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Emigration as a political act

The Israeli government has guaranteed the non-viability of a two-state solution and apartheid has already arrived. I will not sacrifice my children’s future for a hopeless struggle.

By Na’aman Hirschfeld

Israelis board at plane departing Ben-Gurion Airport. (Illustrative photo by Moshe Shai/Flash90)

“Immigrating to Berlin was a choice to seek freedom from desperation.” Illustrative photo of Israelis boarding a plane departing Ben-Gurion Airport. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The immigration of young Israelis to Berlin is troubling “because it is precisely these young women and men who are needed in Israel,” explains veteran left-wing activist Uri Avnery in a recent Haaretz oped (Hebrew). “It is precisely those who are energetic, full of initiative and seekers of freedom, who are needed to save the state from the hands of Netanyahu and his associates.”

“The common excuse [for emigration] is despair,” Avnery asserts, going on to suggest that the collapse of Israeli democracy will be assured “if everyone who is able to resist this process gives up and moves to the coffee shops of Unter den Linden.” All of which leads Avnery to emphatically call on “the wonderful young people of Berlin” to return to Israel and “storm into politics, organize, change things, form new forces, [and] take control of the government.”

To this I reply: no thanks. I will not sacrifice my children’s future for a hopeless struggle. Desperation is indeed the reason why I left. I despaired of the ever-present catastrophe that is gradually unfolding before our eyes. I despaired of the brainwashing, propaganda, political spin and intentional deception. I despaired of bloodthirsty mobs intoxicated with fear and hate. I despaired of Israeliness, which has been emptied of all substance to the point that what remains is only the negation of others. I despaired of the government’s cynicism, of the establishment’s incompetence, and of the ever-spreading corruption. But, above all, I despaired of desperation.

Contrary to the view that desperation is simply a byproduct or a secondary effect of “Ha’Matzav” (lit. “The Situation” – as Israelis colloquially construe the reality of occupation and conflict as a pre-given ‘state of things’), desperation is in fact a primary political tool: it is a palpable force in Israeli society that defines an essential aspect of the Israeli condition. If Ha’Matzav – that thing which binds us Israelis into a “we” – was taken from us, who and what would we be? Israeliness is defunct, bankrupt both ideologically and morally. What remains as a common ground is the state of emergency, the existential struggle, and the collective experience of being cornered. Collective desperation is thus essential for social cohesion, and in the end, Israelis need and even want “their” despair.

Is a belief in Israeli democracy the alternative to this? Should one believe, like Avnery, in a “future of two friendly states, which exist alongside each other in a shared homeland”? No. This is a false consciousness. The Israeli government ensured the non-viability of a diplomatic resolution, and the future entailed by these governmental actions — an apartheid state — has in fact already arrived. For the time being it (still) is a de facto rather than a de jure apartheid, but what of it? The entire Israeli system is founded upon “facts on the grounds,” creating a sharp divide between the way things are and the way things appear. Furthermore, although various institutional adornments signify Israel as a democracy, it is in fact a radical ethnocracy – being at its core a ‘blood-state’ in the völkisch sense. For what are Israeli Jews without the concept of Jewish blood? What is Israel without the separation and distinction between Jewish and Arab blood? Contemporary Israel is no longer capable of offering an answer other than blood and desperation.

Immigrating to Berlin was a choice to seek freedom from desperation. By leaving, I chose to stop wallowing in impossibility, to give my children the greatest gift I could – the liberty of self-determination, and to free myself from an existence defined by antagonism and constant struggle. Contrary to the manner in which the Israeli establishment construes emigration, when leaving Israel, one does not abandon Hebrew, forsake Israeli culture, shed one’s skin or shirk responsibility.

On the contrary: to leave is to take full responsibility of oneself. As such, emigration is also a political act. Certainly, it is a limited act, but it is still an act with both content and meaning, and, perhaps in the long-run and if enough people choose to emigrate, it will have some degree of influence. There is not much solace in this, but at least there is a bit of hope.

Na’aman Hirschfeld is a PhD candidate at Humboldt University of Berlin’s Institute of Cultural Studies. This text is based on a Hebrew op-ed that was published in Haaretz (July 31, 2016) with the title “Lo Toda, Ani Nish’ar Be’Berlin” (“No Thanks I’m Staying in Berlin”).

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      Yeshayahu Leibowitz:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeshayahu_Leibowitz

      In a 1968 essay titled “The Territories”, Leibowitz postulated a hellish future:

      The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police—mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Forces, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Tommy Goldberg

      A compelling argument, which is rarely told as succinctly.

      I wish you and all Israeli-Berliners all the best, but I wonder about one thing: I know it is pretty easy for Israelis to move to and work in Germany, but is this meant to be a long-term option?

      Are permanent residency, not to mention citizenship, in Germany possible under the arrangement for (temporary?) work permits for Israelis?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Paul N. Johnsom

      An amazing piece, and a powerful condemnation of Bibi and his legacy of fear.
      Tudah, Na’aman, and +972!

      Reply to Comment
    4. i_like_ike52

      I am not sure whether this piece is meant as a parody or not. One has to admit that it is rather amusing for a Jew who is complaining that Israel “being at its core a ‘blood-state’ in the völkisch sense” wants to leave and transplant himself to Germany, of all places. Germany, in case Na’aman forgot, is a country where almost everyone he passes in the street who is under the age of 80 has parents or grandparents who were enthusiastic supporters of Hitler and his Nazi/German/Aryan “Master Race” ideology and many of whom carried out genocidal war crimes in the SS, Gestapo, SA or even the mainline Wehrmacht, and many very elderly he sees did these things himself.
      Israel is not like the old USSR and if he feels uncomfortable living in Israel, he is free to leave. It is very possible he will come back crawling on his belly as he sees increasing European antisemitism which is not going to spare him no matter how much he proclaims his “progressive” and supposed “anti-racist” credentials.
      BTW-It is preposterous to say that Israel is a “Volkisch” state. Yes, it is a Jewish nationalist state, just like Egypt is an Arab nationalist state, and the Palestinians also define themselves in terms of being Arab nationalists. Jews do NOT have a “master race” mentality like Na’aman’s Germans, because anyone can become a Jew and Jews come in all colors and sizes, in case Na’amn hasn’t noticed.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Ike: An hysterical attempt to smear the current state of Germany and its people and blur history while at the very same time being oblivious to the extremely troubling family resemblance Israel in its current state has to prior evil regimes. A must read on this:
        Israel is neither Nazi nor fascist or apartheid – but its current colonialist regime does bear a family resemblance with other evil regimes.
        By Eva Illouz Aug 05, 2016
        http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.735303?v=036836DE6B2A2A7743800117B75C4315

        (This kind of crude German card-pulling of yours I expect to see on the ultra-dumbed-down JPost talkback sites. If Bennet’s Education Ministry taught students about Israel’s history with one tenth of the honesty the Germans today teach their students about their own history that would be huge progress.)

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Ike: An hysterical attempt to smear the current state of Germany and its people and blur history while at the very same time being oblivious to the extremely troubling family resemblance Israel in its current state has to prior evil regimes. A must read on this:
        Israel is neither N*zi nor fascist or apartheid – but its current colonialist regime does bear a family resemblance with other evil regimes.

        By Eva Illouz Aug 05, 2016
        http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.735303?v=036836DE6B2A2A7743800117B75C4315

        (This kind of crude German card-pulling of yours I expect to see on the ultra-dumbed-down JPost talkback sites. If Bennett’s Education Ministry taught students about Israel’s history with one tenth of the honesty the Germans today teach their students about their own history that would be huge progress.)

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Ike: You are whitewashing right wing Jewish nationalism. If the tables were turned, if Egypt had something like Israel’s history and had thereby a 20% Jewish population and ruled over millions of occupied Jews and treated them the way Israel treats the Palestinians you would be utterly incensed. That the reverse situation is fine with you I’m afraid does indeed reveal the casual “master race” mentality Hirschfeld describes.

        Reply to Comment
        • ihso_p

          Indeed, the “master race” mindframe is the kernel of the problem. It is not limited to Zionists in Israel, but extends to a lot in the USA.

          I have tried to tell many of these people, See, anti-Semitism was a relic from the past, but obsessively stressing on race and ethnicity, and displaying an over-sized pride and sense of ethnic superiority, is exciting wrong and strange ideas in the mind of some people.

          In other words, it takes no less than half a saint to be a New Yorker, read anything by Chemi Shalev, and don’t feel itchy in a odd way.

          Ex nihilo nihil fit, some wise people used to say.

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Ike: There are a lot of uncomfortable truths you whitewash. Blithely saying “anyone can become a Jew” covers over many things. In the first place, that in 2016 one has to be become a Jew to gain equal treatment. That’s your answer to millions of Arabs under Israel’s ethnocratic rule? Then the incredible begrudging unwelcomingness and endless obstacles the Israeli Rabbinate places in front of those who seek to convert.

        As Eva Illouz put it: “In Israel the rabbinate has played an increasingly powerful role in transforming nationality into a quasi-racial definition, reserved only for a group that meets clear biological requirements (conversion processes are so difficult and humiliating that they are de facto a politics whose purpose is to dissuade non-Jews from joining the Jewish people, thus reinforcing the biological view that a Jew is someone born of a Jewish mother). It is not by chance that religious people in Israel are spearheading racist views. Rabbis on the public payroll call for not employing Arabs and for boycotting shops that do so; these rabbis also call on the population not to rent or sell apartments to Arabs. They frequently cite the Torah to justify the idea that that Jewish and non-Jewish lives are of unequal value. In fact, the view that Jews and non-Jews are both equally the children of God would be, for many religious Jews, sacrilege, a profanation of Judaism. The Lehava organization, that which battles against interfaith marriages and has set for itself the goal of maintaining the racial purity of Jews has been, as revealed in Haaretz in 2011, indirectly financed by the State of Israel.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Holy Arse

      pls don’t jump into small puddles everyone, what Na’aman is doing is very important. He seeks for sanity. He needs to develop, and further more allow his children to develop properly. This is a basic RIGHT of every human being on this planet and f*** fundamentalism. May migration grow and flourish so we get to witness its’ best.
      My utterly warm support to Na’aman and his family!

      Reply to Comment
    6. Lewis from Afula

      What about all the Israelis that have returned from America over the last few years?
      The US is actually bankrupt with AT LEAST 100 Billion of Unfunded liabilities. Uncle Sam is terminally bankrupt and the $ will soon be toilet paper.

      Reply to Comment