(Public Domain Pictures)
Ironically, while the links between Israel and the rest of the world are getting stronger, the relationship between the Jewish state and the Jewish Diaspora is deteriorating. For example, though the prime minister of Hungary and the prime minister of Israel seem to be on remarkably friendly terms, the Jews in Hungary appear to be troubled by Israel’s friendship with their, by all accounts, anti-Semitic government and its reactionary leader.
But then, in the eyes of many Israelis, the Diaspora matters less and less. They reckon that most Jews who live abroad will eventually assimilate and be lost to the Jewish people. Nowadays, Israel doesn’t even need the money that foreign Jewish fundraisers collect. In fact, many Israeli politicians are urging Diaspora leaders to use monies collected at home to finance institutions that seek to strengthen the commitment of the younger generation to Judaism in general, and to Israel in particular.
The exception is, of course, the United States. Whereas Jews constitute small minorities in most other countries and therefore have little ability to influence their governments, there are between five to six million Jews in the U.S. Their presence is significant, reflected, for example, in the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
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But now, even that connection is getting ominously weaker. The obvious warmth between U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has chilled the Zionism of many American Jews. Most of them are liberals who are opposed to Trump and tend to vote Democrat; whereas Netanyahu’s love of, and commitment to, Trump’s Republican party is palpable. Trump became hugely popular in Israel, after he moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognized the Golan Heights as an integral part of the Jewish state.
As a result, it’s no longer certain that most Israelis think that they need American Jews. A recent Jerusalem Post column by Amotz Asa-El had the provocative headline: “Likud to Diaspora: Drop dead.” In it, he tells Netanyahu and his party that “they should recall that the Diaspora made unsung contributions to Israel’s success.” Yet even when it comes to a relatively small Israeli concession – providing equal prayer space for Reform and Conservative Jews, i.e., the majority of American Jewry, at the Western Wall – the prime minister, supported by his Likud-led government, reneged on the original commitment.
He was no doubt pushed by the Orthodox members of his coalition, who claim a monopoly on all Jewish religious matters in Israel and abroad. Their stance was reflected in remarks made by Arieh Deri, the leader of the Shas party, who urged liberal Jews not to “bring your controversies here,” implying that their form of Judaism has no place in the Jewish state.
But unless American Jews know that their form of Judaism is accepted in Israel the way it’s accepted, even celebrated, in their home countries, they’ll stay away – they themselves, and definitely their children and grandchildren. There are already signs that young American Jews don’t always share their parents’ commitment to the Jewish state.
For them, much more than for previous generations, the way they perceive Israel treating its Arab minority and the Palestinians in the territories is also an issue of concern. Hence the letter sent by a number of American-Jewish organizations urging Trump not to allow Netanyahu to make good on his pre-election promise to annex parts of the West Bank. Some Jewish establishment figures expressed their outrage at what they described as the arrogance of the authors of the letter, but the accusers seem to be out of step with the way many younger American Jews think and feel.
Unless the government of Israel and the leaders of Diaspora Jewry come together, the long-term future of the Jewish state is in jeopardy. We must not allow that to happen.