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Avishai Margalit A Story of Ambivalence or Pure Love: Israelis and America THERE IS A STORY, INDEED A LOVE STORY, THE GIST OF WHICH IS THAT the Bulgarians love the Russians. They were helped by the Russians in crucial moments in their history and because of that and because of a general sense ofaffinity, the Bulgarians adore Russia. Even under commu­ nism, while the East Europeans hated Russia, the Bulgarians loved it. There is a parallel story, indeed a love story, according to which Israeli Jews love America even when America is hated by everybody else. There is some truth in these stories, yet the whole truth is more complicated. After all, helping is not a recipe for being loved. (A friend once asked with regard to a common acquaintance, “Why does he hate me so much? I didn’t even help him.”) In any case, stories of pure and simple love should be respected and suspected. Some stories turn out on closer scrutiny to be stories of deep ambivalence instead of love stories. Such in any case is the love story between Israelis and America. It is deep down a story of ambivalence more than it is a story of pure love. The informal term for the United States of America in Israel is America and I too shall refer to the United States as America with the idea that the United States under any other name smells the same for Israelis: sweet and rotten. Ambivalent or not, Israelis are so involved with life in America that they find it hard to believe that Israel is not one of the United States. Moreover, Israelis rightly feel that the American president affects their personal lives far more directly than he affects the lives of social research Vol 72 : No 4 : Winter 2005 825 Americans, so they are a bit baffled by the fact that they cannot elect him. The involvement of Israelis with America is deep but involvement is not a recipe against ambivalence. Nowadays, however, there is less ambivalence than there was, say, 40 years ago. One reason for the ambivalent attitude Jews in Palestine and later in Israel have had toward America has to do with the Jews in America more than with America as such. The success ofthe Jewish community in Americawas perceived asa threatto the hegemony oftheJewish settlement in Palestine and later to the state ofIsrael as the center ofJewish life. There is a precedent to such rivalry in Jewish life: the rivalry between Babylon andJerusalem. (This rivalrywas particularly intense between the third and the sixth century A.D.) Babylon was a far more prosperous community. More important, Babylon had better institutions of rabbinic learning as attested by the higher quality of the Babylon Talmud in comparison to the Jerusalem Talmud. So Babylon’s claim to hegemony in Jewish life was resented by those who still remained in the Holy Land. It was precisely the model ofBabylon and Jerusalem that the lead­ ers of American Jewry claimed for themselves that met with intense hostility on the part of David Ben-Gurion. But the American leaders reckoned that the idea ofAmerica as an opposite pole to Israel in Jewish life was backed by two related major trends in Jewish life. One was the amazing growth of the Jewish population in the nineteenth century. The other was Jewish immigration to America from Europe in the 35 years between 1881 and 1914. The num ber of Jews in the world nearly doubled—from 7.5 million to 13 million in this period. Two million Jews emigrated from East Europe to the United States in that same period. These 2 million Jews were 10 percent of the general immigration to the United States. Moreover, the number of children among the Jewish immigrants was twice the ratio of the other immigrants. This means that the Jews came to the United States to settle permanently, unlike other immigrants who went to earn money and return to their old countries. Jews in short were destined to create a stable community in America. It was however in that very period that the Zionist movement was created with a very different project from that of...


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