The year 2017 could see a “perfect storm” for Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora, according to a report released by the Reut Institute this month under the title “The Future of the Nation State of the Jewish People: Consolidation or Rupture?” The report discusses various components of Israel’s ties with world Jewry, primarily US Jewry, and posits that if Israel does not take action to change an outdated mindset and working assumptions which no longer correlate with reality, Israel will no longer function as the national home for the Jewish people. If that happens, it warns, the Jewish state’s very existence could be threatened, more than it is today.
The Reut Institute, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization which strives to be a “force of change” in Israel and the Jewish world, collaborated with numerous experts to produce the 31-page report.
The institute conducted the research project in response to several indicators of a consistent decline in the connection between the state of Israel and large Jewish communities in the US, partly fueled by an increasingly complex relationship between Israel and the younger generation of American Jews.
The institute sees the convergence of major Zionist events this year, including the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, and the 50th anniversary of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, which also marks 50 years of Israeli control of the West Bank, as occasions which will highlight the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its implications for Israel-Diaspora relations.
Anti-Israel activists, supporting the boycott or BDS movement, protest in New York, July 24, 2014 (credit: REUTERS)
“The resolution of the conflict is a foundation of central organizations in the American Jewish community, including AIPAC, the World Jewish Congress and the Jewish Federations of North America,” the report says. “Due to a decline in the prospects for a twostate solution, and the lack of an agreed upon alternative, these organizations increasingly struggle to deal with a complex Israeli reality.”
The institute also sees the advent of the era of President Donald Trump as further driving a wedge between Israel and progressive Jews in the US.
“The present Israeli government’s strong support of the Trump administration, expected agreements on the status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and lack of progress in negotiations with the Palestinians are likely to place most American Jews and the Israeli government on two different sides of the political arena,” the document states, also warning that Israel is becoming a partisan issue.
“Consequently, American Jewish organizations will be compelled to take clear sides on Israeli political issues, including Israeli settlement policy and the status of the Orthodox rabbinate.”
The latter comprises the third major component flagged by the institute – the growing daylight between Israel and non-Orthodox Jews over the status of Progressive Judaism in Israel. Referencing the as yet unimplemented government agreement for an egalitarian section at the Western Wall, as well as issues pertaining to conversions and mikvaot (ritual baths), the research found that these types of disputes negatively impact the ability of an increasing number of individuals, as well as Jewish communal organizations, to maintain a meaningful connection to Israel.
“Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people is taken for granted, but the reality is that this has changed in the last few years,” Naama Klar, managing director of the Reut Institute, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Klar emphasized that the issue should not only be of concern to the Israeli government, but also to civil society, lamenting an ignorance regarding the importance of the Diaspora relationship among the general public, which social entrepreneurs, public intellectuals and thought-leaders can help change.
The institute is collaborating with the Diaspora Affairs Ministry in an effort to work with Israeli leadership programs and youth movements to change this.
She explains that while according to the “old mindset,” Israel would send shlichim (emissaries) to Diaspora communities to try to strengthen its relationship with them, the focus is now shifting inward. “There is a problem and it’s our problem,” she asserted, warning that if certain questions are not asked by Israeli leaders and members of society, “we are on a destructive trajectory.”
At the crux of these questions is how modern-day Israel can fulfill its role as the national home of the Jewish people.
According to the institute, the reasons for which Israel was in the past an asset to the Jewish people are no longer relevant in the same ways. For instance, it states that most Jews today do not face existential threats and thus no longer see Israel as a country of refuge; it also posits that the decline of Israel’s image may even endanger Diaspora Jews, particularly in times of conflict. Raising a host of other issues, such as a lack of identification with Israeli policies, dissatisfaction with its democracy and the Orthodox monopoly in the country, the institute concludes that “instead of being a source of unity for the Jewish people, the State of Israel has become a cause of division.”
This results in a challenge the basic legitimacy of Israel’s existence, which stems from its role as a national home for the Jewish people, the report continues.
Offering solutions as to how Israel can today serve the resilience and prosperity of the entire Jewish people, the institute highlights three areas: consciousness, structure and policy.
“The State of Israel should aspire to develop a widespread consciousness among Israeli Jews, which emphasizes the basic assumption that the State of Israel is the nation state of the entire Jewish people,” the institute says of the first element, noting that formal and informal educational bodies can play an important role in this.
In terms of structure, the organization notes that in the past, the Israel-Diaspora relationship was managed by “strong mediators and dominant institutions,” such as Chaim Weizmann and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, as well as the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel and other Israeli government institutions. Today, the Reut Institute believes their influence has waned and must be modernized in addition to bringing in new mediators.
“Historically, these issues were decided by religious authorities from various communities in a decentralized manner,” the report points out. It also raises the idea that Israel should allow a higher level of Diaspora political involvement, as well as anchoring Diaspora Jewry as a core issue in Israeli decision-making.
Quoting Zionist thinker Ahad Ha’am, the institute drums home the essential mission of preserving the unity of the Jewish people: “If a land is destroyed, but its people are still full of life and strength – they will rise to her. Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah and the people will return and build it again; but if a people is destroyed, who will rise up for them, and where will help come from?”