Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky probably thought he was stating the obvious when he welcomed his board of governors to Jerusalem on February 17 with a bromide about Israel-Diaspora solidarity. “It is increasingly clear,” said the chairman, still best known for his years in a Soviet prison, “that world Jewry depends on Israel and Israel depends on world Jewry.”
It’s a familiar notion, and contains much truth. But “increasingly clear” it’s not. If anything, it’s increasingly murky. Right now, no fewer than three major Diaspora Jewish communities — in Australia, Argentina and the United States — are embroiled in crises arising from their relationships with Israel, facing noisy, threatening allegations of dual loyalty.
This could be a harbinger of the future. Some top Israeli officials see the country’s actions becoming increasingly unpopular around the world. As that happens, they say, Israel’s defenders are on the defensive. The more isolated Israel becomes, the greater its dependence on Diaspora Jews — and the higher the cost to those Jews.
The most dramatic crisis involves a young Australian Jew who, like Sharansky, ended up in a prison cell as a consequence of his love of Zion. But his prison, unlike Sharansky’s, was Israeli. And unlike Sharansky, this inmate, Prisoner X, never got out alive. He died in December 2010, allegedly having hanged himself in Israel’s most closely monitored cell.
His fate was top-secret for two years, until an explosive documentary aired February 14 on Australian television. It told how the idealistic young Zionist Ben Zygier immigrated to Israel in the 1990s, joined the Mossad and ultimately got caught in a deadly conflict between Israeli and Australian security interests. At the heart of the dispute, it appears, is the Mossad’s practice of recruiting Jews whose Western passports let them travel where Israelis can’t.
The expose has left Israeli and Australian authorities groping for answers while Australia’s social media crackle with accusations of Jewish disloyalty, and Australian Jews grieve in stunned silence. Wounds are still raw from the deaths of four Australian Jews when a shoddily built bridge collapsed at the 1997 Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv. Now this. Love for Israel runs deep in Australian Jewry. Lately it’s exacting a cost.
Argentina’s crisis broke just days before Australia’s. Speaking on television February 9, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner de Fernandez suggested bluntly that the head of the Jewish community was in contact with “a foreign espionage agency.” This came a week after Argentina formally accused Israel of “improper” interference in “sovereign” Argentine affairs.
The dispute involves the still-unsolved 1994 terrorist bombing of Argentina’s main Jewish community center, AMIA. The bombing killed 85 people. It’s still the world’s deadliest single anti-Jewish attack since World War II. Another 29 people died two years earlier in an attack on the local Israeli embassy. Israeli intelligence officials believe both bombings were in retaliation for Israel’s 1992 assassination of Hezbollah chief Abbas Musawi. Yes, Diaspora Jews sometimes pay for Israeli security decisions.