One Jewish people, two different realities - analysis

While true, while the Jewish people are one, those who live in Israel, and those who live in the United States, live in fundamentally different realities, and that colors how they look at the world.

August 22, 2019 02:49
American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative]

American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative]. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Once upon a time – oh, about 40 years ago – the United Jewish Appeal had this as a fundraising slogan: “We are one.”

The idea was noble: the Jewish people, scattered in the Diaspora or living in Israel, are one people, responsible one for the other.

While true – while the Jewish people are one – those who live in Israel and those who live in the United States live in fundamentally different realities, and that colors how they look at the world.

Jews in Israel live in the most inhospitable neighborhood on the planet, where they are preoccupied with real, genuine concerns both about their individual security and the country’s collective security.

The murder of Dvir Sorek, the car ramming of brother and sister Nahum and Noam Nevis and the attempted infiltration of armed terrorists from the Gaza Strip just in the last 10 days proves the point about concern over personal security. And all you have to do to understand the concerns about the country’s collective security is listen to the words of the leaders of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Jews in the United States, on the other hand, live in the most hospitable, friendly, tolerant and welcoming society in which the Jewish people have sojourned. Ever. But they have their concerns, their traumas and their deep-rooted insecurities – based on past patterns in Jewish history – that things could change for the worse.

To a large extent American Jews do not understand the insecurities under which their brethren in Israel labor. For instance, many in Israel were taken aback by the support a large segment of American Jewry gave to US President Barack Obama regarding the Iranian nuclear deal, a deal which the Israeli government – and many Israelis – saw as an existential threat. But things look and feel different from afar.

Likewise, Israelis don’t understand the traumas and insecurities of American Jewry. Again, because things look different from afar.

And this helps to explain the disconnect on Wednesday between how many American Jews reacted with fury to US President Donald Trump’s comments about Jews who vote for the Democratic Party and how Israel responded.

“I think Jewish people that vote for a Democrat – I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” Trump said, triggering a furor.

Though it was not clear to whom Trump was saying the Jews voting Democratic were disloyal – to their own people, himself for his support for Israel or the US – the very use of the word is a red flag for US Jews always concerned their loyalty will be questioned. To many American Jews, it doesn’t even matter what Trump meant, just the use of the “disloyalty” word – something Rep. Ilhan Omar implied in one of her antisemitic rants – is enough to set alarm bells blaring.

Therefore mainstream Jewish organizations – such as the ADL and AJC – condemned the comments, not just Trump-hating organizations like J Street. In Israel, however, it took some time before the issue even registered.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, loath to publicly criticize Trump because of all the president has done for Israel and for him politically, was silent on the matter, as – for the most part – was his government. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz commented, but only said in a radio interview that Israel “must not intervene in the political disagreements in the United States. We keep good relations with both the Democrats and Republicans, and we must continue to do so.”

Condemnations came from the hard Left – the Democratic Union’s Stav Shaffir and Joint List leader Ayman Odeh – but Blue and White’s leadership was quiet, though Yoaz Hendel tweeted his disapproval of Trump’s words.

Why? Because the hard Left knows they are not going to be running the country anytime soon and need to deal with Trump, while Blue and White still thinks it may have the opportunity. So how smart would it be for its leaders – Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon or Gabi Ashkenazi – to pick a fight with Trump?

But it was not only the politicians who were relatively quiet on this issue that has so vexed many American Jews: for most of the day, it was also not one of the leading items on the news.

For instance, on the KAN Bet two-hour noon news program, it was not discussed until 75 minutes into the program. It followed reports about threats of a school strike, blocking the justice minister’s appointment for director-general, abusive preschool teachers, a gang rape in the North, the closure of a beach on the Kinneret, and intrigue and deception inside Blue and White.
By nightfall, however, the story began gaining traction as Trump doubled down on his comments, and President Reuven Rivlin called Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to assure her that Israel wants to stay a nonpartisan issue.

“The relationship between the State of Israel and the United States is a link between people, which relies on historical ties, deep and strong friendships and shared values that are not dependent on the relationship with one particular party,” he said. “We must keep the State of Israel above political disputes, and make every effort to ensure that support for Israel does not become a political issue.”

But even that response shows how the realities of the two largest Jewish communities in the world are so different. American Jews are worried that Trump’s comments about “disloyalty” will fan antisemitic flames in the US and adversely impact them and their position in American society. Historically, and not without reason, Jews in the Diaspora live with a certain fear that their loyalty will be questioned.

And Israel, as reflected in Rivlin’s comments to Pelosi, is worried first and foremost about something else: how all of this will play out in the long term on Israel’s relationship with its most important ally.

One people, as the slogan goes, but with different concerns influenced very much by one simple variable: where you live.

Related Content

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man helps kids cast his ballot at a polling station on April 9, 2019
September 17, 2019
Ultra-Orthodox voters ‘fighting for their lives’ on election day