Should Expats Be Quiet?

istock_cloudsxsmallI’d like to open up a certain topic for discussion here on Half & Half. I have a question that I’ve been trying to answer for years, and this past week the urge to answer it has become even stronger. My last posts on the Cellcom ad have received a lot of attention, and during my activity on Half & Half and on other blogs who discussed the ad, I interacted with quite a few Israeli expats.
Israeli expats are often called by Israelis “Yordim“, a term that seems to be a bit derogatory when you think about it (Yordim, from the word “yerida”, which means “going down”, descending – as opposed to making “aliyah”, which means ascent). For many years, Israelis have often felt that Yordim were in essence traitors. They abandoned the hardships of building a country for their own aspirations abroad. Over the years this sentiment has weakened, almost to the state where most Israelis either admire those who try to make it abroad, or are just plain jealous. But one thing that hasn’t changed, I think, is the feeling some Israelis get when they’re exposed to opinions of Yordim. Many think they don’t have the right to criticize Israel and it’s policies. I admit, I sometimes feel the same way. Sometimes I say to myself “How dare he? Does he live the hard life here? Does he have to deal with a Manhattan cost of living on a  Middle Eastern salary? Does he live in a war zone? He chose not to, so he should up”. And usually when I do feel like that, I feel guilty afterwards.
And this is my question: Do I have the right to feel this way? This question branches out into many sub-questions, and I would like the discussion here to be about expats in general, not only Israelis and Yordim.
expatriateI wasn’t born in America, but being brought up by Americans and growing up there, I often feel a bit like an American expat. Despite this, I feel that in the past I have refrained from openly criticizing America in front of other Americans, feeling I didn’t have the right. An exception to the rule was during the Bush years, when I would tell my American relatives exactly what I thought. But since they were on the same side of the political map, it was like preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, I wonder today if they ever, maybe even subconsciously, had an uncomfortable feeling about me voicing my opinions, when I wasn’t living there? Do I have the right to? Can I be critical of Obama if I feel the need to?
Sure, everyone is entitled to their opinion about any topic in the world. So, if a foreigner can tell me that settlements are wrong, or that settlements are right, why shouldn’t a Yored be able to? Just because he left, is he denied the right to an opinion? Or is this only about how you voice your opinion, and where?
My wife, Karen, is British. Does she have the right to criticize Gordon Brown?
Does a Republican expat in France have the right to argue about Roe vs Wade with a Democrat in NY?
Can a Yored living in LA tell me that my left wing or right wing opinions are wrong? Has he lost that right? Why? Especially if all his family still lives in Israel?
So, this goes out to all you expats, Half & Halves, or anybody who reads this blog and has an opinion about it. Tell me what your thoughts are on this. I need some answers…

25 Responses to “Should Expats Be Quiet?”

  1. 1 martha wolfe
    July 14, 2009 at 23:47

    Hi Ami,
    Martha here. I have to think about how I feel about your question. Isn’t it all one of perspective? Phil thinks I am way too critical of my own country, but my criticism comes of an awareness of what this country could be or do, given what we have. After all those years of teaching adolescents, I have to admit that my expectations for students were based as much on what they were capable of doing as what they did. I was much more of a bitch to the really bright kids who took the easy road than i was to the kids who had less ability. I understand the issue, but I also think that without criticism, we never grow. I only pray Obama doesn’t ever get as self righteous and defense as Bush. That’s what I couldn’t stand about him. Act

    • 2 shmookty
      July 15, 2009 at 07:53

      Martha, I’m sure all your students were bright… 🙂
      But would you be OK, for example, if I came to your house and criticied US policy, when I don’t live there, I don’t pay taxes, I don’t experience the outcomes of Obama’s decisions like you do? Criticism is great, and important. We agree on that. But are there some situations where it shouldn’t be given, like by an expat?

      • 3 Liat
        July 15, 2009 at 08:22


        Criticism is not a bad thing if it creates a dialogue, a discussion and awareness where its needed. Everyone should voice their opinion and on any topic which they are passionate about.
        just because I don’t live in China and don’t practice “falun gong” for example – doesn’t mean I shouldn’t raise my voice and criticise China for its violation of human rights, Japan for its whales hunting etc.
        If we all just minded our own business – we wouldn’t grow, learn and develop.

  2. 4 Liat
    July 15, 2009 at 01:29


    I live in a 2 bedroom apartment, which has a balcony, and timber floors. I have built-ins and a private bathroom. My street is leafy and the “green” here reaches shades of colour I have never seen anywhere in the world.for sure not in Israel. It’s a clean, shiny bright and much defined green. I’m a nature lover so for me this is heaven. My apartment is located between a lake (30 sec walking to the right) and the ocean (a longer walk of 2 minutes to the left). I can allow this life style on a part time low-paid teaching position. Working part time – It leaves me time to do all the other activities I love doing – while the bills are still being paid. I am healthy, calm and have many friends – some Israelis and some local. People are polite and kind and they let you switch lanes on the road with a smile.
    This life chose me rather than me choosing it – I never planned to be where I am today – but don’t get me wrong – I am so thankful for the opportunity to experience something else and to be able to live among the “goyeem”. But that’s the beauty of it – You see – I am here but never pretend to be what I am not.
    It was pretty obvious to me that no matter where I was, what language I’d speak or what I was doing for a living – I am first of all an Israeli. You see – I was, am and always will be very proud of Israel and its heritage, culture, history, people. we could ask if living outside of Israel made this strong feel towards “haarezt”? That could be the case for some Yordim and that’s a good thing. On that note – life here made me even more Jewish than what I was – “Sometimes you need to go far away in order to get closer” and appreciate many things which are being taken in granted. Maybe you should try it…:)
    I was an activist when in Israel, and had my opinions heard loud and clear. So in that aspect – nothing has really changed. What has changed is the place where I put my things at and my crowd. But I see this as a blessing, as something that had to happen, as the natural course of life: as a proud Israeli-Jew who leaves in the Diaspora my responsibility to my country is even greater.
    So to answer your question re my right as a “yoredet”- Of course I have the right. And not only the right but the obligation and responsibility to do so. No so in front of you but more so in front of people who are not aware, who are ignorant and have the facts all wrong – or mainly – just facts of one side – usually as we know– the left side.
    I am happy to be the one who defends Israel and the army and the israeli people and bring some balance to create a true discussion where both sides of the coin are heard.

    • 5 shmookty
      July 15, 2009 at 06:43

      Liat, Thanks for a beautiful response. Could you elaborate more on what you meant when you wrote “Not so in front of you, but more in front of the people….”. Because this is basically my main question. Not about how defend Israel in front of others, but about your interaction with the Israelis who still live there. Is it different? Are you more careful? If so, why?

      • 6 liat
        July 15, 2009 at 08:09


        I and my friends, between us, have the same political difference of opinions as you and I would have. But once we get out of our “Israeli” circle – we have a unified stand where we feel a need and a responsibility, as said, to protect and defend Israel. That’s the beauty of it and I wish we could all be like that.
        No doubt – some of the Israelis here want nothing to do with Israel but I am sure they feel an itch when hearing people who never lived in Israel and have no idea of the historical/ cultural/ social background talk badly about Israel (not because they are bad or anti-Semitic but because all they get is coming from the Media, and I don’t need to tell you how Israel looks like in the media).

        As to being more careful – me personally –I probably should be. But I figured I arrived here for a reason. I have a job to do – so I am doing it.
        I have already experienced anti-Semitism which was weird – but just made me more proud and feel stronger towards my country, my religion and my people.

        I love you brother 😉

  3. 7 Marni
    July 15, 2009 at 04:28

    Sometimes I say to myself “How dare he? Does he live the hard life here? Does he have to deal with a Manhattan cost of living on a Middle Eastern salary? Does he live in a war zone? He chose not to, so he should up”.

    Statements like these always bothered me. I understand that life in Israel is difficult but for someone with dual or even triple citizenship, and I guess you fall into the former, you CHOOSE to be in Israel. So why do you make these comments as if by “living the hard life” in Israel, you are doing me a favor? Ultimately one makes a home where he feels happy and comfortable. Thus many people feel Israel is their home because they were born there, because they have religious ideology, Zionism, or just love the food and the weather….either way, if you feel that you are making a sacrifice by living in Israel and have to justify it by taking on a holier than thou attitude because you chose to live in a war zone and to live there on a lower salary, then maybe you shouldn’t be there. I don’t mean you specifically, because I have heard these comments before, but whereas I understand moving to Israel from another country can often mean trading in creature comforts for a more spiritually fulfulling or whatever life, this doesn’t give one the right to put everyone else down who doesn’t live in Israel. Life is too short to be bitter, and usually moving to Israel for Zionistic reasons fade. So for those of us who choose not to live in Israel, but support her wholeheartedly from abroad, we have our reasons, just as those who do choose to live in the Holyland, and no one should be condemned or condoned for his decision.

    • 8 shmookty
      July 15, 2009 at 06:40

      Marni, you misunderstood my question. I live in Israel, I chose to as you say, and I am complete with my choice. I never put any one down, a Yored or any other expat. The question is solely about expats and their right to criticize me, or their right to criticize the country they left.
      I am not bitter, I love Israel.

  4. July 15, 2009 at 08:38

    I am originally British, still with a British passport, and have been living in Israel for over 30 years. I have NEVER voted in any British election, and will never do so. Once I left there it is not my right to tell others who should govern them. I always had a discussion with my (now ex) American wife when she went to vote in the American elections.

    I am very sad about how things are there, but will never interfere in any form of decision making what so ever – it is not my place. It was MY decision to come here, no one forced me – just like the Israeli “Yordim”. They say “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”, but most Israelis DO want this, and as far as the Israeli Government lets them (hey, all elections are very close these days so they need all the votes they can get – right?!), they will take advantage of it.

    I say anyone who is living abroad for more than five years (obviously not those who are on official duties like diplomats and shlichim etc) should have their right to vote taken away from them, to be returned only if they come back and live here.

    Pretty radical – no? What do you think?

    • 10 shmookty
      July 15, 2009 at 08:45

      Good to hear from you Mike! 🙂
      I don’t know if it’s radical, defenitely something to think about. I haven’t used my right to vote in US elections, but when Bush was elected I felt guilty about that. But I thank you for making your position clear, with the simple words “it is not my place.” I don’t know if I agree, I’d still like to hear more opinions.
      Let me ask you this: Putting participation in elections aside, when you meet with your British relatives or friends, do you ever criticize British policy in front of them? Do you feel comfortable doing that? Are you wary? Do you feel you have the right?

      • July 15, 2009 at 13:05

        I have no right to criticize British policy – none what so ever. To tell you the truth, I am not really up on events there. I refuse to have cable or satellite TV, so I do not watch channels like Sky or BBC.

        My home is Israel, I have enough on my plate here, never mind thinking about what is going on in the UK. The only thing I follow in England today is my soccer team – Tottenham Hotspur, and even then I have problems keeping up to date with all the players who come and go and all the astronomical transfer fees.

        When relatives come, they sometimes moan about the situation in England, but I just listen and change the subject.

        As to American or any other Jews who criticize Israel, that is a hard one. If someone donates millions of dollars to Israel, it is hard to take his/her right away to criticize the government. You can’t expect them to just give and shut up.

        We need these people abroad, we need them to donate, we need them to lobby their governments for Israel, so I have a problem with those people. On the fence there I am afraid!

  5. 12 Karen
    July 15, 2009 at 08:52

    First of all, I’d never dare criticise Gordon Brown since he pays my wages!

    But I certainly found myself criticising Britain a lot when I first moved out here. Back then, I felt I had the right to because I had made the decision to pick up and leave and come out here. It virtually became an automatic response to those who made me feel like I was crazy to leave the lush green fields and supposedly easy life over there. But now after living in Israel for 12 years, I no longer feel that I have the right, or indeed the ability, to criticise or even discuss in depth what life is like back in the UK. These days, I spend maybe a week every year or two there, and yes I hear from my family how difficult / easy things are, but I in no way feel qualified to enter into an in-depth discussion on British policies (unless it’s British policies on Israel).

    But I’m not sure that it works the other way around. I think the connection one feels for Israel is a lot more powerful and steeped heavily in many emotions. What I do find interesting is that many Yordim seem to become more right wing when they move abroad. Perhaps it is like the greater closeness many start to experience for Judaism – as Liat says. Or perhaps it is also spurred by the “biased” reporting they may see on TV and the opinions they encounter. It’s not an easy conflict to get your head around – and it can really get your back up when your hear people talking about it with great authority even though it is obvious to you that they’ve never actually been there and experienced what it is like to be too scared to take your kid to the mall during the endless summer holiday because some nutter might blow himself up as you’re getting your bags checked by the security guards posted at every entrance.

    • 13 shmookty
      July 15, 2009 at 08:58

      OK, I can get that. But let me ask you this: Let’s say there’s a Yored, who as you say becomes a bit more right wing while living abroad, does he have the right to criticize me for being left wing? I believe he has the right to hold right wing views, but I’m asking more about the interaction he has with people like me who still live in Israel. Basically, I’m just asking if expats (not only yordim, but expats from every country) should be more sensitive (or be quiet?) when confronting permanent residents of the country?

      • 14 Karen
        July 15, 2009 at 10:00

        I don’t think you can take this right away from them. I don’t think that there can be a statute of limitations – especially not when it comes to Jews and Israelis. Does this mean that Jews in the Diaspora who never plan on making Aliyah have no right to comment on what goes on in Israel? What about AIPAC? Or what about all those people who “stam” have an opinion about Israel and the Middle East?

        And I don’t think you can expect them to be more sensitive because, when it comes to Israel, you’re dealing with such heated issues.

        That said, I confess that I am very guilty of reacting to the right-wing banter of Yordim by saying “well, they don’t live here anymore and if they care so much, why don’t they move back”. I do think that they need to listen and open themselves up more to what the people in country hear and experience, but I wouldn’t expect Israelis to exhibit any kind of sensitivity!

      • 15 Liat
        July 15, 2009 at 12:35

        Ahhh – I get it now –Karen made some good and true points there and combined with what I said –so yes – expats have a right to criticise.
        As to the sensitivity, and this is what it is really all about – I think we should all be sensitive in general but then again – one cannot predict the level of sensitivity of another. At the end of the day – it is about communication.
        Being careful is sometimes being politically correct and I find it to be more damaging. What you are trying to say can be unclear or interpreted in many ways.so i prefer to be direct. I cannot be responsible for what makes people hurt.
        …..If the comments about the cell-phone post are the reason for this post then the problem is really with the person who got hurt as nothing there seemed offensive to me. But I could be a cold bitch ….:) which I am not!!you know that – right????(??)

  6. 16 Sara
    July 15, 2009 at 11:36

    Mike is right – I don’t vote in Britain either, for the same reason. I chose to leave and I have therefore forfeited my right to decide how the country is run.

    Similarly, it makes my blood boil when I see comments by people (usually American Jews) who don’t live here, yet feel the need to criticise things the government does, especially when it is something in the peace process/making-Palestinian-lives-easier department.

    Maybe that’s because I differ from them politically. I wonder if I would be as quick to complain about ‘interference’ from like-minded American Jews? Hmmmm. It’s a toughie.

    • 17 shmookty
      July 15, 2009 at 14:06

      It’s a toughie, but basically one of the more interesting questions I’d like to answer.
      Now, let me ask you something else: I understand you feel you don’t have a right to vote, but do you feel you have the right to tell a Briton (a family member, a friend, or someone on the net) to take out or keep forces in Afghanistan, for example?

  7. July 15, 2009 at 14:06

    I’ve been in Israel for over 11 years. I still follow events in the UK, and of course have opinions on what goes on there. Theoretically I can still vote there, but like Mike, I feel it would be wrong to do so.

    What’s happening in my adopted country is of far more interest, and I use my right (privilege, actually) to vote here, on principle.

    I do get teed off by talkbackers particularly from the US who feel they have the right to dictate policy here. There is an old joke that kind of sums this up for me:

    A pig and a chicken are walking down a road. The chicken looks at the pig and says, “Hey, why don’t we open a restaurant?” The pig looks back at the chicken and says, “Good idea, what do you want to call it?” The chicken thinks about it and says, “Why don’t we call it ‘Ham and Eggs’?” “I don’t think so,” says the pig, “I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.”

  8. 20 Shelly
    July 15, 2009 at 22:41

    First of all I believe that the very act of leaving Israel implies criticism of the way things are here. Whether the decision to leave is spurred by economic, cultural, ideologocal reasons, the person or family that takes the step is critical of a particular aspect of life in this country and seeks to attain betterment somewhere else. When the expat is asked why he/she left should he/she lie? Because the most natural answer would be an answer based on life experiences – I couldn’t support my family, I couldn’t stand the politics, I couldn’t bear to send my sons to the army. All criticisms justified by experience. All actions that are in themselves, criticism.

    • 21 shmookty
      July 15, 2009 at 22:55

      I agree with that.
      Let me ask you something one step further. Do you feel comfortable criticizing America in front of your American family? Do you feel you have the right to? Also, I’m not sure that all expats leave a country for self betterment (following the spouse employment, temporary missions that turn into something permanent and so on).

      • 22 Shelly
        July 15, 2009 at 23:23

        Yes and yes.
        And I would like to add that my criticism of the USA is usually tinged with humor and affection. I don’t feel that about expats’ criticism towards Israel.
        It is harsh and angry.

  9. July 16, 2009 at 18:09

    Hi Shmookty

    I am a Pakistani expat currently living in Canada and I do criticize both Pakistani and Canadian policy. I don’t think its wrong for people who are not directly involved (expat or not) to voice their opinions on how they feel about politics of any other particular country in the world. I believe that everyone has a right to state their opinion on anything and should not be prevented from doing so. In addition to this, it is very important to recognize that ex-pats and other non-citizens contribute to the ongoing debates in the political sphere by presenting different perspective on certain political situations which may not be evident to the citizens in that state. Being outside of a state often gives you an interesting perspective that may not be possible when residing within a state. Also considering that this world is globalized and people are exposed to knowledge about everything, why is it surprising that people will develop views about certain situations and will want to participate in the discussion. Just somethings to consider…..

    • 24 shmookty
      July 16, 2009 at 21:53

      Hi Rotifan! Glad to have you on board. I think the point you make about different perspectives is a good one.

  10. July 21, 2009 at 21:14

    As an expat myself, I routinely get involved in discussions/demonstrations re: my place of residency, but also regarding ‘home’, and sometimes vehemently so.

    My criteria would be that I am allowed to criticise as I see fit if the issue affects me.
    Hence, my home country’s policies, affecting me and perhaps more directly my loved ones there, is very much my business. I have the right, even if I’m 16,000 miles away, to congratulate or to punish my home government through elections if I see fit.

    But then we get into the definition of what ‘affects me’ is.
    I am not Israeli, but do I have the right to criticise the government for its actions against the Palestinians (amongst whom I have, for that matter, lived in the West Bank)? I believe I do.
    Taking it even further, I am not Sudanese nor have I been there (yet), but do I have the right to criticise the government for its actions against its own citizens? Indeed.

    In the same time, the mention of American Jews vs. Israeli expats — which I believe are nowhere comparable in the context of this discussion. The latter have every right to be involved, the former – especially if they have no real bonds to the country besides reading the JPost online – have little case to stand in an internal Israeli discussion.
    (but then again, as was pointed out earlier, perhaps it’s because I disagree with what this group generally says?)

    Anywho. My two cents. 🙂

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