American Hope or Jewish Homeland? The Ben Gurion - Blaustein Debate Reconsidered

By Jerold S. Auerbach

World Zionist Organization (WZO), Fall 1983

Last winter, when President Navon visited the United States, he confronted Jews who were seething at the government of Israel for its conduct of the war in Lebanon and for its settlement policy in Judea and Samaria. Navon responded boldly by venturing into the hazardous ideological terrain of Diaspora nationalism, the appropriate relationship between American Jews and the Jewish state. He told a group of Boston professors that if they wished to criticize Israel on matters touching its security they should, as a prerequisite, come there to live. In New York his message reverberated beyond academic circles. He extended an invitation, phrased as a moral obligation: it was, he insisted, the "duty of six million Jews of America to do what the six million Jews exterminated in the Holocaust would have done â€" come on a l i y a h . Insisting that the Diaspora is "exile," he urged American Jews to trade their "shallow comfortable life" as Americans for "a challenging life" as Jews, in Israel. His audiences, accustomed to appeals for financial donations, were palpably distressed at the suggestion that they donate themselves instead. Navon, one reporter observed, delivered "a blunt message that Israeli leaders rarely bring to American Jewry." Navon's forthrightness raises intriguing questions about prior Israeli reticence. The historical guidelines were established during the early years of statehood, when Prime Minister Ben Gurion inadvertently triggered the trip-wire of American Jewish anxieties about exile, Diaspora nationalism, and aliyah . Leaders of the American Jewish Committee, terrified by insinuations of divided loyalty, demanded a retraction from the Prime Minister that would certify their American credentials. Ben Gurion's concessions constricted the limits of permissible appeals to American Jews for thirty years â€" until Navon (who, ironically, served his apprenticeship as Ben Gurion's political secretary) reasserted the primacy of Zionist principles over Diaspora defensiveness.

Topic: History, Diaspora Relations, Israel-Diaspora Relations, Diaspora, Statehood, Zionism, Nationalism

Name of Publication: Forum: on the Jewish People, Zionism, and Israel

Volume/Issue: 49

Page Number(s): 58-65

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Genre: Article

Coverage: Israel , United States

Language: English

Copyright Holder: Publisher

Copyright Information: Download for personal use, freely distribute link

Bibliographic Information:
Auerbach, Jerold S. American Hope or Jewish Homeland? The Ben Gurion - Blaustein Debate Reconsidered. Forum: on the Jewish People, Zionism, and Israel. World Zionist Organization (WZO). Fall 1983: 58-65.


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