The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines Diaspora as a “movement, migration of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland” . The term originally applied to Jewish people, who since biblical times have had been expelled from their ‘Promised Land’, the area that encompasses most of present day state of Israel. After independence in 1948, Israeli authorities declared a policy of homecoming for all Jews in ‘exile’. However, many in the Jewish Diasporas chose stay back in their host countries.
This essay examines the complexities of interaction between the Jewish Diaspora and its Homeland through the works of Fullilove, Cohen, Sheffer and Shapira.
Out of the 13. 8 million Jews, 7. 8 million stay in Diasporas . These are scattered across the U. S, France, Canada, Russia, UK, Australia, Germany, Brazil, Ukraine and South Africa. Most Jews in North Africa and Muslim countries have disappeared. The upward mobility of the Diaspora across the globe has played an important role in their interaction with the state of Israel.
While the sentiments of the elder members of the Jewish Diaspora remain strong, the younger Jews under the age of 35 are distancing themselves from their Jewish homeland .
They have a more unbiased view of Jewish affairs and in the recent Israeli-Palestine conflict, voiced dissenting opinions on the conduct of the Jewish state and its treatment of the Palestinian Arabs. Organizations such as the Independent Jewish Voices in the UK are one such organization that provides a contrarian view.
Israeli Diaspora, according to Cohen comprises of those Jews who migrated out of Israel to other parts of the world. Jewish Diaspora refers to the Jews who were already settled in ‘exile’ from ancient times . The Jewish Diaspora having lived in their host countries for centuries have developed a more inclusive ethos than the newly migrating Jews ex-Israel. The Israeli Diaspora tends to be more conservative and the Diasporic Jews have often labeled the Israeli Diaspora as “loud, blunt and rude” .
The main reason for the Jews to leave Israel has been to find better economic opportunities abroad . The constant stress and compulsory military service were other reasons cited by Jews to leave Israel . Yet others opted to emigrate to pursue higher education. Middle East or African origin Jews chose to leave Israel because of racial discrimination by the white Jewry. The Diaspora has a high rate of self-employment and does very well in financial and business sectors .
Jews in Canada have very little affiliation to Jewish orthodoxy and tend to carry a negative image towards organized religion . Jews that migrate from Israel tend to carry their cultural heritage rather than religious identities. As a result, the Israeli Diaspora has a different cultural-religious orientation than the Jewish Diaspora, which becomes yet another point of discordance between the two communities. Second and third generation progeny of the Israeli Diaspora are losing their ‘Israeliness’ that is being replaced with ‘Jewishness’ .
Sheffer argues that the relations of the state of Israel with their Diaspora are a unique phenomenon in its breadth and scope of interaction as compared to other ethno-national Diasporas. A large number of Jews no longer consider themselves to be exiles in their host nations . So, now there is no longer an urgency to return to their homeland. Part of this change of heart has been the growing realization that the Israeli state has understood the importance of the existence of the Diaspora in other countries and has made special efforts to engage with them at the governmental level.
Thus two major Zionist ideas; return to Israel and negation of exile are no longer being propagated by the Israeli political establishment . The growing acceptance of their national status in their host nations is also a fallout of the weakening of communal ideologies in host nations which now allows the Jews a more inclusive social assimilation . Globalization and liberalization are now making it possible for the Jewish Diaspora to migrate to other host nations instead of the traditional aliyah or homecoming to Israel.
In the present day, the transformation in relationship between the Israeli state and its Diaspora would require a redefinition of what constitutes Jewish identity and how to manage the State-Diasporic relationship . According to Shapira, while the Jewish Diaspora has fared well in the developed world, their brethren in the developing world have had no such socio-economic success. Coming from the lower socio-economic strata also limited the influence and adaptability of these Jews in their adopted homelands, which also affected their assimilation on return to their homeland.
“Every wave of emigration produced a perceived dilution of the native Israeli identity that led to tension between the locals and the emigrants forcing a halt to immigration from time to time to allow for assimilation. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Jews who are leaving Israel for a variety of reasons. Some find the conflict in the Middle East and the daily threat to their lives too stressful. Others leave Israel for personal ideological reasons. This lot believes that the Israeli state puts too much premium on the Jewish religion as the core national value and wish to migrate to more inclusive locales.
The out-group Jews have lesser attachment for Jewish causes in their adopted lands but nonetheless, the government of Israel realizes their importance in shaping international perceptions and keeps them engaged through their Ministry for Diaspora Affairs as well as Track II organizations. In the developed world, the Diaspora has achieved positions of affluence and influence. In the developing world they have remained at the lower end of the socio-economic strata, which has been the main driver for these communities to exercise their right to return to their Jewish homeland.
The younger generation of Diaspora below the age of 35 has a lesser attachment to their homeland. Some have even raised contrarian views to question the conduct of the Israeli state in resolving the Palestinian issue. Others have opted to migrate out from Israel for a number of reasons such as better economic options, religious reasons or to escape from physical insecurity. Whatever be the varied contours of interaction of the Diaspora with the State of Israel, there is no denying the fact that the Jewish Diaspora is the most powerful and well organized community on which the homeland has great dependence.
Bibliography Cohen, Rina. “Israeli Diaspora. ” In Encyclopedia of Diasporas, by Springer Link, 136-143. NY: Springer US, 2005. Fullilove, Michael. Diasporas and The International System. Double Bay, Australia: Longueville Media, 2008. Merriam-Webster. Diaspora. 2009. http://www. merriam-webster. com/dictionary/diaspora (accessed 17 May, 2009). Shapira, Anita. Israeli Identity in Transition. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2004. Sheffer, Gabriel. “Is the Jewish Diaspora Unique? Refl ections on the Diaspora’s Current Situation. ” Israel Studies, volume 10, number 1 1-35.