends of Ateret Cohanim to Shuvu Banim. They are all fattening the settlements, some openly and others under the table. By so doing American Jews are helping to shape and mutilate another state.

The contribution of American Jewry to Israel may, on balance, be positive. They financed and built for us quite heavily; we in turn offered them a safe haven and a source of pride.

Neither side of this equation, though, is relevant any longer. We no longer need their money — certainly not at the price of their interference — and it is doubtful we can still offer them that haven or pride. Let’s part as friends, then.

Let American Jews attend to their own business, and us to ours. And let’s be done with any more Morris Talanskys.

Gideon Levy is a columnist and editorial board member of Haaretz, where this article originally appeared.


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