The UN General Assembly opening

From the Islamic State to Iran, to Pakistan and Ukraine – Israel can no longer claim to be the West’s front line against tyranny and chaos.

DELEGATES ATTEND an informal meeting of the 193-member United Nations General Assembly last month. (photo credit: REUTERS)
DELEGATES ATTEND an informal meeting of the 193-member United Nations General Assembly last month.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Over the coming weeks, American Jewish organizations will conduct their annual round-robin of meetings with foreign leaders visiting New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. More than in prior years, even as Jewish leaders seek to reinforce Israel’s case among these dignitaries, there will also be dissonance between their priorities and “asks” and those of Israelis.
From the Islamic State to Iran, to Pakistan and Ukraine – Israel can no longer claim to be the West’s front line against tyranny and chaos.
It doesn’t matter if Israel is guarding civilization’s eastern gate when the very walls are being overrun by failed states and non-state actors.
Israel and its supporters need to demonstrate common cause, or pay a high price.
Israeli and Diaspora decision-makers need to recognize that the official pro-Israel agenda represents fewer and fewer American Jews – a gap that’s increasingly obvious to supporters and critics, near and abroad.
On Israel’s right to defend its population centers from Hamas rockets, on the rejection of UN investigations into Israeli practices, on the travesty of Palestinian appeals to the International Criminal Court, there will be perfect agreement between Israeli and Diaspora leaders. On the stillborn peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, there will also be consistent messaging that Israel is ready to make peace but PA President Mahmoud Abbas can’t get his act together. But on Iran, on IS, on Ukraine, on anti-Semitism and on Jewish identity, world leaders will not be hearing the same message from their Israeli counterparts and from American Jews.
Jewish organizations are sympathetic and vigilant in the campaign against a nuclear Iran, but having fought hard to legitimize and institutionalize Holocaust memory, the hype of a “second Holocaust” is wearing thin for many activists and followers. Hoping to derail the negotiations between Iran and the six major powers (“P5+1”), AIPAC campaigned vigorously for stronger US sanctions, only to see Congressional leaders abandon it under White House pressure.
Painting Iran as the number-one threat to world order is no longer a slam-dunk. When US national security and political capital are also on the line, an Israeli prime minister’s persistent warnings about another Munich-style sellout will carry less weight – especially given the progress to date, without major Iranian violations of the interim agreement.
And as diplomats are noticing, Israel’s own Mossad director recently emphasized that the top existential threat facing Israel is the Palestinian issue and not Iran.
Israel used to sell itself as the front line against Islamic terrorism, but since 9/11 that front line has moved to the United States, Europe, and lately the broader Middle East. Israel may not be part of the problem, but nor is it any longer the world’s early-warning system. Not while US forces are rushing to contain IS in Iraq and Syria, and the British prime minister lies awake at night worrying about English-speaking terrorists infiltrating the United Kingdom.
Last week, President Obama laid out a comprehensive US strategy for sustained multilateral engagement against terrorism. The more influential American Jewish organizations will not only be asking foreign leaders to support Israel’s local fight, but also to support a broad NATO-based coalition. Anyone who wants access in Washington for the foreseeable future will need to demonstrate a commitment to Washington’s priorities, which once again extend far beyond Gaza, Ashkelon, or the West Bank.
Prisoner of Zion-turned-Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky is predicting the end for European Jewry. To be sure, anti-Semitism is an inherent moral concern for the Jewish state. It’s also a useful issue for promoting Israel’s interests as a sovereign state.
Sharansky and many other Israeli officials see anti-Semitism as an advertisement for mass emigration to Israel and – on the diplomatic level – for tarnishing Israel’s critics (and even President Obama) as retrograde anti-Semites. Many of them are just that, but Diaspora communities facing the brunt are more concerned with protecting their heritage and way of life – as they should be – than with serving as talking points for Israel’s information war. Just as Israel’s justified response to Hamas rockets left 2,000 Palestinians dead, it also inspired a major upsurge in anti-Israel and anti-Jewish violence – not in Israel, but in Europe.
Since Russia’s blatant yet undeclared invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine over the past six months, the Jewish Agency’s Sharansky has actively supported the Kremlin’s narrative – that Jews are threatened by Ukrainian anti-Semites more than by Russian tanks.
Few outside of Russia or Israel believe this, and leading Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and NCSEJ (formerly the National Conference on Soviet Jewry) have protested Russian actions and propaganda as the greatest threat to Ukrainian Jews.
They will be no less vocal when they meet the Russian and Israeli delegations in New York.
Among Western democracies, Israel alone failed to show up for the UNGA vote condemning Russian actions. All the flirty chatter about Israel having more in common with Gulf Arabs and Russians than with Americans (anyone remember Iron Dome?) has started to impact actual Israeli policies, and that’s dangerous for Israel and American Jews – not to mention for Ukrainian Jews.
Many American Jewish leaders are happy to milk discontent with Obama’s Middle East policies in order to help Republicans at home and Netanyahu’s pro-settler coalition in Israel, but now such behavior courts real geopolitical consequences.
And Jewish delegations complaining to European leaders will likely find themselves being admonished in return.
Following World War II, chastened by the Holocaust, inspired by the establishment of the State of Israel and worried by Soviet expansionism and persecution, Jews were instrumental in establishing collective security institutions like NATO and invested in the hopes for rule of law and human rights embodied in the United Nations. More recently, post-Soviet enlargement of NATO has been a perennial Jewish favorite.
We need to understand, Israel is not just another Jewish organization – it is also a sovereign state, with its own national interests and political dynamics.
In order for the relationship to work, everyone must refocus and rearrange their traditional talking points – and change behavior. Israel certainly cares about the Diaspora, but its first responsibility is to its own citizens and bottom line, not to the longevity of vulnerable Jewish communities or even of longtime patrons and defenders.
Beyond its sovereign strategic goals, Israel needs to continue its global role helping Jews and fighting anti-Semitism, and lead on new issues as well, from sharing intelligence on IS, to actualizing cooperation and collective security across the region.
Israelis will resolve the Palestinian issue for their own reasons, and not just to shield themselves from UN criticism. In much the same way, Israel now participates in deliberations of the UN’s Human Rights Council and promotes the sustainable development agenda – not just to improve its image, but to reclaim its place among the nations. And this advances the greater Jewish mission, as well.
Even though American Jewish representatives will focus as much as possible on Israel’s needs and prerogatives, they will also be hard put to pretend they are on exactly the same page. The Diaspora must refocus, and not simply mimic and defend Israel. This means Jews reshaping the paradigm to become political leaders in their own right – working for the greater good, which includes Israel and other issues.
Only then will both sides reinforce each other and work together. Only then will the current US administration and every subsequent one will see Jews and Israel as important and helpful allies against common threats.
Portraying Jewish support for Israel as a patriotic cause won’t be credible if the community isn’t also advocating other US objectives around the region. The old issues will still be central, but the new challenges and opportunities will prove no less important.
Shai Franklin, a veteran executive of Jewish organizations, is Senior Fellow for United Nations Affairs with the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.
 Micah D. Halpern is a political commentator and author. His new weekly show, "Thinking Out Loud," airs on Shalom TV, and The Micah Report is available at