You Didn’t Ask, But The Only Reason I Live In Israel Is Because I’m Jewish

Photo by Adam Grabek from Pexels

Firstly, credit is due to ‘Chaya’ (Twitter) for giving me the inspiration to finally get this post out. It’s been sitting in my drafts folder for a couple of weeks now and probably wouldn’t have advanced past that state had I not come across her tweet this afternoon.

Chaya’s post asked:

I’m writing an article about why young people should make aliyah but not for the usual reasons of our great economy/jobs/safety … let me know why YOU made aliyah?

I know nothing about Chaya other than that I have been following her Twitter feed for a few weeks now and that she says she also lives in Jerusalem.

Her posts are enthusiastic and her views articulate. I don’t wish to make an example of Chaya. Nevertheless, she provided a convenient reminder of the fact that — when it comes to Israel — the views of even those who support the cause of Zionism are frankly all over the place.

True Story: I Didn’t Move To Israel For The Weather

During the course of talking to prospective business clients on Zoom, I often get asked why I moved from Ireland to a hot country in the Middle East. The accent and the location don’t match so it’s a nice segue into more serious conversation. Or so, I imagine, they hope.

This presents a challenge for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a business call and prospects aren’t looking to hear your life story.
  2. Divulging the actual reason would involve getting off conversation-warming chit-chat and into some really heavy stuff that the questioner was probably not hoping to solicit.

And that’s because to answer the second question honestly would involve affirming something like this:

“So I moved to Israel because, as a Jew, I felt out of place in a country where I was a tiny religious minority. And after coming on a Birthright trip here, I couldn’t understand why Jews would want to live anywhere else in the world when they had the option of living in a country that was their homeland and where they achieve self-determination over their own affairs. Given that we Jews have a country of our own for the first time in roughly 2,000 years, I see it as my responsibility to play a role in its evolution. Even if that just means living here and paying taxes to it. I’d feel like I was derelict in some duty if I didn’t at least make a go of it. And living here, I feel as if our destinies are intertwined.”

I might add that I’m the only one in my immediate family to have taken this decision. And that I genuinely mean no offence to any Jew living in the Diaspora. They can follow their conscious and I can follow mine.

After taking a deep breath and wondering how to navigate this now loaded subject, the questioner might ask: “well, do you like living there?”

And then things might start to look even weirder.

Feeling Committed To Israel Doesn’t Mean I Think The Country Is Perfect

Over the course of more than six years living here, I’ve noticed that there are some rather glaring differences between those who — to the rest of the world — would probably just look like a monolith of Israel-loving Jews.

On the one hand are the Tanakh-thumping Zionists. I’m by no means citing the Tweeter as an example of this group (on the basis of one tweet I can’t pretend to fully understand her worldview). But their ideology seems to be something like this:

“We support Israel and its right to exist. We see any criticism of anything to do with Israel as a challenge that must be faced down. Everything Israel does or can do is perfect!”

From the comfortable pastures of the diaspora, it’s a lot easier to maintain this kind of worldview than when you’re on the ground living in Israel.

You admire from afar Israel’s military successes. You buy into the relentless torrent of self-congratulatory spin that Israel’s politicians and government agencies put out about the country — spin that I’m not entirely sure that even many working in that industry themselves believe.

The rhetoric that describes Israel as the global pinnacle of innovation and that occasionally explicitly lauds the “Jewish genius” that took us here (sorry to say, but that’s a real quote from an Israeli titan of industry).

A (self-proclaimed) bastion of equality amid a swamp of Middle Eastern dictatorships home to the (again self-proclaimed) “most moral army in the world,” and which spares no time in reminding everybody else of that assertion. A country small in size but large in ambition and which — it might seem, many would lead you to believe — can do no wrong.

And then you move your life here.

You may not feel qualified to adjudicate upon the army’s claim of world-leading morality, but you do begin to notice that seemingly everything is unnecessarily expensive and that — for far too many — the cost of living and the average salaries are grossly out of proportion.

You encounter an Israeli-made product in a supermarket in the US selling for less than it does in Israel. And you draw your own conclusions from that the least of which might be “this country is flawed.”

You spend an hour driving here and conclude that driving in Israel is objectively more stressful than your home country.

Curious at the sites of destitution you may encounter, you run a few searches in Google and are confronted by the fact that Israel was — at one time — the country with the highest poverty rate in the OECD.

You notice that your home internet connectivity is pretty spotty despite living in the capital city of the high tech metropolis and confirm that — yes really — it’s actually better in the rural part of America that your relatives live in and which doesn’t make a song and dance about its technology scene. But wait … wasn’t this place supposed to be!?!?

Are these trivial examples? Absolutely — I’m aware that they are. But I’m citing them only to make a point.

The illusion of Israel being perfect rapidly begins to crumble because in a flawed country it’s completely untenable to sustain for anybody with intact critical faculties.

And you find yourself becoming slowly more perplexed at some of the statements that end up feeling far closer to propaganda — and which seem to entirely invalidate the experience you’ve had by actually living in the country.

Israel Has Pros And Cons — Like Any Country

Before we go any further, let me hit you with a shocker.

If I wasn’t Jewish, I almost certainly wouldn’t be living in Israel. At least in its current guise.

In fact I’ll go one step further: I would probably never even come to visit. Without the feeling that living here was an essential part of something much larger than me and which I do believe in, it’s probably not a country that would be top of my relocation list. Funny, isn’t it?

Isn’t Israel a major tourist destination? Somewhat.

But if you want my honest opinion it’s not really worth the price tag.

For one, it’s grossly overpriced.

Overall, Israel does a lousy job at customer service.

There’s way too much rudeness here that grates on my nerves at least once every few days like when I hold a door open for somebody only rarely to receive a cursory “thanks” in return. All those things would aggravate me. They might change but that’s how I’d rank it now. I’ve tried staycationing here and concluded that it’s just not a good use of money. Thank you, Ryanair. Sorry, Israel.

If I were a history buff I might be tempted to come once but honestly, I probably wouldn’t be back. A relative visiting my wedding had his corporate laptop seized at the airport and then sent to its destination by security which probably based his “security profile” on the fact that somebody 20 years ago with the same passport had attempted to bomb an airplane. You can live without that kind of hassle if you don’t feel any kind of affiliation to this place.

Are there good things about living in Israel?

There are lots of them in fact!

But I wouldn’t move here just to experience them:

The weather is good.

There’s good innovation in the country.

It’s an interesting part of the world with some nice local travel opportunities.

And the negatives (beyond what I’ve outlined):

Constant construction and noise (it’s my secret contention, well now a public one, that Israel may have the highest per capita rate of construction in the world.)

A plurality of overpriced and abusive local businesses who treat customers with disdain because they know they have no better option and a code of defamation law that makes complaining about bad service a potentially actionable claim.

I could go on with both categories — both only scratch the surface and hit upon superficial points — but I think I’ve made the point.

Now and again, I write articles on the internet highlighting facets of life in Israel that I think could use improvement.

Defamation is a great example. Israel draws inspiration for its code from Biblical sources but perhaps there’s a way to achieve that without allowing bad businesses to cow disgruntled customers into silence.

I write these not to be negative but to try to draw attention to issues that I think are too often swept under the rug by a torrent of enforced positivity that creates an endless tide of echo chamber propaganda, much of which ends up being grossly misleading and inaccurate.

Where I feel I’m able to do so, I float some ideas. Others have done the same.

For anybody who has ever wondered why I continue living here in spite of having many issues with the country here’s your answer. I do it because I believe that Israel is the only place I should be living in the world and that it’s my responsibility to help make it better. That doesn’t imply that I think it’s perfect — in fact it doesn’t even imply that I think it’s a good place to live.

That commitment has limits. I might leave for a period. I might leave forever. But I wouldn’t look back upon my time here with regret. Because it was an attempt to contribute to a movement that I believed in. I still do.

Zionism is a broad synagogue. And so are the viewpoints of those who have moved to Israel.

Some of us (appear to) really drink the Kool Aid. They thrive on the positivity and they should enjoy it — so long as they don’t try to invalidate the experiences of the many Zionists who have lived in Israel only to emerge with a more critical perspective that looks a bit like mine (the problem is that they often do).

From the viewpoint of traditional migration theory, there’s nothing about our decision to relocate here that’s rational. It supercedes that. So if you’re perplexed the next time you encounter a critical Zionist — even an Israeli by choice — you may wish to keep that in mind.

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Daniel Rosehill

Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things. https://www.danielrosehill.com