Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett greets World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder in Pittsburgh on Monday.
(photo credit: ALEXI ROSENFELD)
Every four years, as Israel prepares for its elections, peaks of political rivalry surface. Social media, mainstream media and polls are all essential tools in the ongoing political campaigns of the various parties. These tools provide the necessary atmosphere for rapid changes within the candidates’ campaigns, as well as the never-ending criticism of each other.
However, one thing has remained the same for many years: the security issue will always be the top priority during elections.
Unfortunately, we Israelis do not pay sufficient attention to the Jewish Diaspora. I wish to focus on the largest diaspora, American Jewry, which numbers some six million people. I suggest a new, revolutionary concept of thought: instead of treating those Jews as “walking wallets,” namely, providing financial support, we ought to open our ears and listen to them. With an emphasis on “listen”.
One of the most prominent American Jewish organizations, which I work for, American Jewish Committee (AJC), issued a statement recently expressing concern regarding the Israeli party “Otzma Yehudit”. While the statement clearly mentioned that the AJC has no intention to interfere with Israeli elections and is certain that the Central Election Committee will make the best decision, this message did not resonate. Despite the fact that AJC is a pro-Israel and non-governmental organization, which among its declared goals is strengthening Israel’s international position, we were attacked by Israeli media.
One of the main allegations I faced was “the right to intervene”. I was told repeatedly that American Jews have no right to intervene in issues related to Israeli politics. I would like to ask whether they also do not have the right to express an opinion? An opinion that stems from caring, passion and great sympathy for Israel. An opinion that envisions Israel maintaining its Jewish and democratic values. An opinion that is expressed not for the sake of intervening, but for the sake of being a part of the conversation of the Jewish people.
Now is not too late to initiate this dialogue between Israeli Jews and Jews in the Diaspora.
However, we should not wait. The gap between Jews in Israel and Jews in the US is rapidly widening. One of the first “warning signs” in this regard appeared a few years ago just before the signing of the nuclear agreement with Iran (JCPOA). While among the Israeli public there was a near-consensus in opposition to the agreement, 50 percent of Jews in America thought it was a good idea. Similarly, in AJC’s 2018 surveys of Israeli and American Jews, on the issue of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 87% of Jews in Israel expressed their support for the move, while only 46% of American Jews felt the same way.
I realize that some of the political decisions taken in Israel may have a negative impact on our relations with the Diaspora. There are also valid reasons for Israel at times to reject American Jewish opinion, especially on matters of Israeli national security. However, in general, it is time to wake up and implement the core value of “Israel is the home of all of the Jewish people.”
The current election could be a good starting point.
I recognize the important work of many NGOs trying to strengthen the relations. Unfortunately, on such a critical issue, the Israeli government needs to take practical measures as well.
I hope all Jewish parties will include as part of their platform a clear statement on what it is planning to do to bring the two sides closer as soon as they enter the 21st Knesset.
This has nothing to do with internal politics. This has nothing to do with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But this has much to do with security. The Jewish Diaspora should be considered as an essential element of Israel’s national security.
Let us all embrace our brothers and sisters from the Diaspora rather than alienate them.
Let us strengthen Israel as a connector, rather than a divider. Let us fulfill the biblical dictum: “Be strong, and let us strengthen ourselves on behalf of our people, and on behalf of the cities of our God” (II Samuel II 10:12).
The writer is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jerusalem office, and former IDF Spokesperson to International Media and Head of the IDF Interactive Media Branch.
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