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Behind the Headlines: Attacks on Diaspora Jews Raise New Questions About an Old Relationship

August 4, 1994
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The recent spate of bombings of Israeli and Jewish targets in Buenos Aires and London has managed to sharpen the already intense focus on the nature of the Israel-Diaspora connection and shatter some stereotypes in the process.

Israel clearly can no longer be reduced to the role of the Diaspora’s weaker, more vulnerable cousin, needing charity and protection to survive in the face of existential threats.

Rather, say some, it is the Diaspora that seems suddenly defenseless and it is Israel that now can and does come to its aid.

At the same time, the inextricable link between Israel and the Diaspora is irrefutable, if only because the perpetrators of the attacks made it so. They clearly believed that by hitting Jewish targets, they were wounding Israel and the peace process it has labored so painstakingly to build.

It is a link acknowledged explicitly by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“Jews once again are being killed precisely because they are Jews. The motive this time is to halt the search for peace,” he said recently.

“Israel will do all within its power to find and punish those responsible for these bombings,” he pledged.

Others, too, have noted the links connecting Jews worldwide in wake of the recent attacks.

“The terrorists and hatemongers understand one thing very well — (we) are all Jews,” wrote Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in an opinion piece last week.

Avi Beker, Israel director of the World Jewish Congress, also wrote an op-ed saying the Buenos Aires and London bombings “underline the common fate of Israeli and Diaspora Jews.”

In Israel, there were visible signs that the attacks and their aftermath touched a nerve, but Israelis differed in their reading of events.


An advertisement in Israeli newspapers last week proclaimed, “Now it’s our turn to give! The Jews of Argentina need your help…”

In addition, a solidarity rally was held in Tel Aviv to coincide with the rally in Buenos Aires protesting the attack and mourning the victims.

In response to the threat to Jews worldwide, former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren declared that Jewish law permits Diaspora Jews to move mezuzot on outside doorposts to inside doorposts to minimize risk.

The newspapers here have been filled with stories of Israelis going to South America and Europe to offer their expertise in rescue operations, psychology, terrorism and intelligence.

For Michael Oren, director of the Israel office of the American Jewish Committee, the attacks in the Diaspora are a direct reflection of Israel’s extraordinary strength.

“It is because Israel is so strong that terrorists are striking at the vulnerable periphery,” he said. He also said that “Israel has traditionally seen itself as (responsible) not just for Jews within its borders but beyond them. It is inherent in the Zionist idea.”

David Clayman, Israel director of the American Jewish Congress, sees a more profound dynamic at work. “There is a shift in the (Israel-Diaspora) balance of power on a whole series of levels,” he said.

Clayman believes Israel has in the past few weeks come dramatically into its own as an international player. He cited as only one example the Argentine president’s summoning of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, to Buenos Aires after the bombing.

Current events obligate Israelis, Clayman said, “to reciprocity and responsibility,” in “supporting and defending their Diaspora brethren.”

Israel is also offering aid to non-Jews in other needy places throughout the world. Though Israel has previously provided help elsewhere in the world, it has never done been so public as now, he said.

This comes as a result of Israel’s new legitimacy in the international arena, Clayman said.

But not everyone agrees with these assessments.

Uri Savir, director-general of the Foreign Ministry, dismisses the notion that recent events reflect anything new about Israel-Diaspora relations.

The attacks “do not create a situation where the Diaspora is more vulnerable than Israel,” he said. “Terrorism has a negative effect on everyone. It is just that Israel, as a state, has the tools to deal with it. And they did it in the past.”


He also refuted the idea that the common bond between Israel and the Diaspora is strengthened by such disasters.

“We shouldn’t base our unity on the views of fundamentalists” or those espousing anti-Semitism, he said.

“We have to build it on more positive aspects, on history and continuity. I prefer the peace process to be a unifying element (rather) than Jewish enemies,” Savir said.

Gabriel Sheffer, a political science professor at Hebrew University and an expert on Israel-Diaspora relations, is also wary of drawing what he terms simplistic conclusions from recent events.

“It would be a mistake to think in terms of one party (to the relationship) being weak and one party being strong,” he said. “Each has its strengths and weaknesses.”

He also does not believe there is a profound concern among rank-and-file Israelis for the safety or fate of Diaspora Jews. “The majority couldn’t care less,” he said.

The solidarity rally here drew 1,000 people at most, he said, most of them Argentineans.

He believes the Israeli media’s heavy coverage of the bombings arose because Israelis are concerned with the international terrorist campaign against Israel, not Jewish targets per se.

Sheffer said his own 25-year-old daughter told him she was not especially moved by the Buenos Aires attack because the victims were Jewish.

He said “she was just as moved by the bombing in (New York’s) World Trade Center. She said she cares about human life.”

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