We must inspire the next generation with the idea of Israel

By Yoni Chetboun, October 24, 2013
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Much has been made recently in Israel of the phenomenon of Israelis making yeridah — leaving the country to live abroad. This has always happened, yet has remained under the radar. People have moved to pursue professional opportunities or academic advancement. On one level, this is entirely normal and understandable; a democratic country would never countenance standing the way of the free will of its citizens.

However, there is an additional element that is bringing this issue to the fore of political discourse: the cost of living. This is a slogan that has achieved resonance in these uncertain economic times across the world, and especially in the UK. I recently appeared on a television programme with a man who was announcing his intention to move with his young family to Canada. He had a job in the hi-tech industry but still felt that he was not able to reach a certain comfort of lifestyle within the financial parameters in which he found himself.

Now to be clear, normally, in any other country, this is a story that wouldn’t make the inside of the Independent. The freedom to come and go as one pleases is the sine qua non of all democratic societies, even ours.

Nonetheless, two things bothered me immensely from this encounter. One was the fact that the blood, sweat and tears that have been invested in building the Jewish state no longer provided a sufficient anchor to allow this man to stay.

We only have one country, and the stakes are too high to fail

Furthermore, it is clear that throughout the Jewish world, the ideology that moved my parents to make aliyah from France and Morocco 40 years ago needs to be strengthened. That ideology is ever more pertinent in a world where we are beset with challenges both within and without. Our “neighbourhood” remains in a constant state of flux and uncertainty, while the latest Pew research seems to suggest that our efforts in Jewish education require serious re-evaluation

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Before I entered the Knesset, I was a major in an elite reconnaissance unit of the Golani Brigade. During the Second Lebanon War, my unit found itself in what became known as the Battle of Bint Jbeil. We were pinned down by enemy fire. My commanding officer, Ro’i Klein, famously jumped on a grenade so that the rest of the unit might survive.

At a certain point, I noticed that my comrades on either side of me had been killed in action. One was from Australia, another from Russia, still a third from Ashdod, as disparate a group as one could imagine. And yet the forces that unified us were no less strong than those that moved our founding fathers at the turn of the last century.

In recent years, both on a national and international level, we have become distracted. Precious hours are devoted to subjects of marginal importance, while great swathes of Jewry, be it in the UK, Europe or the United States, become yet more indifferent and disconnected to their own particular communities and our national project, the state of Israel.

We must give voice and authority to our teachers and educators. I recently met representatives of the UJIA and was deeply impressed with the generosity of the Anglo-Jewish community, as well as the ambition and impact of their activities here in Israel.

We must support the fantastic work that youth groups such as Bnei Akiva and BBYO accomplish across the UK. Most of all, we must be prepared for the long term, and develop the vision, patience and stamina to push forward our shared endeavours and interests, so that we most of all bequeath to the next generation a mission that they are equipped and motivated to implement.

Speaking as a father, a soldier, a legislator and a citizen, I want to hear from those who are invested in the development of our children, be they from youth movements, student groups or any other organisations that remain committed to the ideal of the Jewish people, united, living in their land. We only have one country, and the stakes are too high to fail.

MK Yoni Chetboun is a Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and sits on the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee

    Last updated: 12:52pm, October 24 2013