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Israel waits for no one: A personal response to marriage ads

While I too was perturbed by the Israeli Ministry of Absorption’s billion-dollar ad campaign that has caused a huge media storm in recent days, I feel the need to write my feelings on a specific response to the campaign in Tablet Magazine written by one of its senior writers, Israeli expat Liel Leibovitz along with partner Lisa Ann Sandell, an American Jew. As a couple deeply connected to the Jewish community and to Israel, they are open about their grappling with the country as a possible home for their family and conclude that until Israel is more inclusive and representative of their beliefs, they cannot and will not call it home:

Often, we feel real remorse for abandoning this struggle we believe is so important, the struggle for Israel’s soul. Often, we feel as if we should brave the hurdles and the insults and jump back into the fray. But time, parenthood, and an Israeli government that seems dedicated to dismissing families like ours and driving American and Israeli Jews apart have all weakened our resolve. We cherish our family’s Jewish identity and our community, as do most American Jews we know. But our Jewish identities, and our sense of peoplehood, are based on inclusion—not exclusion and condescension. As long as Israel refuses to acknowledge this basic premise about the nature of Jewish peoplehood, we can’t call the Jewish state home.

They admit that they are “abandoning a struggle” that is important to them, but qualify their checking out with the fact that Israel is increasingly exclusive. The problem is that they are knowingly excluding themselves from participation because the problems seem so overwhelmingly colossal. While I understand their frustration, the attitude they express is defeatist – similar to a sports fan who stops supporting his beloved team when it seems to be on a clear path of failure.

They have every right to do so –  I am not judging that decision, especially since I do not have children and don’t know what that feels like. I certainly do not think every Jew must live in Israel to fulfill their Judaism by any means. But when they say that “as long as Israel refuses to acknowledge this basic premise about the nature of Jewish peoplehood, we can’t call the Jewish state home” they demonstrate a clear disassociation that they have chosen to take from Israeli society.

After all, what “Israel” are they talking about? Israel the government? Israel as expressed by the Ministry of Absorption? Israel the concept of a Jewish state? Israel the public? They too, are a part of Israel, even the increasingly anti-democratic, consistently violent and socially inequitable Israel of 2011. And what do they mean, “as long as Israel refuses to…”? Who will be able to make a difference in what Israel refuses or agrees to do if not the very people who are affected by it, and in turn assume ownership over it? Who is going to change Israel, if not people like them?  I agree with the sentiment that Israel is exclusive and problematic, but I do not want to and cannot wait around for it to get better. One cannot choose to be associated with Israel when the situation appears more socially just and completely detach when the situation is dire and embarrassing.

I am myself the product of a strong Israeli and Zionist upbringing in the US that the government should be very pleased with, despite having become a lefty activist. Although my mother left Israel, her entire family lives in Israel – third generation Israelis originally from Russia. She imparted me with an Israeli identity in the middle of New York City, speaking only in Hebrew to me, taking me to Israel every summer, singing me the songs and reading me the literature of Israel. While I have the choice to live outside Israel, I made a conscious decision to live here and ultimately that decision has become a way of life. I feel that there is no other place I call home, no matter how f-ed up it might be.

This means for me that I have assumed ownership of my identity and have a stake in this place. Whatever happens here affects me and I affect it. Even when I have spent time away from Israel and even if I do again in the future, this is the place I feel connected to, the place I ultimately come back to, the place where I want to affect change, where my lifestyle and values are expressed. It is not something I can switch on and off.

I agree with Yossi Gurvitz’s post that the ad campaign merely represents a fundamental pillar of Zionist ideology — that all Jews should equate their religious identity with a civilian one — and thus should not come as a surprise to American Jews. Zionism is indeed exclusivist and all Jews need to realize that. But Israel is a country and that is a reality. There are those who were born  in Israel with no other passport and no other place to call home. There are those, like me, who have another passport and another place to call home, but for various personal reasons, have found their home here. There is no right or wrong here. But there is a difference between those who feel rooted in this place, for better or worse, and those that do not. This is not about whether one is a Zionist or not, or believing in one state or two  – rather it is about the reality of one’s cultural and social reality and what one chooses to do with it.

The ones who feel rooted here cannot afford to refuse to call Israel home until it embodies their ideals -rather they are already here (whether physically or emotionally) embodying those ideals every day in whatever way they see fit. They will not wait around for Israel to get better and cannot disassociate from it until it does. It is their reality, and that in and of itself makes Israel a very different place than the Israel that many are disillusioned with.

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    1. This is a beautiful personal reflection. I respect its ideas even though I am an anti-Zionist (and secular) Jew and have no desire to be part of the Israeli experiment.
      However, one comment. Israel is a far more democratic country than the USA (where I live) in two vastly important ways. First, its newspapers have been and to a large extent continue to be an uncensored market-place of ideas (whereas, on questions involving Israel, war, terrorism) USA MSM have decided, largely, to become megaphones for the administration, in effect, to censor themselves.
      Second, Israel has multi-party elections and proportionate election so that a ticket (“list”) based on this DEMAND –removal of all settlers and demolition of all settlements and the wall (and ending the siege of Gaza) — is imaginable and possible, even if not popular. [On this last point, please correct me if Israel’s anti-democratic laws have ruled out the appearance of such a political party or “list” in a national election.]
      Because of the second point, the multi-party point, it is clear to me that international-lawfulness and human rights as respects Palestinians has no particular following inside Israel, for — as far as I know — no party calling for my DEMAND has appeared or at least has got any seats in the Knesset.
      As you may know, the power of the wealthy oligarchs in the USA makes the two-party system essentially a one-party “business” party with two slight flavors, like two brands of tooth-paste made by the same manufacturer. democracy is not in the ascendant in the USA. Americans cannot oppose our wars and our human rights abuses (and our support for Israel, its wars, and its human rights abuses) because the oligarchs who promote these things (BIG-ARMS, BIG-ZION, maybe BIG-OIL) favor them and no other BIGs oppose them.
      I understand why an Israeli may wish to stay and fight for a better Israel, but why-ever should anyone not already a member of this society, a society dominated by militarism and anti-human-rights-ism as to non-Jews want to move to Israel? The USA may be a frying-pan, but in many respects Israel is the fire.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      Somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of Israelis have other passports. It’s this fact that brings on such official reactions like the ad campaign.

      South African Boers, born in that country, felt rooted there. French pied noirs felt rooted in Algeria. They had found their homes in those places. Can we say from this “there is no right or wrong?” I think not. We say there was great wrong. Every Jew who moves to Israel, every Jew who remains in Israel, every day, perpetuates the oppression of the occupied population.

      Israelis who say, “Well, of course we oppose the occupation” are refusing to do the one thing that would collapse it utterly and instantly. Leave.

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    3. AYLA

      This is beautiful, Mairav. Thank you for speaking from your heart; it is from here–and from a place of being with what truly is–that we can begin to affect change. I, too, feel no choice but to be here. Why, I can’t say. Not because of an ideology (rather, despite one), or religious reasons, or any number of reasons people can name. I can say that it’s to write a novel. but, why this novel? This place? Will I leave when the novel is finished? Somehow, I doubt it. When I tried to move back to the States, I felt numb there. Here, I feel alive. What is that? And so now I’m here, and these are the circumstances of this place, and I’m trying to learn them, to work with them, to affect them.
      Thanks again.

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    4. Amit

      1. To Mairav – I agree and identify with basically every word you wrote. You deserve much credit for your involvement with ACRI and Ta’ayush.
      2. To Pablemont – as for your second question, the answer is because Israel is the only place to which persecuted Jews can go. No one else, including the U.S. will take them. Now, one can choose whether s/he wants to be part of that experiment or not, and in the process affect Israel’s policies so that the international borders accepted by virtually all nations of the world in 1948 become Israel’s permanent borders. Indeed, per your assumption about Israel’s democracy, in fact the two state solution is supported by the majority of Israelis and by the majority of Knesset members, however for internal political reasons and due to Netanyahu’s cynic desire to rule for the sake of ruling (just like GW) the current coalition government is based on the fascist-hawkish-racist minority that holds Israel hostage and not on promoting what the majority wants. In that sense Israel is no different than many other democracies in which the will of the people is not expressed by government policies, leading to Mairav’s point – stay and fight.
      3. To Aristeides – your assumption is that “Palestinians” are more deserving of statehood than Jews, that the only reason for Israel’s existence is oppression of the “Palestinians” and that Israel is the only nation in the world whose borders were carved by post-colonial international agreements.That, however, is a narrow view of a much more complex situation. Even the current Palestinian elected leadership supports a two-state solution, and indeed for Jews from Ethiopia and from the former Soviet Union, not to mention a generation of Holocaust survivors Israel is more than a perpetuation of oppression, it is in fact the result of millennia old persecution and oppression of the Jews, driven by anti-semitism that is still prevalent in many parts of the world, including the U.S. So “pick up and leave” to provide a place for the “Palestinians” to have a state is way too simplistic. There are realities on the ground, there are viable solutions for co-existence, and those should be sought. Kudos to Mairav who is doing just that!

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    5. Rachel

      Thank you Mairav, I for one am really glad there are left wing Jews and Israelis who care enough about Israel’s fate to withstand the difficulties of engaging with these issues at the present time.

      One thing I would mention though, is that although it’s very important IMHO that Jewish groups in the diaspora like J-Street and Yachad campaign for an end to the occupation and a more just Israel, it’s also very important that enough effort is invested in diaspora communities – both because this alternative is an important way of being Jewish in its own right and also because we can create the reality we want where we are, in some ways this is more effective in the diaspora than in Israel right now. I get the impression that many Israelis who leave and remain outside Israel don’t just do so because they have issues with Israel but also because a diasporic existence is a very fulfilling way to be Jewish in many ways (obviously this only applies to Israelis whose Jewishness is important to them). Other Jews, including some left wing ones, end up in Israel because being in a Jewish country suits them despite disagreements with the current administration. I really hope that we don’t end up with a situation in 50 years time say, where all the extremist nutters are in Israel and everyone else has given up and left. But even so, people should absolutely feel free to make the most of their lives; this is ultimately more important than staying in a place they do not feel comfortable in in order to try to improve it (and I realise that this isn’t how you feel about living in Israel, which is very lucky for Israel I think).

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    6. aristeides

      Amit – I do not claim that Palestinians are “more deserving” of a state than Jews. I claim that Palestinians are entitled by self-determination to a state in Palestine.

      It is not the unworthiness of the Jews to have a state that’s the problem, it’s the fact that they weren’t entitled to form it at the expense of the existing population. If they could settle in some land without dispossessing an existing population, they would be perfectly entitled to form a state there.

      What I oppose, here, is the notion that just because some people have a warm fuzzy feeling about a place, this entitles them to turf out the residents of that place and move in. I assume that the 3/4 million Palestinians who were dispossessed in 1947-8 always had a warm attachment to their homes. They, too, were a “reality on the ground.” Yet the Jews didn’t just tell them to “pick up and leave,” they did it at gunpoint.

      Good intentions and warm fuzzy feelings just aren’t enough. Yuval Ben-Ami wrote about the ones who walk away from Omelas. Mairav has just described the residents of Omelas who have no intention to walk away because they are too comfortable where they are, knowing that the child in the cell will continue to suffer.

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    7. Ruth


      How many israelis are you willing to take in your country? I assume you are Greek. Don’t you have enough problems there already? May be all Turks should leave Germany, Arabs should leave France, and South Asians should leave Britain. Let’s not forget to send all Blacks back to Africa. Ah, what a peaceful world it will be.

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    8. Ruth


      It is true. Israel is raw, hot, sweaty, rough and in your face, but oh so lively. You should see Torono today: cold, rainy, grey. Not a soul after 4:30 PM. It gets dark here early.People bouncing in cars from mall to mall for the Christmas shopping frenzy. I drove through huge shopping plazas and sparkling new subdivisions housing people from all over the world who perfectly ignore each other. The Jewish community? Just another immigrant group with their quaint folkways =:)
      A the end of the day people who have choices live where they live for personal, social, and emotional reasons, and rarely for political reasons.

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    9. aristeides

      Ruth – in 1947, the Palestinian Jews never asked themselves who would take in the Arabs. They never concerned themselves with their fate.

      So don’t be surprised if I don’t particularly care where the Israelis go now. They’re lucky, most of them, to be “people who have choices.” The Palestinians never did.

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    10. Gloria

      Hurts me to the core!

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    11. Mairav: “I have assumed ownership of my identity and have a stake in this place. Whatever happens here affects me and I affect it. Even when I have spent time away from Israel and even if I do again in the future, this is the place I feel connected to, the place I ultimately come back to, the place where I want to affect change, where my lifestyle and values are expressed. It is not something I can switch on and off.”
      Which is why I will not give up on your country, although I have no importance. This horribly long fight is about what civilization might become, for the better. That people of your expression exist there is becomes my long term hope.

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    12. d

      @ aristeides

      Should all the people in the united states leave aside the warm fuzzy feeling they have for that country and leave it for the native Americans?

      There have been many injustices committed in this world. And the way to solve one injustice is not to commit another one.

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    13. aristeides

      D – what injustice would that be?

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    14. d


      Kicking people out of their homes thereby creating another refugee problem would be an injustice. Not everyone has 5 passports like you seem to believe. Where are they suppose to go. I’ve heard you say that you really don’t care. To me thats not really an acceptable answer.

      And what about a response to my first question. If Israelis should leave there home then so should the people of N. America, S. America, Australia, N. Zeland, Canada, and countless of other countries.

      Also, there is evidence that jews used to live in that land. For 2000 years they would say “Next Year in Jerusalem” and kept that hope alive. At what point does your “right to return” become invalid. When there is another society living there that you would displace? Is that not the case in Israel right now?

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    15. Ruth

      It works both ways you know, if you don’t care about the fate of Israelis, why should we care about Palestinians? I personally don’t care about them. They have tons of choices too. They live all over the world like Jews do.

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    16. aristeides

      Ruth – why should you care about justice? Because some day you might call on it, but it will no longer be there.

      D – my suggestion, here, was not to kick people out but that people should voluntarily leave, like the people being berated by Mairav.

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    17. d


      Where should these people voluntarily leave to? To be illegal immigrants in another country?

      And they shouldn’t have to leave their home either.

      your lack of response to the other aspect of my questions only shows that this issue isn’t black and white.

      Israelis and Palestinians need to learn to live together. And the Israelis who want to see that should stay and work for it, rather then leave.

      I personally left so I’m not making an judgment calls on that. Just saying I do see Mairav’s point.

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    18. aristeides

      D – Israelis and Palestinians aren’t going to learn to live together. There isn’t going to be peace and there isn’t going to be justice. It’s self-delusion, at this point, to suppose that living in Israel will do any good towards these goals. Rather the contrary.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Ruth

      @ aristeides
      “why should you care about justice? Because some day you might call on it, but it will no longer be there”
      You are a nutbar. Do you think there is a fairy in the sky dispensing justice? Who is going to dispense justice? The Palestinians?
      Robin Hood?

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    20. aristeides

      It used to be that Jews were great champions of justice. Organizations promoting justice had the backing of Jews worldwide. Why was this? Because Jews had been so often victims of injustice, and they were the beneficiaries of advances in justice and rights.

      Then came Israel. Now we have Jews who seem to regard justice as an idea of “nutbars.” Now we have Jews who mete out injustice and spend their time making excuses for themselves. You think the day will never come when you will be in need of justice, but when it does, it was be too late. You will cry out for it, but no one will answer.

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    21. d


      you have a very skewed idea of justice.

      And again, your refusal to address some of the points i made earlier simply shows that you have a one track mind…Jews out!

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    22. Bosko

      Aristeides: “and they were the beneficiaries of advances in justice and rights”
      Wow, really? The Jews were beneficiaries of advances in Justice? If they did then it came from a very low base. Even today, the old hatreds, the superstition and conspiracy theories weaved around Jews abound. Very hard to administer justice under such a climate.

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    23. Piotr Berman

      “The ones who feel rooted here cannot afford to refuse to call Israel home until it embodies their ideals -rather they are already here (whether physically or emotionally) embodying those ideals every day in whatever way they see fit. ”

      But what about those who are not so rooted? Are they “lesser Jews”, are simply Jews who are not Israeli? Clearly, they can afford to “call Israel home”. Is it bad?

      “Israel is the only place to which persecuted Jews can go. No one else, including the U.S. will take them.”

      Empirically, this is false. I come from a group that was persecuted, however mildly, around 1967-69. No pogroms, just firing from official jobs, shit in admission to universities at other minor stuff, still unpleasant and most of that group left, some to Israel, some to Sweden and Dennmark, some to USA, Belgium, France. Some stayed.

      How precarious is Jewish existence in, say, Brussels or Antwerp? To me, it looks OK. On the negative side … I actually do not know. On the positive side, as we are evaluating a REFUGE, nobody suggests that Belgium is or will be “existentially threatened” at that should be a plus IMHO. Even if it would come to pass that the country will split into a French and a Flemish part, so a Jew from Brussels would have to cross a border on the way to her family in Antwerp. Schengen Zone rules!

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    24. aristeides

      D – I would like to see people from any nation where the descent into fascism is irrevocable leave in protest. In the US, btw, this is a common topic of conversation. “If so-and-so is elected, I’ve had it, I’m moving to ___”

      The issue isn’t “Jews out.” It’s “people with a conscience out.” You claim to have left. Perhaps for reasons of conscience, I don’t know. But you apparently see no reason to support such people against the attacks of people like Mairav. Who, btw, is of US birth.

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    25. Dr.Bill

      It’s great the way you hold the fort Aristeides, so here comes the cavalry. :-). It seems very difficult for some of the respondents here to read properly. One respondent said something about all these Israelis having “five passports” in response to you. Of course you never said any such thing. There was a NEWS ARTICLE about a week or so ago which cited that about 70% of ALL Israelis hold at least ONE foreign passport to some other country. There was also a poll conducted in which many Israelis stated that should there be a war between Israel and Iran, they are leaving on a jet plane.
      I do appreciate the sentiments of the writer however. One should always fight for justice in the country in which one should have chosen to live in, especially if one does not have other complicating obligations such as raising a young child in a peaceful (relatively) environment.
      I applaud her for seeking to do the right thing.
      But the fundamental problem is that as long as Israel continues to operate under Zionist philosophy, a just and lasting peace is never going to happen.
      I believe that the One State solution is the current only solution. The barn door closed on the two state solution in 1967 when against the advice of David Ben-Gurion himself, the Israeli government refused to use the conquered territories as a negotiating tool for peace, and instead embarked on a pipe dream for a “greater Israel”. They have now been trying to get unstuck from the “tar-baby” for 45 years. That’s what happens when one gets greedy.
      But here is the ultimate problem in one sentence: “You stole their land, they want it back.”

      Reply to Comment
    26. Dr.Bill

      And here are some historical facts:
      (1) In every country in the world, where the settler-colonial population exceeded the native population, the settler colonialists eventually succeeded. This holds true for every country in the Western Hemisphere. Of course in order to effect that between 20-40 million natives were blatantly killed over the course of about 250 years, which is still the largest genocide in history.
      This fact also holds true for Australia and New Zealand.
      (2) In every country in the world in which settler-colonialists tried to take over from the native population, in which the native population exceeded that of the settler colonialists, the experiment failed. The prime example of this, I believe would be the Raj, current day India and Pakistan. One could also include just about all of the continent of Africa, where the last example of this, the apartheid U. of South Africa took about a century to dissolve, and return to rule by the native population, and those whites who were descendents of the Boer settlers (and Brits) who chose to stay.
      It is remarkable how it was done with reconciliation after much bloodshed over the prior decades. The entire world realised that the two state solution of Bantustans was unworkable.
      Now to Israel: Israel is the last of the settler-colonial states in the world, and came along as the zeitgeist was changing. Moreover, International law had changed as well with regard to the conquest of anothers land.
      The Yeshuv knew it had to get rid of as much of the native population as possible because all of the leadership was well aware of the above formulas. This was discussed in earnest prior to 1948 not only by Ben-Gurion but by his rival Ze’ev Jabotinsky as well (see The Iron Wall ) as well as those who were their acolytes.

      Reply to Comment
    27. Dr.Bill

      But the Zionist experiment is doomed to failure, just as apartheid was in South Africa, because just as with the the old crusader state of the Christians, the native population will exceed the settler colonials and their descendents, and the immigrants from Europe and Russia within two to three decades. If one counts in the occupied territories, then the two populations are at the current time about equal.
      It can also be cogently argued that at the time, defacto, what you have is one state now, with some having a hell of a lot more rights than others.
      So just as the leaders of the Yeshuv back in the 40s were well aware of the “demographic time bomb” which is always referred to, the current Israeli leadership is also painfully aware of it.
      What needs to be corrected is the Original Sin, “you stole their land, they want it back”, with a solution akin to the S. African one, and perhaps then there will be peace.
      Both sides need to wrest themselves of their fanatics in order to do so.
      It will not be an easy task.

      Reply to Comment
    28. D

      Dr Bill,

      What makes you think you’re aristeides cavalry. No where does He/she propose a one state solution where both people live side by side. His/her exact words were…

      “Israelis and Palestinians aren’t going to learn to live together. There isn’t going to be peace and there isn’t going to be justice. It’s self-delusion, at this point, to suppose that living in Israel will do any good towards these goals. Rather the contrary.”

      And that is what got under my skin. I’m up for a debate about one vs two state and I understand the argument for the one state solution even though i’m not sure i agree with. What i don’t understand is someone that says that Israeli’s should leave voluntarily, with nowhere to go really because there is no hope for the country. This zero sum approach saddens me as much when I hear it from the left as it does from the right.

      As far as those readers that can’t read as you mentioned. While the 5 passports might have been an exaggeration so is the 70% of all Israelis holding foreign passports. Or maybe that statistic came from the same place where its written that 95% of all statistics are made up. While many israelis of European decent have recently gotten second passports to take advantage of the perks of european citizenship, over 50% of Israelis are of Mizrahi origin and therefore have no option for a second passport. After 3 generations Israel is what most Israelis no, there is no going back to Iraq, Iran, Romania or wherever they came from. Unlike the settler colonialist in Africa, they don’t have a motherland to return to.

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    29. Mitchell Cohen

      D, I would add to your last post, I note some hypocrisy here. The same posters who are slamming Israel for her treatment of children born to foreign workers or migrant workers (rightfully so) in Israel are suggesting that Jews who have been here for multiple generations pack up and leave because they are descended from people who arrived “recently” in the early 1900s or late 1890s.

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    30. aristeides

      D – let’s put aside what anyone might want for Israel. Let’s assume that everyone wants Israel to survive and prosper. What chance is there for this happening? I predict – slim and none. Israel has gone being the point where it can be saved.

      Now suppose I’m right. You think the Israelis aren’t going to decamp en masse? This, I believe is inevitable. And blaming me won’t change that fact, if a fact it is.

      But just suppose that leaving Israel might be the way to save it. Suppose that a million Israelis moved out and told the government, “We’re not coming back until every IDF soldier is on the west side of the Green Line. Or whatever your vision of the solution might be.”

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    31. Mitchell Cohen

      Aristeides, I realize that you are no fan of Israel and want her to disappear, but your doomsday scenario regarding Israel is just not coming and will not come to be. Israel might not be the most popular state in the world (so what else is new?), but she is prospering now more than ever. While most other countries in the world are panicking about their economy (read Europe and America), Israel held her own through the global financial meltdown. Security-wise? Another poster here who is no fan of Israel and mentioned that he intends to leave Israel and not come back (won’t mention their name; they know who they are) called Israel a “fortress”. Sorry, but while Israel is not perfect and has her ups and downs, I am afraid you will be VERY disappointed when Israel celebrates her centennial Independence Day….

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    32. aristeides

      I’ll rise up from my grave and let you know, Mitchell. But for now, that’s my prediction. It won’t be the first state in history to fall.

      Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
      Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
      The lone and level sands stretch far away.

      Reply to Comment
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