Foreign Policy and Ethnic Interest Groups: American and Canadian Jews Lobby for Israel

By David Howard Goldberg | Go to book overview

1
Theory and Background

Israel has always been considered something of an enigma amongst members of the international community of states. A geographically small and distant country, comprising but a tiny segment of the world's total population, Israel nonetheless receives a disproportionate amount of scrutiny and attention. Its domestic politics evoke considerable debate and controversy; so too does its foreign relations. One of the most controversial of Israel's foreign relations is its relationship with Jewish communities throughout the world.

From its inception, modern Zionism anticipated a special relationship between Eretz Yisrael and Jews of the diaspora. For although envisioned by its principal exponent, Theodore Herzl, as a liberal, secular nation-state on the nineteenth century European model, Israel was conceived of as much more than that. Israel was to be not only "a state of Jews" but also "the Jewish state" ( Herzl Der Judenstaat). Israel was to be the physical manifestation of Jewish nationhood, offering true political emancipation to the Jewish people as well as safe refuge to those fleeing antisemitism. It was also to be the spiritual center uniting together all of world Jewry. The dual function conceived for Israel made it unique amongst the nation-states achieving independence in the second half of the twentieth century. It also imposed on Israel a special relationship with Jews of the diaspora.

Most immediately, the relationship was to be manifested through immigration. One of the principal disappointments of Israel's forty years of modern political history has been its failure to attract massive waves of Jewish immigration from the West. The redefining of its relationship with the Jews of the Western democracies, in the light of their failure to respond en masse to the siren call of aliyah, has long represented one of the major challenges confronting Israel and Zionism.

As it has evolved, the redefined relationship has come to rest on two pillars: philanthropy and political action. 1 Each has elicited its share of controversy.

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