American Jewry 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel needs to work on repairing relations with US Jewry or there may be long-term risks to the country’s national security, says a report by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and obtained by The Jerusalem Post.
The report says it is the first time Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jews generally, and American Jews specifically, has been comprehensively reviewed through the lens of national security.
Over the decades, American Jewry has helped Israel obtain weapons, economic aid and crucial and consistent diplomatic backing from the US government.
While there are certainly additional reasons beyond American Jewry why the US has been Israel’s biggest long-term backer, to the extent that US backing up Israel is considered a cornerstone of Israel’s national security concept, active support from US Jews has been vital.
However, the report notes that Israeli and US Jews are growing apart in recent years in a way that could endanger bipartisan political support for military and diplomatic support and is even more problematic than past differences between the communities.
The report suggests a variety of increased people-to-people exchanges and coordination between the Jewish communities to head-off that scenario.
The problematic distance is most notable in strengthening support for Israel among the US’s Republican wing, which represents most of the Orthodox Jewish minority, and growing attacks by a wing of the Democratic party, representing the shrinking majority of American Jewry.
According to demographic trends, although Orthodox American Jews are a minority, their community is consistently growing, while non-Orthodox American numbers are going down.
The report states that Israel is still searching for the delicate balance among the various groups which make up its society and the balance between its Jewish and Democratic characters.
All of this is occurring against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, which often destabilizes any attempt at balance.
Simultaneously, US Jews are working to ensure their future existence and cohesion as the community experiences unprecedented cracks from generational shifts and is split by ideological disagreements.
The punch-line on these identity issues is that Israel is becoming more religious and less sensitive to US Jews’ needs, especially the majority non-Orthodox movements.
This is happening precisely at a time when those segments of US Jewry are increasingly questioning their support for Israel.
According to the report, the debate surrounding US President Donald Trump has supercharged the dilemmas and tensions between Israel and American Jewry.
The report says that “the president has stood by Israel and its policies in an unprecedented way. On the other hand, the vast majority of American Jews opposes the president, his behavior and policies.”
In this situation, the report states that, “Israel is advancing its current goals while at the same time publicly disagreeing with American Jewry and destabilizing its support within the Democratic Party and its supporters.”
The report says that Israel may achieve some of its short-term policy goals, while losing bipartisan political support as a long-term national security asset.
Former US Ambassador Dan Shapiro said in the report that such an example would include Israel’s taking the Trump administration’s side over the Obama administration on the Iran nuclear deal.
To turn relations back toward a more positive trend, the report suggests increasing awareness between both sides by “education, creating personal experiences, peer-to-peer meetings, and a joined vision or project for everyone to work on together.”
As part of this shift, the report says that the Israeli government must start treating US Jewry more seriously not only in words, but in action and implementation.
Pressed that current trends mean that few beyond the leadership echelons may be interested in these dialogue efforts, Shahar Eilam, a senior INSS researcher and editor of the report, said that the negative trends “are not deterministic, even demographics change from what you might expect” and can be influenced.
Eilam suggested that the strategy must be long-term and that even if there are obstacles between the political goals of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Israeli community and the non-Orthodox US movements, that there are other areas where that ground could shift.
He noted that pluralism in Israel is rising in popularity and that this could eventually impact Israeli political decisions.
Most importantly, he said that the report, funded by the Ruderman Family Foundation, emphasized new bottom-up dialogue efforts to run in parallel to the traditional top-down dialogue among leaders.
He said that “the crisis is an opportunity,” and that building bottom-up support could also change the current problematic politics and go beyond short-term, band-aid style solutions.
The report was supervised by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Assaf Orion, former MK Yehuda Ben-Meir and Shapiro.
President Reuven Rivlin called the report “important,” adding that world Jewry’s significance “to Israel is not determined by its location, but rather by its enormous importance in developing the society, country and nation in Israel.”
“Many Israelis do not have familial ties to Diaspora Jewry, and the Jewish community is far and foreign to them. It is important we do not passively wait for the inevitable. This is the time to build bridges of understanding... We are brothers, and we will remain brothers,” stated Rivlin.
Shira Ruderman, director of the Ruderman Family Foundation, stated: “We hope the current research is the opening of new era in the Israeli discourse about the American Jewish community... the American Jewish community are not only distant relatives; they are also a strategic asset.”
“The diplomatic conversation between Jerusalem and Washington is closely tied to the conversation between the Jews in Israel and the Jews in America,” she continued.
“These are not two parallel tracks, but a triangular relationship in which each side effects the others.”
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