Ben-Gurion airport at the end of last year was comparable to Ellis Island in its glory. Every night, at least a thousand newcomers landed. They came from Ethiopia, black beauties as mild and disoriented as deer, but mainly they came from the fracturing Russian empire, pale little girls hugging Soviet-issue dolls, entire clans from Georgia and Uzbekistan. And the tempo was constantly accelerating—if in all of 1989, some 25,000 Jews moved to Israel, as many as that arrived last November alone, and no fewer than 37,000 in December, an all-time monthly record. Anxious, euphoric, relieved, exhausted, they were greeted, put through the first round of the bureaucratic mill, dispensed pocket money, let loose to discover their new country.
Night after night, this scene was reenacted, an emotional spectacle, a mundane business. The clerks processing the travelers, who work more gently than those at Ellis Island were said to do at the turn of the century, could be forgiven for forgetting the historical significance of it all. Simply enough, it was the Law of Return in action—any Jew or close relative of a Jew showing up was welcome, and unlike at Ellis Island, where if you had trachoma or an anarchist record you were turned back, here there was and is no check for TB or seropositivity, or for a Stalinist past.
The grand total for the year would be 200,000, of whom 185,000 came from the Soviet Union and 15,000 from Ethiopia, Argentina, and elsewhere. This was the most people to exit the Diaspora since 1951, and though Yuval Ne’eman, Minister of Science, cautioned that there was a war in the offing, those in the know said the flood could only swell. The majority predicted with delight and dread that this year the number of refugee-immigrants would double, would reach 400,000, casting in the shade any other year in Israel’s interesting history.
They had not factored in Saddam Hussein. True, when he began firing Scuds this way they did not check the aliyah—the migration to the Jewish state. Even as the war went on there were ex-Soviets and ex-Ethiopians choosing to fly into harm’s way, landing at Ben-Gurion, being lectured on the use of gas masks, and heading out to hotel rooms, rented apartments, and the crowded homes of relatives who had come before them. To sit in a sealed room sweating out a missile attack, knowing that everyone else in the country was doing the same, was a pretty effective initiation, going some way to convert greenhorns into old boys. But naturally, since Soviet TV reported the Scuds and made out the damage they did to be worse than it was, most of those about to come decided to spare themselves the first-hand experience. The number of arrivals in the first six weeks of the war was 15,000, a remarkable lot of people under the circumstances, but still a great falling-off.
Except for Natan Sharansky, who before the war was speaking in terms of half a million, nobody now is confidently saying that when this year ends Israel will indeed have gathered in an additional 400,000 Jews. On the contrary, the question being asked is whether the Gulf War will do to this aliyah what the Yom Kippur War did to an earlier, much smaller, one. Veteran Israelis remember what happened then—in October, November, December 1973, Soviet Jews kept arriving at an airport where, as again in this war, the plate-glass windows were dressed against explosion. It was an impressive demonstration. But within a couple of years, most such migrants, all of whom left the USSR on Israeli visas, were dropping out in Vienna and proceeding to the U.S.
Will history repeat itself? It is not necessary to be a Zionist to answer in the negative, as Simcha Dinitz does. Ambassador to Washington during the Yom Kippur War, he heads the Jewish Agency, whose job, in his words, is “to bring as many Jews as possible to Israel as quickly as possible.” The Agency, in fact, also has its hand in the so-called “absorption” of immigrants. This is a Byzantine business which everyone agrees is important and for which no one has put up enough money. Dinitz believes Saddam Hussein hit Tel Aviv hoping as much to curtail aliyah as to draw Israel into the fighting. Though temporarily successful, he does not deserve all the blame for the post-December slide. Even before the war, the news was getting back to Moscow that apartments and decent jobs here are scarce, and immigrant stipends had been trimmed.
The best indicator for Dinitz that this is just a pause, however, is that Soviet Jews, standing in line in the cold in Moscow, continue applying for Israeli visas, the number to do so having passed a million. With the Scuds having faded away, and the American victory having been won, Dinitz expects the pace to recover. He doubts that 400,000 will come this year, but says there is a good chance the record of 240,000, set in 1949, will be broken—housing, employment, and stipend problems notwithstanding. The remainder of the million will be here in another few years.
There are plenty of reasons why his forecast looks reasonable, why a resumption of the flood can almost be taken for granted. First, unlike in the 1970’s, the immigrant-refugees today have practically no place to go other than Israel, the U.S. having legislated quotas and united Germany, for all its good will, not about to take in a million Jews. Second, while Israel came out of the Yom Kippur War with its reputation as a winner spoiled, the world’s war against Saddam Hussein, the prime threat to Israel, has been won, and the Soviet Union, from which the Jews are fearfully escaping, is unlikely to emerge from its dangerous time of troubles any time soon. Third, with Saddam Hussein crushed, Israel stands to prosper as it has not done for years. The rate of aliyah is thus apt—or is the right word liable?—to bounce back to what it was before Operation Desert Storm.
A zionist is the prey of joy and foreboding. For this Zionist dream come true, this biggest-ever ingathering of the exiles, has definite nightmarish aspects. The time-out for the Scuds afforded a breather from last year’s frantic rate, when the absorption apparatus seemed about to be swamped. The list of relevant questions to which satisfactory answers are yet to be given is long. What about housing for all these arrivals? And schooling? And medical care? And water, in a region of the planet where it will soon be more expensive than oil? What about veteran Israelis, who have scrimped and hustled and cheated on their taxes for as long as they can remember and have already taken the first of the many cuts in their standard of living which will be required if the million or more people said to be on the way are to be accommodated? What are the better-off Jews of the Diaspora ready to do to help? In short, can the Jewish state digest such a feast?
No country except Israel itself in its heroic, lean, regimented first years has ever tried to do so. The numbers, the ratios, are staggering—this country is such a news factory that foreigners are liable to forget that at this writing there are barely four million Jews here to absorb another million. It is as if the U.S. for some reason decided to take in and resettle the entire population of Great Britain overnight, while at the same time having to keep an eye on its neighbors, suppress the Indians, and attend to the interests and feelings of old-timers whom the melting pot had disappointed.
This class or ethnic angle is touchy. Some Israelis originating in the Muslim countries, who had to live rough when they immigrated a generation ago, and too many of whom are still stuck around the poverty line, fret that the Soviet Jews, arriving with nothing but brains, education, discipline, high culture, ambition, and self-respect, are going to be blended into the national fabric at their expense. Already you hear grumbling. Some of it is brought on by the pinch of the government’s economic policy, hastily revised last year to finance absorption, which meant higher taxes, higher prices for de-subsidized bread and milk and cigarettes, soaring rents, less welfare, fewer services. Some of it is inspired by old resentments, unhappy memories, wounded pride.
“Let them live in tents like we did,” a night watchman born in Morocco said the other day. His deeper meaning was no less obvious for being coded. This aliyah, if it indeed comes to a million, will give the Ashkenazim a majority in Israel, bringing it in that respect back in line with the Diaspora, a prospect which would not be so displeasing to some Sephardim if they were not also hurt by the fuss being made over “the Russians,” one they seem to remember was not made over them and their parents. What, were they less desirable? Were they really “human dust,” as Ben-Gurion said? The Sephardim were idealists, Zionists, good Jews, so goes the counter-myth, while these Soviet Ashkenazim are atheists and materialists. “They expect to get everything on a platter—a car, an apartment, everything,” a grocer whose father came from Iraq in 1951 complains in almost the same breath as he hails Saddam Hussein’s comeuppance.
Not quite. All that most of the people from Moscow, Kiev, Baku, and Tashkent want is some kind of roof over their heads—a trailer will do for starters—food, and work. Sweeping the streets or washing dishes for starters is not beneath their dignity, and in some towns and restaurants they are already doing it, replacing Palestinians—for example, in the kitchen at Gilly’s, which is Jerusalem’s answer to Elaine’s, Marina and Masha have replaced Ahmed and Mustapha. Nor do all the newcomers arrive with such a terrific stock of adaptable inner strength. When the high of escaping from the Soviet Union wears off, when the wonderful supermarkets grow familiar, when the subsidy is spent, they all have to face themselves in a strange world, in a country no longer predominantly socialist nor yet truly capitalist, and not all can handle it to perfection.
The children generally take to Israel like ducks to water. The adults often have it harder. Bleakness follows euphoria, poverty aggravating culture shock. A number of recent arrivals are laboring as call girls in Tel Aviv to pay the rent. Several men and women have taken their own lives in the Promised Land. A pair of brothers who arrived in the record month of December have been charged by the Haifa district attorney with beating to death a real-estate agent, who, it seems, cheated them out of $2,200 of their immigrant subsidy. The Hebrew press and the blossoming local Russian-language press report such stories, heartbreaking and altogether predictable. They are reproduced every time masses move from continent to continent. Invariably, though this society has always been comparatively kind, the same thing happens each time the Zionist scenario plays itself out.
If you consult the Tel Aviv newspapers from 35 and 55 years ago, you will find that some of the new immigrants then from Poland, Bulgaria, and Morocco were in the same kind of trouble as some of the ex-Soviets today. There was crime. There were suicides. Unhappy stories, painful casualties, victims, and victimizers seem to be an unavoidable spinoff of great migrations. The movement of Jews from czarist Russia to New York’s Lower East Side at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, chronicled in its grace and squalor by Abraham Cahan and Samuel Ornitz and Henry Roth, was one such mass uprooting, adjusting the course of Jewish history. Another is the current move to Israel of the descendants of those Russian Jews who did not get out then.
They are fleeing an empire infected by anti-Semitism and veering toward chaos. Even though, now that there is Israel, they are not to be considered stateless, psychologically many are as much refugees as they are immigrants. They are refugees, besides, whose first choice of a haven was not Israel. Most, though they will not tell you so or even allow themselves to remember, would have preferred enormous, quiet, rich America. It takes a measure of callousness to say, quite rightly, that in the long run this makes little difference for Israel, since most of the Jews who have moved here in this century have done so for lack of another open door. That did not keep them, and especially their children, from nailing the Jewish state more firmly on the map. Subjectively, they were refugees, but objectively, as Marxists used to say, they could not have been better Zionists. More or less the same pattern is visible in this, the greatest aliyah of them all.
And probably the best-educated one also. The stereotype of the newcomer from the Soviet Union is of a biochemist who plays in a string quartet for relaxation. The statistics compiled by the Jewish Agency explain why this cliché has taken root. Of the 100,000 immigrants who came from the prison of nations in the first nine months of last year, more than 40,000 had graduated from a university. There were 14,000 engineers and architects, 7,000 scientists, 3,500 doctors and dentists, 2,500 nurses, 5,000 schoolteachers, 3,000 writers, musicians, and artists. In the short run, few of these men and women will be able to earn a living in their professions. In the long run, if Israel is unlucky, all these M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s and violinists will overwhelm it. But if it is as lucky and ingenious as it has been in the past, they and their children will be its salvation, somewhat in the way the German Jews were.
The comparison is between this aliyah and that of the German Jews in the 1930’s. They too were not Zionists but refugees, many of whom would have gone to Washington Heights and Riverside Drive if they could. Nevertheless, their training—in the sciences, medicine, education, journalism, law, and music—gave a great boost to the Zionist enterprise. The hopeful analogy is not completely off-base. Especially dramatic is the scorn excited in some of the ex-Soviets by the trashier aspects of local culture, including manners—the German Jews, with their Lessing and Schubert, tagged yekkes for the jackets they wore in the Levantine sun, are said to have felt themselves exiled in Zion, to have nursed to their dying days nostalgia for Kultur and disdain for the local ersatz, similar to the ex-Soviets. A portion were really always Germans, never ex-Germans, as a portion of current newcomers remain Soviets. The analogy is a good one—up to a point.
If many of the yekkes were the product of half a century of Western-style assimilation, who had to think their hardest only when forced to by Hitler, the current refugee-immigrants are all more or less the product of more than 70 years of Communism. Even those who took their distance from the official culture long before their escape to the West, who lived in a kind of exile in their native country, had to play a fairly dirty game to survive. Can the habits brought over from the old country be cured? Mikhael Genadlev, a poet and doctor who moved here from Leningrad in 1977, believes it will be devilishly hard. He warns that the current aliyah is steeped in the anti-values of Soviet Man—lying, swindling, materialism, cynicism, public conformity and super-patriotism, private anarchy. Israel is going to have one hell of a time absorbing all this and putting it to healthy use.
As Russian poets do, Genadlev exaggerates. A whiff of snobbery also rises from his comments—unlike the earlier, smaller aliyah in which he came, during a time when the doors of both Brighton Beach and Tel Aviv were open and the Zionists among the migrants chose Tel Aviv in a process of self-selection, the present aliyah is a mass transfer of the good, the bad, and the indifferent with basically just one possible destination. The implication is that in the 1970’s Brighton Beach got more of the bad and indifferent, Tel Aviv more of the quality goods, such as the poet. Now Israel, having demanded to get it too, is getting the Brighton Beach-type crowd in a tidal wave, is Genadlev’s alarming message.
You meet newcomers, young ones especially, who are better Westerners than many Israelis or Americans are. Nevertheless, Genadlev knows something. A recent event at the Jerusalem municipality’s club for fresh arrivals from the Soviet Union seemed to bear him out, partially at least. Agriculture Minister Rafael (“Raful”) Eitan was the featured speaker of the evening, which was kicked off with a baritone, backed up by a ham-fisted pianist, delivering a number in Russian entitled “Zionism,” no more, no less. Raful, on stage, maintained a straight face. Some in the audience, particularly younger people, covered their eyes, reminded no doubt of public occasions in the USSR before glasnost. However, most of the listeners, if not rapt, seemed to find this introduction unobjectionable. Studying the faces of the older people, listening to them applaud on cue, you could easily picture them as party members before history caught up with them. Uprooted now and dispossessed, they urgently need a new certainty to live out their lives by, and it is merely paradoxical that it should go by the name of Zionism, the heresy which earned others of their generation one-way tickets to the gulag.
Indeed, regardless of age, and regardless of what they think of the local culture, the majority of Soviet Jews arriving here take their Israeli patriotism neat, for a while at least. This is understandable, arguably healthy. The typical newcomer wishes to identify simply, not to say naively, with his new country. He has enough problems without having to sympathize with the Palestinians, whom the moralists among the Israeli doves still insist Israel is oppressing. So Raful, military hero and hard-liner, got a friendly hearing. The audience seemed unanimously with him when he lowered the boom on religious coercion and the yeshiva boys who do not serve in the army. And when he counseled the “voluntary transfer” of Palestinians, there was only one young man to call out, “That’s impracticable!”
The yekkes gravitated to the dovish side of the Israeli spectrum. The Soviets will probably bolster the secular Right and far Right. Thanks to them, Raful’s Tsomet (Crossroads) party, tough on both the Arabs and the rabbis, bids fair to win more than its present two Knesset seats in the next elections, coming no later than next year. So does the Moledet (Homeland) party, whose platform begins and ends with the expulsion of the Palestinians, and whose head, Rehavam (“Gandhi”) Ze’evi, another ex-general, has been brought into the government as a minister without portfolio. The popular Likud, having guided Israel safely though the anti-Saddam war by keeping it on the sidelines, may be able to form a more efficient coalition government with Tsomet and Moledet after the next elections, jettisoning the ultra-Orthodox, and this thanks largely to the votes of Israel’s newest citizens. No need to rely on impressions—the public-opinion surveys carried out here nonstop confirm that the typical newcomer is inclined that way.
More than 70 percent of a recent sample reject the idea of trading land for peace, compared with a 50-50 split among veteran Israelis. In another survey of ex-Soviets who have been in Israel for a year or less, 81 percent said they were hiloni or secular, 19 per cent traditional (masorti) or Orthodox (dati), none ultra-Orthodox (haredi). The percentage calling itself secular is twice as large as among old Israelis. This follows from two generations behind the Iron Curtain and a rate of intermarriage in Russian cities rivaling California’s. It poses a dilemma, at best, for the ultra-Orthodox parties, who today wield the balance of power in Israeli politics.
These parties suspect that as many as a third of the people getting off the planes are not even Jewish, according to religious law, and therefore they would rather have nothing to do with them. On the other hand, the other two-thirds are Jews, albeit familiar with Mozart and ignorant of Maimonides, and if the aliyah picks up where it left off before the war, every month will again see enough of them landing to determine the fate of a Knesset seat, with all the leverage and patronage and cold cash that entails. Repulsion and temptation, fear and duty, are at war here.
At least one haredi party, Agudat Yisrael, is going after the Soviets. Its missionary wing, the Habad Lubavitcher movement, provides hospitality and lessons in Hebrew and Judaism, commencing with a soft sell at the airport. The campaign is funded by public monies—Agudah for the time being is cozily inside the governing coalition. The rabbis and other operatives involved deny any political aim. They say that they are only doing their duty, making available to their ignorant, hungry brethren the ABC’s of a tradition Communism robbed them of. It does not do to generalize about the motives of those who attend these classes. Some are curious about Judaism. Others are casualties, or spongers, who soak up the warmth and welfare afforded by this world-within a-world before the harder demands of obedience are made. At any rate, by the next Knesset elections, the percentage of Soviets who put themselves down as ultra-Orthodox and vote accordingly may well exceed zero.
The rabbinical parties are competing with other groups, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary, for the bodies and souls of the new Israelis. The kibbutzim, for example, driven by Zionist ideals and hopes of saving a dying institution, go out of their way to woo them: to bring them in as resident comrades—interestingly, a few thousand newcomers, despite their memories of socialism, have responded. The political parties to which the kibbutzim are linked—Mapam and Labor—serve coffee and cookies in the cities and towns where most of the immigrants settle. The task for the Left is critical and very hard. Given the right sort of information and treated with love and understanding, it is bravely hoped, the most recent ex-Soviets will make electoral choices not much different from those of the 150,000 who blazed a trail for them in the 1970’s.
The current preferences of that older group were among those examined by pollsters Rafi and Hanoch Smith and published just before the war in the Labor daily, Davar. The overall results of the sounding, covering all Israelis, were bad news for the opposition—Labor was down more than 10 percentage points since the last Knesset elections, while the Likud and other secular right-wing parties were up. But breaking down their data, the Smiths found that the earlier Soviet immigrants, who at first tended to favor Menachem Begin, have by now spread their allegiances wider, dividing equally between Right and Left, between the Likud and its satellites and Labor and its. This stands to reason. On the one hand, the ex-Soviets have Gogolesque memories of socialism, and Labor still sings the “Internationale.” On the other hand, highly educated, secular Israelis of European origin typically vote for Labor, the Citizens’ Rights Movement (CRM), etc., and that is exactly what a great many of the people getting off the plane are.
Thus the Laborites, though somewhat panicky, have not given up. The problem is, it takes time for the newcomers to acculturate and start voting as do Israelis of their class. So many have arrived, and so many more are probably about to, that by the time the requisite years have passed the Israeli Labor party may go the way of British Labor or the Democrats in the U.S. Aggravating matters is the fact that the Left is perceived as uniformly dovish. There were, indeed, doves from Labor, Mapam, CRM, and the extra-parliamentary Peace Now who tried before the war to convince ex-Soviets that it was patriotic to deal with the PLO. Their work was cut out for them. The PLO was and is known to arrivals from the Soviet Union chiefly for its working ties with Pamyat, the Russian fascists. The war and the Scuds, cheered on by Arafat, have made things temporarily impossible.
The dialectic never rests, however, and some doves already discern a silver lining. Certainly, when the war is over, the Palestinians will still be here. The moral, economic, and political costs of sitting on them will still have to be paid, and the Americans, having done with Saddam Hussein and feeling immensely capable, will be wanting to pacify this trouble spot, too, once and for all. Thus, the doves think, the decks may be clear for Palestinian self-determination and the end of the occupation, with or preferably without the PLO. In this scenario, almost everything depends on Washington. It depends especially on the money the U.S. might offer for Israel’s cooperation, which Israel could spend on its many needs, above all the absorption of the Soviet Jews. The curse of the occupation ought to be traded for the funds required to settle them on this side of the Green Line, say the patriotic doves as they try to regroup.
This point of view was given its earliest and most pungent expression by Yossi Sarid, a CRM Knesset member. His prewar op-ed piece in Ha’aretz, entitled “The Deal of the Century,” anticipated others which have been published by other doves since. Having blessed the Soviet aliyah for resurrecting Zionism, he wrote:
Even partisans of the Whole Land of Israel—most of them good Zionists—are going to have no choice but to put the occupied territories up for sale. . . . The only investment in Israel which the international community is now going to consider would be as part of a solution to the conflict, of the stabilization of the area, and peace. Any other simply isn’t in the cards. The choice is therefore clear, sharp, and painful, like cutting out a diseased organ: two million Palestinians or two [sic] million Jews from the Soviet Union in exchange for them.
A strain of wishful thinking runs through the tune the doves are singing. Having failed to convince their fellow Israelis that the damage wrought by the occupation was more considerable than the dangers of getting out; having failed to persuade their Palestinian friends to resist nonviolently; having despaired when these same Palestinians glorified Saddam Hussein, they now hope that this aliyah, which unlike the hawks they never expected or particularly prayed for, will serve as a magic wand. Though not unknown among Israeli hawks, wishful thinking is more typical of the doves. Nevertheless, this time they may be on to something. It may turn out that after the war the Shamir government, in order to grapple with a mission no Zionist can afford to fail at, will have to choose between granting the Palestinians an estate very close to self-determination or asking Israelis to take on the yoke of real hardship. The Israelis will not agree to that.
Of course, in principle, almost everyone here, including, if you bear with them, the night watchman and the grocer and Genadlev, will admit that another million Jews is an excellent thing. A huge immigration absorbed is more than an abstract Zionist duty performed. It will tangibly improve Israel’s position in the far-from-concluded demographic and military contest with the Arabs. Also, like a tide on which all boats rise, it should produce jobs, tantalize investors, eventually create wealth which almost everyone can get a piece of. Every aliyah has had this effect. That is why the young Sephardi mayors of dead-end “development” or frontier towns in the Galilee and Negev, free of complexes, embrace “our Russians.”
In practice, too, old Israelis are willing to do much for the cause. When the government decided before the war to hike taxes and lower the minimum wage, almost everyone went out on strike. But the strikes ended well before the war started. New taxes are now in force, being collected at the source, though the war has hit the economy hard. A delegation of ex-Moroccans who said they were going to Moscow to beg Gorbachev to halt the migration have dropped the idea. Instead, furniture and clothes are being donated, immigrant families and singles are being adopted by citizens who also helped them with their gas masks and sealing tape, and for every five landlords who skin their inexperienced tenants, there is one who, out of idealism, out of Zionism, takes less than he might.
Zionism, then, has been shaken by this aliyah from one of its periodic slumbers. But the effort to integrate the newcomers is going to have to be as much an individual as a collective one, because the time is past when the whole country could be mobilized by order from above. Between 1949 and 1957, the impossible could be accomplished, the population could actually be tripled, because Israelis and their leaders could live with ration coupons. The mentality today is different. Israel now will have to do the impossible without a Ben-Gurion to galvanize it, without the sort of reigning socialist-Zionist elite it used to suffer from and depend on, without the heroic types who could plan ahead in a state of emergency and provide an example of austere, utter devotion to a public ready to emulate them.
Today’s Israelis would not put up with austerity, even if Ben-Gurion rose from his Negev grave. They are resigned to some discomfort in the common cause, they will even let the knife pare away some flesh, but they will not queue for bread or sneak around the corner to the black-marketeer. This is arguably progress. Besides, the sums needed to absorb this aliyah cannot be raised by turning the clock, and the economy, back a generation. Various Israeli officials have mentioned various amazing figures, including $10 billion, $20 billion, and $30 billion. That kind of money cannot be squeezed out of the citizenry even if the citizenry were willing. It might be raised from the Jews of North America, who comprise two-fifths of the last Forbes list of the richest 400, but only if they slapped a tithe on themselves—a rather unlikely prospect given the recession, the aftereffects of Black Monday, and especially the tendency of the descendants of the Ellis Islanders, the richer they become, to give more to the local opera house and less to their far-flung brethren. Not that this is stopping the UJA and Israel Bonds from trying to raise $1.5 billion this year, most of it in North America, which if it is raised will be a fine achievement and a drop in the bucket.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government is canvasing governments and banks for loans and grants. It knows that to obtain them it will probably be told to make political concessions—exactly as the doves want. The saga involved in winning a $400 million loan guarantee from the Bush administration, which triggered a rocket from the White House when Ambassador Zalman Shoval complained that the U.S. was stringing Israel along, may be a taste of things to come. Having finally gotten that guarantee for building homes for immigrants, but only after promising not to use it to build across the Green Line, the Israelis have now asked the U.S. for a $1-billion grant from the administration’s supplemental war budget—this, it is explained, for repairing the damage from the Scuds and on top of the annual, traditional $3 billion in military and civilian aid.
It will take a miracle of Israeli diplomacy and lobbying to land this financial quid without a substantial geopolitical quo. If after the Yom Kippur War the U.S. granted Israel an extra $2.2 billion, this depended none too subtly on Israel’s starting to give territory back to Sadat. Already before that war, so as not to upset the U.S., Israel had endangered itself by not attacking first, and paid an awful price. In this war, too, Israel restrained itself at the behest of Washington, with what harm to its deterrent powers no one knows. If Israel is now to win another big grant, however, this is apt—or liable—to be thanks not to its good behavior in the immediate past but to a believable pledge, not only to refrain from settling immigrants across the Green Line, but to cease building homes there for any Israelis at all.
Such a condition would be in perfect keeping with American official wisdom since the Six-Day War. This has held that as hard as it may be to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, it will be impossible if the Israelis do not one day give up what they captured in 1967—forget for the moment and for the sake of sanity the problem of Jerusalem. Faced with a choice between austerity for a decade in order to gather a million Jews, and withdrawing from the occupied territories in return for the money needed for absorption, how will the Israeli electorate, including hundreds of thousands of new immigrants with friends already en route, decide?
There is no way to guess intelligently about what, given the vagaries of Israeli and American politics and Middle Eastern history, may remain a hypothetical question. Until now the perennial debate here over the pros and cons of withdrawal has become a practical one only when the head of an Arab state sued credibly for peace. The choice between austerity and withdrawal may thus never be posed so starkly. A U.S. administration weighing the conditions under which it will help its ally convert this burden to an asset should realize that an Israeli withdrawal, if it is to make the Middle East a safer place, will have to be preceded by an Arab concession comparable to Sadat’s in any case.
What that concession might be, or who might offer it, is hard to imagine. What is plain is that this great migration will continue where it left off before the Scuds—for as long as it does continue—against the backdrop of a victorious U.S. trying, strenuously and prudently, to fashion a new regional order, yes, a Pax Americana. This need not hamper the aliyah. A far more serious and immediate worry could be the fate of the Soviet Union’s open-door policy should Gorbachev fall, or should he try to stuff the genie of reform back into the bottle. To be sure, shutting the gates again would mean much more than a Soviet reversal on human rights. It would mean that the cold war was being disinterred, something which a few months ago seemed fantastical. But that too is not out of the question, as Sakharov predicted and Sharansky today warns. The prison’s open doors, at any rate, should not be taken for granted. This aliyah, like all mass uprootings a flight and a rescue operation, may therefore and above all be a race against time.