June 2, 2024
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Now Is Not the Time to Say, ‘Now Is the Time to Move to Israel’

“Now is the time to move to Israel.” With the alarming rise of Jew-hatred in America since October 7, our community has heard and shared countless iterations of this message.

I understand the appeal. Even without the current hostile environment, there is a religious and ideological value to living in Israel and participating in the Jewish State. The recent surge of Jew-hatred is particularly alarming given the long arc of suffering in our history. And while Israel certainly faces external threats, there is an appeal to being in Israel among our own people.

Advocating for immigration to Israel as the solution to rising antisemitism is, however, a serious strategic and communal mistake.

Most people recognize a connection between politically engaged Jews in America and American support for the State of Israel. While some may argue that the value of this support is overstated or that Evangelical Christians provide ample political backing for the Jewish State, committed Jews have always been at the forefront of advocacy for Israel and their presence and engagement in that movement is vital. And contrary to those who argue that “Israel can go it alone” without America’s backing, American support for Israel is vital to a secure future for the Jewish State. Even though Israel is a technological and innovation dynamo with an impact far beyond its size, it is a tiny country with a small population and limited natural resources. An Israel with the entire world aligned against it would, I shudder to think, face a serious threat to its continued existence.

For many years, these questions were academic due to robust support for Israel from the United States. What once could be taken for granted, however, is now in doubt. As we have seen with the operation in Rafah, the U.S. commitment to supply arms and munitions to Israel is not absolute. Neither is the U.S. commitment to use its U.N. Security Council veto to reject U.N. resolutions that are hostile to Israel.

If we stipulate that the support of the United States is essential to the survival of the Jewish State, then we must ask: How is American support cultivated and reinforced? Certainly not by having Israel’s most committed and fervent supporters hop on planes out of America, never to return. As we have all witnessed over the past few months, in a democracy like the United States, votes and voices matter. Being able to marshal large numbers of constituents in support of the Jewish State makes a big difference.

To be sure, committed Jews naturally recoil at these hard-headed calculations when it comes to making aliyah. Aliyah is the right thing to do; it feels right; and America is tough for Jews right now, so why not just do it? Before calling Nefesh B’Nefesh, however, we should all recall another period in Jewish history where Jews acted ideologically without regard for strategic concerns: the Bar Kokhba Revolt from 132 to 135 CE. That idealistic movement ended in catastrophe. The revolt was brutally crushed by far superior Roman forces. Half a million Jews were killed in the war, and thereafter Jews were barred from entering Jerusalem, and the 2,000-year exile began in earnest. The Bar Kokhba Revolt demonstrates the danger of acting in a way that Jewishly “feels right” without regard for strategic concerns.

In addition, we should remember that America, for all its flaws, has been a tremendous force for good in the world. If committed Jews abandon the American public square, taking their moral compass with them, the moral trajectory of the United States would materially suffer. And I shudder to think what the world would look like without America’s moral leadership.

Another flaw in the “now is the time to go” perspective is that, at its core, it rejects the viability of Jews living openly as Jews anywhere but Israel. This philosophy removes geographic optionality from Jewish life: Either a Jewish community is established in the Land of Israel and has a secure future, or it remains in the Diaspora with no meaningful future. While many find this black-and-white thinking compelling, it willfully ignores the lived experience of millions of Jews, many of whom are Torah observant, who today live outside of Israel. It also disregards the myriad connections—familial, economic, cultural—that anchor Jewish communities to lands outside of Israel.

Most concerning, however, is that “Israel now” messaging is deeply unhelpful at this moment. Right now American Jews need all hands on deck. We need to be writing letters, calling legislators, posting on social media, writing articles, and doing everything in our power to stem the alarming rise of Jew- and Israel-hatred in this country. This effort, however, does not originate in a vacuum. It draws its strength from the belief that, through our collective efforts, we can pull the American conversation back from the brink and right the course of this country. This advocacy, however, cannot take root without a commitment to sticking it out and putting in the effort required to see results.

These are challenging times for our world and for the Jewish community here and in Israel. Responding to those challenges by saying, “Now is the time to move to Israel” is the ultimate cop-out, because that statement is based on a complete abdication of responsibility for the society in which we live. Instead, American Jews need to be leaning in and doing the hard work of advocacy—pushing in a focused and disciplined way to get America back on the right track. It may not be the easiest path, and at times it may be scary, but it is our best path for a sustainable Jewish future both here and in Israel.


Steven Starr lives in Hillside with his wife, Keshet, and his children Ellie, Moshe, Meira and Rina.

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