December 16, 2018

Examine yourself: Are you uncomfortable with Ambassador Friedman’s daughter’s Aliyah to Israel?

The U.S.’s highest ranking representative in Israel is Ambassador David Friedman. Friedman has five children, and one of them, his daughter Talia, made Aliyah yesterday. She now becomes an Israeli citizen and will be living here. She is not the first child of a senior American diplomat to choose life in Israel over life in America, but her case is somewhat different from others.

While others can claim to have made a personal choice that has nothing to do with their fathers’ positions, Talia’s immigration was a public act. Her father came to the airport to greet her, and even made a statement: “As a father, I celebrate my daughter Talia’s realization of a life-long dream to become part of the State of Israel.”

Talia Friedman is a private citizen. She used to be a private American citizen. Now she is a private Israeli citizen. She is entitled to be left alone and attend to her private life. Still, the determined public act of her moving to Israel is a cause for a pause, as it raises unavoidable questions about the strange connection of Jews who live elsewhere to the State of Israel – questions that many people feel awkward as they ponder them.

Imagine an Israeli learning that the ambassador’s daughter made Aliyah – what does it make him feel toward the ambassador, the U.S., the Trump administration?

Imagine a Palestinian learning that that the Ambassador’s daughter made Aliyah – how does it make him feel about the ability of the Trump administration to be an honest broker for peace?

Imagine an American learning that that the Ambassador’s daughter made Aliyah – does it make him in any way suspicious of the Jewish Ambassador’s ability to represent the U.S.?

Imagine an American Jew learning that that the Ambassador’s daughter made Aliyah – does it make him cringe, knowing that some of his non-Jewish neighbors might interpret this piece of news the wrong way?

Talia Friedman’s is a personal choice, and a choice that Israelis will accept with glee. Here is proof that even for a well-to-do, well-connected, highly-skilled, Jewish American, Israel can still be attractive. Here is proof that Israel has something to offer to Jews that no other place in the world can.

Talia Friedman’s is a public act, and an act that Palestinians will view with great suspicion. In fact, they will give the we-knew-it-all-along type of treatment. They will refer to it as a we-told-you-so moment. And they will make use of it. Friedman’s Aliyah will become a propaganda tool in moments of crisis. If and when the Americans put on the table a plan that the Palestinians do not want to accept, this public act of familial reunification in Israel will serve them as an excuse for rejecting the American offer.

But most interesting, and most complicated, is the response of Americans to this news, both non-Jewish and Jewish. If you are a non-Jewish American and Friedman’s Aliyah makes you suspicious, it probably means that deep down you harbor some remnants of prejudice that need to be rooted out. If you are a Jewish American and Friedman’s Aliyah makes you uncomfortable, it probably means that deep down you harbor some remnants of apprehension that need to be rooted out.

Talia Friedman’s Aliyah is an event that calls for straightforwardness. She made a personal choice to live in Israel – because Israel is great and because she feels (so I assume) that being Jewish, she’d like to try living in the Jewish State.

Her father’s greeting her is also an event that calls for straightforwardness. He is a father, both proud of his daughter and sympathetic to her personal choice – because he also knows that Israel is great and that choosing to live here is a sensible Jewish choice.

So, you might ask, why make it a public event? There is a good answer for that. Today, when nothing is private, it is better not to try and keep such things under the radar. Keeping it under the radar would suggest that there is something wrong with Talia Friedman’s choice. But there is nothing wrong with it. She will become a great Israeli citizen. Her father will be a great representative of the U.S. in Israel. It is a somewhat awkward situation, and thus being open about it, being proud of it, being straightforward about it, is the right way to deal with it.