To be clear: this post is not an endorsement of any Israeli policy, or disparaging of Diaspora Jewry. I myself have lived in the Diaspora for the majority of my life, and I believe that to the extent that it is possible, it’s important for the health of the Jewish People to have strong Diaspora communities. However, to glorify the Diaspora — at the expense of Jewish sovereignty in our ancestral homeland — is so offensive, privileged, historically illiterate, anti-Indigenous, and anti-Jewish, that I frankly don’t even know where to begin.
FIRST, WHAT IS THE “DIASPORA”?
By dictionary definition (Merriam-Webster, Oxford, etc), the word “diaspora” means “the dispersion of Jews from the Land of Israel; the dispersion of Jews from the Land of Israel after the Babylonian Exile; communities of Jews living outside of the Land of Israel/Palestine.”
The word “galut,” in Hebrew, describes the concept of the Jewish perception of the “condition and feelings of a nation uprooted from its homeland,” forced to live under foreign rule. It’s a word that appears time and time again in the Tanakh (“Hebrew Bible”), and as such, it’s at least around 2500 years old.
Though the word “galut” describes the physical dispersion of the Jewish People, it also encompasses the Jewish emotion and pain of being forcefully exiled from the Land of Israel. As such, it does have a negative connotation. It’s a concept that is quite difficult to translate neatly into a Western paradigm, as it is a physical, emotional, and spiritual state of being.
The word “diaspora” comes from the Greek διασπείρω (diaspeirō), which means “I scatter, I spread about,” and is how the Greeks translated “galut” when they read the Tanakh (“Hebrew Bible”).
In other words, the word “diaspora” came about when the Greeks tried to find a way to translate the word “galut,” which is a Hebrew word, specific to the experience and history of the Jewish People.
ACKNOWLEDGING THAT THERE IS A DIASPORA MEANS ACKNOWLEDGING JEWS COME FROM ISRAEL
The most ridiculous thing about these pro-Diaspora Jews is that in being “pro-Diaspora,” they are inherently acknowledging that Jews originally come from the Land of Israel. If Jews outside of Israel live in the Diaspora, that automatically means that Jews living in Israel are not in the Diaspora; i.e. in our homeland. Yet these “pro-Diaspora” Jews are the very same Jews that claim Jews are foreign, colonizing interlopers in Palestine. Anyone care to explain?
There really is no way around it: the word Diaspora was coined, specifically, in reference to the Jewish People. That’s why any dictionary will define it as such; for example:
“Jews living outside Israel; the dispersion of the Jews beyond Israel…The main diaspora began in the 8th–6th centuries BC, and even before the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70 the number of Jews dispersed by the diaspora was greater than that living in Israel. Thereafter, Jews were dispersed even more widely throughout the Roman world and beyond (for example, into India). The term embraces concerns about cultural assimilation and loss of Jewish identity which are at the centre of the movement of Zionism.” (Oxford Dictionary)
“Jewish people throughout the world who do not live in Israel.” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)
GLORIFICATION OF OPPRESSION
For the past 2000 years, living in the Diaspora was, overwhelmingly, not a positive experience. I cannot imagine these “pro-Diaspora” Jews glorifying thousands of years’ worth of trauma — including ethnic cleansing, genocide, slavery, massacres, marginalization, segregation, and more — for any other marginalized group. Yet they, for some reason, glorify the trauma of their very own ancestors. I think this is absolutely despicable.
After the Jews revolted against the Roman occupation of the Land of Israel between 66-135 CE, the Romans responded by enslaving or murdering over a million Jews in an event known as the Hadrianic Genocide, one of the largest calamities to befall the Jewish People other than the Holocaust. The enslaved Jews were deported elsewhere in the Roman Empire, such as to the city of Rome, where they not only built the Colosseum as slaves with money that the Romans had stolen when they sacked the Temple, but were also forced to fight to the death as gladiators for crowds of up to 55,000 spectators.
After buying their freedom, these exiled Jews were faced with massacre after massacre, many of which reached genocidal proportions, segregation, continued ethnic cleansing, discriminatory laws, and more. Jews in the Middle East and North Africa lived as “dhimmis,” or second-class citizens, subjected to such severe taxation that their communities were forced into state-sanctioned poverty.
How anyone could be “pro” any of this is beyond me. You can celebrate the resilience of our people and the beautiful and ingenious traditions we developed while in exile without glorifying the Diaspora.
After the Holocaust, a poll of 19,000 Jewish Displaced Persons [Holocaust survivor refugees] found that 97 percent wanted to go to the Land of Israel. When asked for a second choice, many wrote “crematorium.” There’s a reason for this. Living in the Diaspora felt intolerable.
“Pro-Diasporists” reek not only of historical ignorance, but privilege. To glorify the Diaspora is to come from a privileged position, in contrast with Jews whose family experience do not reflect yours. In my view, there are two dimensions to this privilege:
(1) first, every single Jew today — every single one — is the descendant of refugees. As you are probably aware, refugees don’t usually have much of a choice about where they ultimately end up.
The worldwide Jewish community is almost evenly divided between Israel and the Diaspora (with the vast majority of Diaspora Jews residing in the United States). In other words, about half of the world’s Jews live in Israel. Let me set a scene for you:
Pretend, for a moment, that it’s 1920, and your great grandparents are fleeing the antisemitic, genocidal violence of the Russian Civil War. Lucky for them, for lack of a better expression, they’ve now found themselves on a boat en route to Ellis Island. Three generations later, and now you are an American Jew.
Now pretend that, for whatever reason, your great grandparents were not able to get out in 1920. Perhaps they didn’t have the money or the means. It’s now 1924 and the United States has passed the Immigration Act of 1924, essentially closing the door on Jewish immigrants. So they head to Palestine instead. Three generations later, you are now an Israeli Jew.
For all its problems, being an American citizen is a tremendous privilege (one that I personally don’t have). To disparage Jews in Israel because their ancestors were denied entry to the United States is frankly a disgustingly privileged position to take.
(2) you might be privileged enough that you’ve personally never had to flee anywhere because you’re Jewish, but that hasn’t been the case for millions of Jews worldwide, from Iraq in 1948 to Poland in 1968 to Ethiopian Jews to this very day, who in many cases have been quite literally stripped of their citizenship and have had nowhere else to go. Without Israel, they’d be dead.
What a privilege that you’ve never been in that position.
Something that Jews have in common with many Indigenous nations is that we have been forcibly displaced from our homeland. Other nations that have experienced forced displacement across the globe include Assyrians, Armenians, almost all Native nations in what is now the United States (e.g. Trail of Tears, Indian Removal Act of 1830), a number of Siberian Indigenous nations, and countless, countless others.
Would you ever tell any of them that not only are they supposed to like this displacement (i.e. ethnic cleansing), but also that they are supposed to prefer it to living in their homelands? I really hope not.
Calling yourself a “pro-Diaspora” Jew is actually anti-Indigenous twicefold: (1) first, because of what I just illustrated above, and (2) keeping Jews from our ancestral homeland means that you prefer that we live as settlers on another Indigenous nation’s land.
How can you claim to support Land Back, for example, but demand that Jews choose to live in the United States over the home of our ancestors? That truly makes no sense.
SPITTING IN THE FACE OF OUR ANCESTORS
For 3000 years, our ancestors finished every Passover Seder with the words “next year in Jerusalem.” There’s a reason for this.
As mentioned prior, the Hebrew word for “Diaspora,” “galut,” not only describes the dispersion of Jews from our ancestral homeland but also encompasses the Jewish emotion and pain of being forcefully exiled from the Land of Israel. For our ancestors, their displacement from the Land of Israel was not a choice. It was an unbearably painful, catastrophic experience, one that Jews carried with us generation after generation.
Modern political Zionism might only be dated to the nineteenth century, but the Zionist plight — that is, the deep desire and struggle for Jews to reclaim our sovereignty in the Land of Israel — is dated all the way back to 539 BCE.
To quote from the Israeli Declaration of Independence, “Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland.”
In case the Israeli Declaration of Independence is not a good enough source for you, here are some facts: Jews made repeated attempts to return to and/or re-establish our sovereignty in the Land of Israel in 539 BCE, 167-160 BCE, 66-73 CE, 132-135 CE, 351-352 CE, 614-617, in the ninth and tenth centuries, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, after the Spanish Inquisition, in 1700, 1740-1750, 1742, 1810, 1839, 1860, 1873, and, of course, during the Zionist Aliyot.
In Judaism, ancestors are very, very important. Every Amidah — the main section of morning, afternoon, and evening prayers — begins with a mention of the ancestors of the Nation of Israel: “Blessed are You, Lord our God and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob.” Some streams of Judaism also mention the matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Our ancestors are mentioned because we must shift our focus from our individual experience to the collective Jewish consciousness and so that we can understand our place in the long chain of Jewish lineage.
I don’t know about you, but to me, personally, I could not imagine facing my ancestors, who suffered unspeakable horrors in the Diaspora, and who dreamed fervently of a sovereign Israel, that I am a “pro-Diaspora Jew.”
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