October 18, 2018

Jews, if you want a better America (or Israel), don’t leave

The Wandering Jew is ever in search of a better place, a better future. According to a recent Atlantic report, the American Wandering Jew is currently considering a move to Europe – Donald Trump’s fault. “According to the German embassy in Washington, D.C.,” the report says, “the number of Jews applying for reclaimed citizenship from the U.S. has been increasing since the fall of 2016: 70 in September, 92 in October, 124 in November, and 144 in December. By January of this year, the number had climbed to 159.” It also says that in the month of the election there was “a spike in applications opened for Israeli citizenship – 320 in November, up from 136 the previous month – according to the Jewish Agency for Israel.”

Shortly after reading the Atlantic report, I stumbled over a Gallup report that shows that “Sharply Fewer Democrats Say They Are Proud to Be Americans.” According to Gallup, sixty seven percent of Democrats say they are “extremely” or “very” proud to be Americans – “down 11 percentage points from a year ago.” Clearly, “the decline in Democratic pride this year most likely stems from Democrats’ negative feelings about President Donald Trump.”

So we have two groups of disappointed, possibly horrified, Americans – a majority of Jews and many Democrats – reacting to the elevation of Trump by mulling immigration and by feeling less proud of their country. And, of course, this is hardly unique to the US. In Israel, stories about immigration of Jews to Germany periodically multiply like mushrooms after the rain. Disappointed by Israel’s politics, or economic situation, or both, young Israelis find a new home elsewhere, and other Israelis feel betrayed.

Of course, leaving a country is something that every person should be free to do. And sometimes, leaving a country would be the rational choice. If the country becomes intolerably hostile, if it becomes intolerably poor, if it does not provide a person with an opportunity for success, with a sense of community, with a sense of belonging (see what I wrote about the Jews of France).

Yet make no mistake: the public can smell an abandonment-instinct. The public identifies the groups that stick together and those that jump ship. Thus, a vicious circle is created. If a group seems like one that tends to flee rather than fight for the country, its influence declines. People would not put their trust in groups that have a smaller stake and lesser pride in their place of residence. And the more the influence of such a group declines, the more it tends to leave, or threaten to leave. And the more it talks about the tendency to leave, the more its influence declines. And so on and so forth.

To impact the politics of a country, a group must demonstrate a measure of doggedness. Israelis who following the assassination of the late Yizhak Rabin in 1995 declared that Israel is finished, were even less influential in consequent years. Similarly, Americans who following the rise of Trump declare that the US is no longer a place in which they can take pride will also see their influence further decline.

In other words: there is an inclination among people and groups to see their association with a country as a prize the country must earn, or a stick with which they can change the behavior of a country. They issue threats to their country like they would do with a child – do this, or we will leave, do that, or we will no longer see you as worthy of us.

But countries are generally indifferent to such threats. Those who threaten to leave just count for less. By making the threat they already prove that they are not as trustworthy as those who intend to stay together no matter what. Thus, Israelis leaving for Berlin made some waves but have hardly changed Israel’s course. The course is decided by those who stay. Similarly, Americans who don’t feel proud to be Americans will see their ability to convince other Americans that the country must change course diminish. Why would a country take advice from someone whose view of the country is dim?

I hardly think that many American Jews, or other Americans, will move to a different country because of Trump. Any damage to America because of good people leaving it is going to be negligible. I also don’t see much reason to be concerned by the Israelis who leave the country to find a better home. Seventy years ago, when Jews in Israel were a small group of six hundred thousand, there was a reason to be concerned. Today, we are six million and growing.

Leaving the country or showing intent to do so is not a punishment, nor a threat. It is a sign of fatigue and abandonment. As one does it one ought to understand the implications of one’s deed: the country will not grow weaker because of the threat to leave – the person or group that makes such threats is the one that will grow weaker.

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By the way: the exact same argument is true for American Jews who threaten Israel with “distancing” or “disengagement.” Israel will not be swayed by such a threat – it will shrug and move to consider only the views of those who choose to stick around.